Stranded and Frozen

Now and then something happens to you, and you realize while it is happening that you will be talking about it for years to come.

On the night of December 23, 1983, The Mrs. and I, married eight months, were packing for a trip home, our first trip back to Wisconsin since moving to Macomb, Illinois, in October. The next day, I would work a 6AM to noon shift, then we’d beat it north, arriving around 4:30 or so to spend Christmas in the bosom of my family. But on the night of the 23rd, a blizzard hit the Midwest, followed by strong winds and a 30-degree drop in temperature. When I got up at 5AM Saturday morning, it was about zero with wind chills of 30 below or more. At mid-morning, word came that the major north-south roads had actually been barricaded by the state police because travel was so hazardous. Our trip home for Christmas was off.

Taking pity on the newlyweds, my boss and his wife invited us out for drinks that afternoon. When he got word that the evening jock couldn’t get out of his house to come to work, I volunteered to take his shift. While I was on the air, The Mrs. was pressed into taxi service, sent to pick up the part-timer who would work the late shift. He usually either walked to work or rode his bike across town to reach the station, and he could do neither on such a bitter Christmas Eve.

The Mrs. and I made our way back to our little one-bedroom basement apartment late that evening, weary and disappointed. When we turned on the water in the bathroom, the stream slowed to a trickle and died. The water pipes were frozen. (I don’t remember blowing a gasket about it, but I must have, because that’s how I rolled in those days.) So very late Christmas Eve, we had to roust our landlord, who let us into an office in the building to get water enough to brush our teeth.

The next day, the station’s general manager and his wife invited us over to spend the day. (And take showers.) We’d become quite friendly with them; The Mrs. had baby-sat their kids a time or two. The station’s owner, whom I’d never met, was in town from Louisiana, and we spent a pleasant afternoon talking about radio and life and everything. Later, I would discover that he was neither a very good businessman nor a very nice person, but I didn’t know it while he was charming us around the dinner table.

Quickly, here are five tunes from the Cash Box magazine chart dated December 24, 1983, all of which I was playing on the radio that week:

1. “Say Say Say”/Paul McCartney & Michael Jackson (third week at Number One). Enjoy Michael Jackson when he was still black, and when something like this was considered hip.

5. “Uptown Girl”/Billy Joel (up from 6). Watch closely and you can see Christie Brinkley thinking while she’s dancing: “One two kick, one two turn.” And did we just not recognize gay subtext back then, or what?

8. “Twist of Fate”/Olivia Newton-John (up from 11). From the movie Two of a Kind with John Travolta. If Olivia had turned to look behind herself at any point during the making of that movie, shouldn’t she should have been able to see the shark her career was jumping over? (Hear “Twist of Fate” here.)

26. “Read ‘Em and Weep”/Barry Manilow (up from 30). This song was written and produced by Jim Steinman. Yep, that Jim Steinman, who was on the radio the same week with two Bonnie Tyler records, “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and “Take Me Back,” plus Air Supply’s “Making Love Out of Nothing at All.”

41. “Baby I Lied”/Deborah Allen (up from 49). In which a relatively obscure country singer goes pop with a record that sounds like a second-generation photocopy of Steinman’s work.

We finally got home for Christmas in 1983 on New Year’s weekend. And just as we had suspected at the time, not a year goes by that we don’t reminisce about our first Christmas as a married couple, stranded and frozen in western Illinois.

This year, The Mrs. and I have plans to head out of town for Christmas once again, but the weather is once again interfering. If we’re able to go, this blog will be on hiatus until Monday, December 29. Everybody have a merry Christmas, happy holidays, and/or a nice weekend, your choice.

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