By Murray Schneider
I was born in Brooklyn and raised in the Sunset District. All I knew about blizzards was my father’s description of the 1958 storm of confetti that rained down on the San Francisco Giants as they paraded along Montgomery Street, preparatory to usurping the San Francisco Seals as the city’s preeminent baseball team.
So when my wife and I traveled to Manhattan earlier this week to visit our daughters, both of whom graduated from Lowell High School in the 1990s and both of whom now work in New York, I wasn’t ready for the mercurial weather patterns of the city of my birth. After all, San Francisco is judged the American city with the least weather variety based upon temperature variation, precipitation, wind and severe weather. And unlike my daughters, the farthest east I’d moved in the last forty years is a block or two north of Glen Park.
So the Great Blizzard of 2010, the sixth worst storm in New York’s history, came as a surprise.
But my Glen Park connection didn’t. Mitch Badran, who solves textbook physics problems twice a day at Higher Grounds on Chenery, told me Dawn Cameron, his niece, owned a Soho tearoom at 337B West Broadway. I’d determined as much when I interviewed Mitch for a 2008 Glen Park News article. I’d previously missed meeting Dawn, proprietress of Sanctuary T Tea Room, on an earlier Manhattan sojourn and promised myself I would not do so the next time I blew into town.
I never dreamed I’d literally blow into Dawn’s teashop around one o’clock on December 26th, propelled by gale force winds and accompanied by a blanket of snow.
Indeed, Sanctuary T offered us a refuge, a shelter providing temporary respite from the tempest howling outside.
We watched the first snow flurries from inside the East 75th Street Whitney Museum. The plan was to rendezvous with our daughters, riding the 6 train downtown to avoid the benign snowflakes that could easily have served as a scenic backdrop for a yuletide post card 365 days hence.
When we ascended from the Spring Street station, just south of Greenwich Village, we might have been on the slopes of the Matterhorn rather than in the streets of Manhattan.
And the walk through Soho to Sanctuary T might have been easier if we had an Annapurna-trained Sherpa as a guide rather than unreadable street signs.
Winds whipped our umbrellas while snow melted on our wool coats. Walking along Broome Street, we dodged hunched pedestrians tiptoeing over nascent ice next to automobiles that soon would be buried beneath impassable 18-inch snowdrifts.
The coldest winter, Mark Twain allegedly joked, was a summer spent in San Francisco. Well, that expatriate Missourian, that Connecticut-Yankee-by-choice, might have changed his mind about this had he endured the storm that now echoed through the desolate canyons of Manhattan.
The haven Sanctuary T offered us was as toasty inside as the weather was frosty outside. We shed layers of wool, fleece and sweats only to learn from Kermit, our server, dressed in fashionable Valencia Street hipster black, that Dawn was not on the premises. She was off celebrating Christmas with her own family, absent from the 40-seat dining room and full service bar that she opened in August 2007, which she bills as a “brief retreat from the clamor of city life.”
She’d get no argument from Clean Plates NYC, which named Sanctuary T one of top 50 healthiest, tastiest places to dine in New York City.
But there was nothing brief about our Sanctuary T respite, as we dined on salmon Nicoise salad, grilled chicken sandwiches and eggs Benedict for nearly five hours as winds whistled outdoors, corkscrewing building awnings into figure eights and shot-gunning snow onto car windshields.
Sanctuary T’s artisanal teas and hot toddies offered warmth and when we finally left around seven p.m. we braved temperatures in the high twenties, a climatic anomaly for a son of San Francisco’s Outlands.
Bundled up, we bid goodbye to our girls, one destined for Brooklyn, the other, with her boyfriend, to Jersey City, cautioning each to walk carefully. We were the only pedestrians in sight and if it is true that only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun, then it is probably also true that only trusting San Franciscans inch along a blizzard’s icy snow pack several hours before midnight.
Home again on December 29th, greeted by balmy 50 degree San Francisco weather, I thought of the times I walk along the Great Highway, just 10 blocks west from where I was raised. Tsunami warnings are posted now, something that never occurred to officials when I swam at the Sutro Baths as a boy and tortured myself dog paddling at the Fleishhacker swimming pool.
These cautionary signs admonish us to head inland when a tidal wave hits. As for me, I’d hurry east, past A.P. Giananni Middle and Lawton Elementary schools, past the Sunset gym, all fixtures in my childhood, wend my way to O’Shaughnessy Blvd. and then drop down to Higher Grounds, where I’d wait out the high water watching Mitch Badran figure out the physics of it all.
There I’d nurse a cup of Manhal Jweinat’s tea and think about my daughters and the very brief time we shared in a sanctuary in Soho.