On this Wednesday, Dec. 11, a date which will not live in infamy, we awaken to see snow on the ground.
Never mind that it’s only a sprinkle. It’s definitely snow out there. If everyone in Bawlamer will please slip into their normal panic modes, we can get about our business.
When I worked at The Sun, we had a clerk named Brownie who would spot the first drops wafting from the sky and charge through the newsroom shouting, “It’s the White Death! It’s the White Death!”
Dear is the memory of long-ago school days when kids all over the metro area would gather around our radios and listen to local announcers – Galen Fromme of WBAl and Lee Case of WCBM come quickly to mind – as they ran through the endless list of school closings.
If you listen carefully, you can still hear the echoes of Lee Case attempting to pronounce, “Chizuk Amuno.”
Even louder are the echoes of thousands of kids cheering as they heard those magic words, “Baltimore City public schools are closed,” though they seem to close all schools a lot more often, with a lot less cause, than they did a hundred years ago when I was a kid.
We do tend to panic around here at the first sight on snow, do we not?
In the two decades I spent broadcasting my commentaries at WJZ, I took on a lot of tough political issues. But the biggest – and nastiest – response I ever got from viewers was the night I challenged snow.
They called off schools across the Baltimore area the previous evening because there were forecasts of the possibility of snow-covered roads. But the overnight coverage was light, and whatever reached the ground had melted by morning.
The roads were clear, but the schools stayed closed.
On the air that evening, I suggested officials were too cautious, that grownups were pampering our children by calling off school with so little reason, that we were creating a generation of wimps. All this was said with a slight twinkle in the eye.
I got off the air, and my phone did not stop ringing.
“You’re trying to kill my kid” was the general tone of the calls. They were so nasty, and so numerous, that the station had to take drastic measures. They called in “The Big Guy,” the legendary anchorman Jerry Turner, who was loved by all, to put things into perspective.
With a wry smile that never quite left his face, Jerry declared, “As a boy, Michael Olesker walked 12 miles to school each day, barefoot through heavy snow. So naturally, his perspective was well-intended but a little skewed last evening when he suggested …”
That night, the calls were nearly as heavy as the previous evening’s. This time, all was forgiven. Parents were becalmed. No harm, no foul. If Jerry Turner was on my side, I must be all right.
But thereafter, I stuck to safe topics like politics and race relations, and never went back to controversial issues like snow. I didn’t want to add to our usual panic.
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books. His most recent, “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age,” was reissued in paperback by the Johns Hopkins University Press.