Moments frozen in a Back Bay morning

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By David Filipov
Globe Staff / January 13, 2011

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As the nor’easter descended early yesterday, bringing with it icy winds, snow-day revelry, and slushy commutes, here is what unfolded in one corner of the city.

1:24 a.m. The first icy crystals start to fall, mixed with larger flakes that turn to tiny darts in the rising wind. It is 35 degrees. At Tiffany & Co., an ad depicts a family of four smiling as they walk in a merry snowfall, holiday tree in the background. The adults are kissing. Neither is wearing a hat. This is snow the way they see it on Madison Avenue.

2:08 a.m. Outside the Lenox Hotel. Matthew Hiznay of Providence sings “We’re Having a Party’’ while dancing with a homeless man named Tony. Hiznay and a friend are wearing only blazers and shirts as they hail a cab. Another man in a sport coat steps outside, carrying a full pint of Guinness. A Venezuelan named Bernardo takes a cigarette break — in sandals. All the people who have someplace warm to be are paying no heed to the cold. “Man, it is snowing,’’ says Tony, who has only a winter coat and a hat to shield him from the elements.

2:15 a.m. A Boston Public Works snowplow pushes thick, black slush along Boylston Street. It rolls through a red light across from the Prudential. The temperature has dropped below freezing and the snow is accumulating.

2:30 a.m. A booby prize awaits moment when the owner of a silver Honda Accord parked on Huntington Avenue gets around to scraping the snow off the windshield: a frost-encrusted orange ticket. Snow emergency, and all that.

3 a.m. The stinging wind knocks over a flower pot in front of the Fairmont Copley Plaza. Thuyet Tran of the hotel engineering department darts into the storm to grab the urn and ducks back into the hotel. A hotel worker steps onto a Bobcat to plow the sidewalk. “Enjoy the show,’’ he cries.

4:10 a.m. A bright stab of light flashes over the Boston Public Library. A loud blast crackles in the sky. This is officially a thunder-blizzard.

4:26 a.m. About two very sticky inches are on the ground. Cleanup crews in yellow slickers trudge, eyes downcast, pushing shovels, snow blowers. TV trucks are lined along Copley Plaza in anticipation of the morning news. A Boston Public Works plow rumbles along the plaza and stops in front of a camera crew setting up. “I’m going to be plowing this continuously,’’ the driver warns. “The camera’s going right here,’’ responds a crew member. It is an impasse in the driving snow.

4:45 a.m. The festive lights adorning the trees of Newbury Street glow warmly under a veil of white. Thick, wet flakes pound windows displaying mannequins clad in scanty lavender and red lingerie. Joaquim Salazar and Salvador Salinas push heavy orange Gravely Professional 8 walk-behind tractors that belch snow in thick waves, around the corner onto Clarendon, past Borders books and Filene’s Basement. The snow is now 3 inches deep.

5 a.m. On Copley Plaza, a layer of white icing brings alive things you would never know existed: a trio of pay phones awaiting calls no one will make; a battery of benches for picnickers who will not eat lunch here for another three months. Even the deep pools of slush are covered in an elegant coat of white — which give way to icy murk when the unsuspecting foot alights on them.

7:05 a.m. Lorry Spitzer and Diane Young-Spitzer hold hands as they negotiate the snow, now over 6 inches deep, as they cross Copley Plaza. They are headed to the University Club to work out before heading to work. He will play a little squash, she plans to do some cardio on the elliptical. Snow pours into an open crack in her gym bag and collects in drops on his glasses. They laugh. “It’s wonderful,’’ Spitzer says.

7:15 a.m. The sun rises, lending a whiter shade of snow to the streetlight-lit boulevard of Commonwealth Avenue. A woman in a dark anorak hurries along with her two Portuguese water dogs. The hood covers all but her eyes, cheekbones, and nose. An expression of distaste crosses these features at the appearance of a photographer’s camera. “This is the only time you have any privacy,’’ she remarks. Then Vicki Kennedy smiles, turns and leads her dogs away.

7:30 a.m. Farther down Commonwealth, on Exeter Street, Laura Avalone considers the large chunks of wet snow that the gusty wind is blowing from the sagging and groaning branches of trees. Avalone is moving to Seattle soon. “I love this,’’ she says as she beholds the storm. “Gonna miss this big time. I’m sure Seattle has its good things . . . ’’ Then she smiles and leads her golden retriever, Jack, away.

7:50 a.m. A man takes on the Herculean task of scraping chunks of heavy snow off the sedans and sport utility vehicles lined up behind 172 Beacon St. in case their owners want to risk venturing onto the roads. It is Rob Triggs, the super. He is not obliged to do this work, but the tenants are nice to him. He flails at a silver Honda CR-V with the rubber end of his scraper. “Honestly, I don’t know if anybody’s going to work today,’’ he says.

8:09 a.m. As taxis and buses fishtail along the slick and slushy surface of Berkeley Street, Marvin Wang glides to a stop with ease. The studded tires of his cyclocross bike work as they should. So do the brakes. Looking puny and defenseless in his helmet and body-tight suit, the cyclist commuter is having less trouble than the trickle of drivers negotiating the usually backed-up Storrow Drive. “Boston is fine,’’ says Wang, a pediatrician at Massachusetts General Hospital who lives in Jamaica Plain. “Brookline is terrible.’’

9:11 a.m. The fury of the storm has not subsided. The large, wet flakes, borne on gusts that surpass 35 miles per hour, are still stinging faces and accumulating in thick, sticky piles. Walkers bend into the wind. Drivers skid to precarious stops, moments too long after they apply the brakes. Large rectangles of snow fall from rooftops, landing with thuds that rival the thunderclaps that still echo over the city. Smaller clumps fly like grenades of snow flung at those who have ventured out. Visibility is about a quarter mile. There are about 8 inches on the ground. This storm could go on for hours.

David Filipov can be reached at