Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Three portraits of Winter’s First Snow


Sunday we woke up to the gently falling snow, covering the earth with a beautiful, clean blanket. After getting ready, as we walked to church and then especially as I walked home alone with my reflections, I remember thinking: “I have never before been so happy to see the snow.” Well, maybe I was this excited after moving from California to Chicago for my first real snow ever, but this was right up there with it. Don’t get me wrong—as a California girl, I was delighted to be able to wear a windbreaker on US Thanksgiving, and to have no need for bundling up, even through December. But I think it hit me on Christmas break, when we were in Iowa with the gray and gloomy mud-causing rain—I wanted the clean covering that a fresh snow gives. What a beautiful sight!

On Monday, the beauty and the bliss were a distant memory. The radio woke us up to: “the roads are clogged, everything’s closed, public transit’s slow, its –10 (Celsius, that is) with freezing rain right now turning into freezing with some other kind of precipitation later in the day. We can laugh at you now because we are here in our warm studio, since we had to be here by 4 a.m., so stop your whining and get out of bed.” Good Morning! Realizing that throwing the alarm clock on the floor and rolling over in bed was not an option for either of us this Monday, we grudgingly got up out of bed to face the horrors. Not only was the precipitation very different (I am hard-pressed to think of a poet who could, in good faith, praise freezing rain or the descriptive ‘ice pellets’), but Monday brought no Sunday walk to church. We were going to have to choose our bikes, risking life, limb, and equipment, or to pay for (and also risk) the sardine can that is public transit. After wedging ourselves out of the subway car and walking through the “rain,” I noticed some bike tracks, that’s for sure. But there weren’t many of them, and, Thank God, they weren’t mine.


When there is a snowfall I begin to notice the particularities of a Toronto approach to life. In the U.S. we have a well-established ritual surrounding severe weather, or really any type of weather at all. Before the skies are even so much as cloudy great fleets of monstrous vehicles appear, pre-spreading salt and sand should the snow be sneaky and come from the ground without the warning of cumulonimbus formations. Media coverage is essential, because it isn’t truly a crisis without a good dose of sound effects, flashy graphics, fearful statement from local officials taken way out of context, and suffix statements such as, “of the century,” “of the decade,” or at least, “of the last 5 minutes.” These things are all done in order to get the suburbanite out of their couches in sufficient time to swamp their local super store in order to buy silly things like snowblowers, Bud Light, and canned rutabaga should people become stuck in their homes or cars due to the massive amounts of traffic entering and leaving local Home Depots or Walmarts. This is quite honestly the only way stores can move their stockpiles of snowblowers, Bud Light, and canned rutabaga. They are thankful for the opportunity since stores are required to carry these unpopular items due to a FEMA mandate. When the snow actually does come, politicians make appearances and say things. Years ago, Chicago had some snow and Daley appeared without a suit coat and his sleeves rolled up on WGN that night (the Tribune and Sun-Times the next day), apparently to prove that he was hard at work bribing the snow with lucrative alley paving projects in return for the menacing precipitation to “just go away.” He did truly order an unprecedented number of plows and jockeys to curb the crisis, and these crews corralled the snow into massive piles throughout the city in the process burying mini coopers, lower Wacker Drive, the city budget, and other snow crews. These crews remained in suspended animation Han Solo style until late the following October, when they emerged and voted Democratic along with a dozen of their closest dead relatives.

They do things differently here in Toronto. During some inclement weather I was able to observe the response which, to my knowledge, included no plows whatsoever. To include snowplows would be a drain of money away from more important pastimes such as building new corporate arenas for the Maple Leafs, constructing superfluous subway lines, annexing neighboring cities, and elections. As the snow begins to fall here, the City of Toronto promptly deploys masses of kindly volunteers in official looking caps to stand at the corner of major intersections and politely ask the snow to refrain from loitering on the roads and sidewalks. You won’t find a volunteer on a corner with a bank, since everyone knows that if you come within 5 meters of a BMO or CIBC you will be automatically charged 12.50, and quite frankly snow can’t afford that, or the volunteers. But even though they are good sports the volunteers fail, at which time the city utilizes their backup plan. They send out three to five pickup trucks with the mandate to drive along major roads while honking at people and telling them to go home and watch Corner Gas. This usually has no effect, so the snow stays on the roads and freezes into treacherous ruts for the rest of the winter. The government is learning from its past failures and has constructed something called the PATH, which is an underground collection of un-navigatable passages in the financial district lined with perpetually closed stores that apparently sell many different types of chewing gum. The goal of PATH is to get you very lost and frustrated, and to make you more thankful when you do get back out onto the snowy streets.


In the Mols household, our approach to hazardous meteorological situations has proactively developed into staying at home and writing about what they make us think of.


sara without an 'h' said...

Please. Publish these. Somewhere. Somehow. Others need to laugh as much as I did, knowing too well about the corruption of Daley and the joys of the TTC!

M&Y said...

Thanks for your encouragement! We enjoyed the collaborativeness of writing this one. A little two-for-one. At least this way I can enjoy some of the glory of Mike's celebrated biting humor...

thugsb said...

Altho with global warming, snowplows will be redundant in ten years anyway. So maybe those volunteers will be cheaper and more effective! ;)

Kidgit said...

I lov whn snow brings out the inner poet. Lovely lovely.