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23 December 2009 @ 04:42 pm
Snowpocalypse 2009  
So, as last week progressed, we heard there might be some "wintry mix" headed our way. It stayed that way until Thursday, when they said, "Yeah, snow. Definitely snow." Friday it started with "5 inches," but by the afternoon, they said, "up to 10." Then it was 14-18 inches, and finally "around two feet."

FOX 5 news had a field day with this, of course. I don't watch Channel 5 (WTTG), especially after the GOP started using the FOX network as their mouthpiece. Channel 5 has always had this kind of cheap, sensationalist quality about it, even before it became a FOX affiliate. When FOX bought it in the late 80s, shows like "Married with Children" and "Jerry Springer" were their flagship shows. Channel 5 around here had their claim to fame as "the only news at 10," because almost all late night news started at 11. That still seems to be the case. Growing up, they always struggled to fill the 11pm slot on weekdays, and right now, they just have the news go on past 11. So now they have an hour and half of a news program to fill, instead of the usual 30 minutes of other networks. This makes them have to elaborate heavily on stories that probably need no elaboration. News took a downward spiral as it was in the 1990s, and FOX 5 took this turn of shame and polished it to a gleam that the rise above the awards other stations claim to have. And whenever snow hits our area, FOX 5 is right there at the head of the pack, leading panic and mayhem like horses of the Media Apocalypse.

My parents were born and raised in Chicago, where they spoke of going to school in 10 foot snowdrifts. My father *HATED* snow with a passion, and was one of the reasons my parents moved to California when they got married. While my father's business took them all over Europe in the 1960s, that came to an abrupt end when I was born. They moved back to California, but we moved to the DC area when I was 5. And I am still here to this day. As a kid, I recall we got about 3-4 decent snowfalls a year, along with a few light dustings and flurries here and there.

My mother's first encounter with how people here react to snow started in 1975 when one of her normal grocery shopping days was interrupted with the report of a coming blizzard. A "blizzard" here is considered any storm that has more that 5 inches of snow expected. My mother came back from shopping that day, eyes wide with bewilderment, at what she had witnessed. She spoke to us of angry suburban women who were emptying out shelves of canned goods with their arms scooping anything they could grab and dumping it into their cart. Milk, eggs, and bread were gone. To a native Chicagoan, 5 inches was nothing worth noting more than a day of rain. What she had just gone through was like a Viking raid on a small village.

My first snow I recall vividly: standing outside in the dark, looking up at the flakes highlighted by the street light, mouth open and feeling the flakes tap on my face. I was wearing a spring raincoat, polyester pants, and yellow galoshes, as my parents had not bought me any winter gear (as per my father, who grew up poor, and said if he didn't have a decent coat as a kid, I would be fine -- a year later, the school got involved and I had my first real coat). I had heard of snow, but never seen it real before. The flakes didn't even cover the grass all the way before my mother dragged me in, claiming my hair was soaking wet.

My parents were incredulous when schools closed. In fact, my father would send me to school anyway, claiming it couldn't be true. People drove like idiots: either so slow they blocked traffic and got stuck, or too fast, and wrecked. It was like the entire DC area went crazy from LSD-laced drinking water. And it happened almost every time.Sometimes even the threat of snow who shut down schools. I remember we got an average of 5-6 snow days off a year, and sometimes there wouldn't even be any snow. I was told that was because Fairfax county had some really rural areas, and if the school bus couldn't get on the dirt roads, then nobody was going to school. I am sure most of those areas are now town house complexes and shopping malls.

Snow seemed to taper off by the 1990s. With the exceptions of some major Blizzards (like in 93 and 96), snow became a rarity. But when it did snow, people still freaked the hell out.I have often pined for more blizzards like we used to have, but worried that now they were rather uncommon, and the few we did get just paralyzed the city.

Back to the present, I had some issues with snow coming on THIS weekend. First, takayla's birthday party was the Friday it was going to hit. Second, the DC Rollergirls were planning on having a huge bout. But I wanted snow, and I got it. Oh well. And as the day predicted more and more dire consequences, I sort of forgot my mother's first encounter, because I had some food shopping to do on Friday before the party.

Oh, HELL no. Not only was their holiday traffic, and not only was there snow panic, but I had gotten a rather bad asthma attack, and can't afford my meds until January (my inhaler is a $30 deductible, and I need that for food). Normally, my asthma doesn't bother me, but there it went. I worked from home, and this was a good thing because thedreamymoon knocked on our door while takayla was still asleep. She was in town from Berkeley on her whirlwind east coast tour of all her friends out here. She hung out while we discussed the approaching blizzard. I watched FOX 5 for only a few minutes, and after they mentioned that people could be boxed in through Christmas, I rolled my eyes and flipped the channel.

When work was over, I went out shopping, despite my better judgment. Luckily we live right next to the shopping center, because there was nowhere to park. People were insane. People I didn't usually see on my shopping excursions (upper middle class twits) were milling about like spooked farm animals. I already had lots of eggs, and I drink milk nobody likes (1%), so there were still a few gallons left. Bread I needed, but laughed because all that was left were those $5-6 loaves of gourmet crap, and even those were disappearing. When bread ran out, people pretty much cleaned out the store's entire chips and pretzels section. But shipments were arriving, and at one point, I was lucky enough to be next to a pallet of normal white bread just rolled out from the back. I grabbed two loaves amid the dashing arms around me, and quickly bolted for the safety of the seafood section where people apparently felt fish was useless in an oncoming blanket of white doom. That pallet of bread, which must have had 40-50 loaves, was empty in less than a minute. The lines for the registers were so long, they went down all aisles and wrapped around the back of the store. This made it difficult to get to some shelves because people were blocking them. Many were chatting away on their cell phones, planning to hunker down in their basement. Firewood? Gone. Snow shovels, ice scrapers, and salt? Gone. I did see some people with 3 or 4 snow shovels in their cart. Why do they need 3 or 4 of them? And what about all the candy canes? People were grabbing boxes and boxes of them. Thankfully, I didn't need any, but what the heck? People go mental around here.

When I got home, the shopping trip that would have taken 15-20 minutes had taken an hour and a half. About an hour of that was just being in line. I might have skipped the entire shopping experience, but sadly, we needed medicine and cat food.

We rushed to Appleby's, where takayla was having her annual 29th birthday party. In previous years, we had held the parties at sushi restaurants, but this ran into some problems. The first was trying to get all those people in one area, given half to arrive late. Most sushi places either didn't take reservations for the sushi side, or if they did, the space was always just tables where half our guests would be facing away from the other half. We got too numerous. Also, some of our friends can't comfortably afford sushi or simply don't like it. Appleby's had karaoke, plus a central area around the bar. There was discounted food of all types for all palates. We also warned the manager a week in advance so he'd have the place staffed better, and he did not disappoint. He dedicated two wait staff to us, who were rewarded by generous tips. And thus, takayla had found a good balance until we get too many people to fit into Appleby's in the next few years.

As the evening progressed, I saw some people sing I didn't expect. One of them was my own son CR, who sang "Baby Got Back" so well, he really sounded like Sir-Mix-a-Lot. Some people sang Rocky Horror. But as the evening progressed, the snow started to pile up. When we got to Appleby's, there was only an errant flake or two in the sky, but when we left at 1am, it was already a few inches deep. Wisely, thedreamymoon had already bought groceries and was going to stay with us to ride the storm out.

Saturday, the snow was coming down hard. I kept half the deck shoveled so the doggies had some place to go, but I was shoveling every few hours, and it was inches deep each time I shoveled. It was very hard to keep up. Eventually, the snow started to taper off and I was able to start assessing how badly we were covered. Part of my worry is our roof, which while not in bad shape, is not in great shape, either. A few leaks have started to spring up, I have noticed in the attic. Over the years, a few roofing tiles have blown off, and some water is starting to seep in. I was worried about ice jams and the huge icicles that usually form on the edges of my gutters. I am talking icicles easy 6 feet long and weighing 20-30 lbs that I have to smack down with a broom. Twice icicles have torn off entire sections of eaves from their weight. The major reason this happens, of course, is when COX tore up our roofing insulation a few years ago (may their company rot in hell). But the new gutters we had replaced after some horrific storm two years ago allowed for adequate drainage and the icicles were not TOO bad.

By Sunday, the sun had come out, and the big dig had started. CR has a broken foot and torn meniscus, and he's in a walking cast on short term disability. Christine still has that metal plate in her leg, and that plate has a weak spot as well as shrinks in the cold. I have the bad heart, asthma, and the weak ankle. But out of the three of us, I was the only one who could stand for long periods in thigh-deep snow. So thedreamymoon and I dug ourselves out. I did the front porch, steps, and around our car. thedreamymoon did her car and a path out to the street.

A large snow plow came down our street once, but they only did half the street. Sadly, it was the half opposite my house. This had made the road in front of our house a single lane wide, and what's even worse is that my house is at a blind turn at the top of a hill, so cars on this single lane cannot see one another. The only accident I have seen so far is where one car swerved to avoid a head-on collision, plowing into a drift that is my neighbor's yard. No one was seriously hurt, and the driver of the other car helped dig the other guy out. This plow did our street, but didn't do the streets adjoining to ours, nor did they do Majestic Ave; the main thoroughfare to all our neighborhoods and connects us to Rt 50. How odd. As I type this, the main road to our neighborhoods is driver-packed snow that had turned into random bumpy patches of hard ice. Meanwhile, the road in front of my house, while it may be only one lane, is much more clear. The lane is also not straight, it meanders like a lazy snake down the normally straight road. Kind of like being in a luge event.

While thedreamymoon was digging across the street so she'd have a path to the road, the mailman came by and said he couldn't deliver mail until we dug out our mailbox. Our mailbox was under a snowdrift, as was the neighborhood fireplug. I found out one year that you get fined by the county if you don't keep the fireplug clear of snow to the tune of $200 for obstructing emergency equipment. But my asthma and heart weren't into it in all one go and I wasn't able to dig this out until Tuesday night, so we haven't had mail since the storm started on Friday. thedreamymoon left on Monday, saying she'd be back on her way back to Dulles around New Years.

It was great to have thedreamymoon at our house. She made us some salads, hot cocoa, and a lot organic foodstuffs. I made vegetarian spaghetti, and got to sample some of "Peet's Coffee," which is a famous Berkeley chain. She is like family, and it's hard to believe the teenager I got to know through FanTek has grown up to be this amazing person. She represents a lot of teens I know from that period, and pretty much all of them have made good, too.

The rest of Monday I worked from home, and got a lot of stuff done that needed done. I was able to make it to work on Tuesday, as the Metro started running above ground again (it had shut down due to snow on the outside tracks). The government opened, although the schools were still closed. Metro was packed solid, as trains were not running as frequently. It took me about 2 hours to get to work, and about an hour and half to get back. Tuesday night, traffic on 66 going to 495 was a parking lot with people fleeing for holiday travel.

So, a few days after the blizzard, there's still a lot of snow on the ground, but I don't think that everyone panicking had anything to do with the normal routine of things, and for the most part, made most people here look like jackasses. This coming Christmas weekend, they predict rain, so I am sure that most of this snow will be gone. New Years? They predict snow. It's too early to tell, and could change as quickly as this snow storm changed from a few flurries to two feet. That's this area for you.