Tuesday, December 27, 2011

let's talk about snow.

Winter is a harsh reality of life in the Midwest. It takes up about half of the year, and it sucks. Everything is grey and nasty, and you freeze your tail off. Ugh.

However, this winter has been incredibly surprising. It has snowed ONE TIME. Yes: one time. That snow didn’t even stick around; it had melted by the next day. We usually have a layer of snow on the ground by Halloween (that remains until March), so this is incredibly unusual. I’ve had to scrape my car windshield a few mornings, but my snow shovel and snow boots have remained in my trunk. The temperatures have even remained above 0˚, which I am LOVING.
This was our yard on Christmas Day 2010. Nothing
unusual for Christmas in the Midwest.
This is Christmas Day 2011. Yes, my parents are riding a
motorcycle. On December 25th. In South Dakota. WHAT.
Of course, we are rarely this lucky. Last year, I lived in Minneapolis, and we got a record amount of snow that winter. Go figure. I lived in an apartment building near downtown, but there was no off-street parking. I knew this when I signed the lease, but I figured that I’d be able to deal with it. Let me tell you: that was the longest winter of my life.

We started getting snow in early November, so the first thing I had to do was figure out the snow emergency routes near my apartment. When they called a snow emergency, you had until 9pm that night to move your car off the snow emergency routes. Two out of the three streets available for parking near my building were snow emergency routes. You were not allowed to have your car on the emergency routes from 9pm until 8am the next morning, when you could move them back. However, you had to be ready: at 8am, they would plow the even side of the non-snow emergency route. Then, at 8am on the third day, they’d plow the odd side. You really had to be on your toes to make sure your car didn’t end up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Otherwise, you’d suffer a fate worse than death: TOWING.

The biggest snowstorm we had last year was in early December. James had come to visit that weekend, and he arrived right before the snow did. It started snowing on Saturday and didn’t stop. Of course, the city declared a snow emergency, so James and I trekked outside to dig out our cars. When we got outside, we could barely see our cars: they were buried up to their mirrors in snow. We were going to work on getting James’s car out first, but of course, we had no shovels. We walked to the Walgreen’s just a couple of blocks away and bought their last one. Luckily, there was an Ace Hardware close by, so we bought the second shovel there. Neither of us had snow pants, and my snow boots were buried in my trunk under a foot of snow. I’m not sure how long it took us to dig James’s car out, but as soon as we did, it just got stuck again. The plows hadn’t been through yet, and the only vehicles that had any hope of getting through were the ones with four-wheel drive. James’s car is a little Ford Escort with a lot of pep, but it just wasn’t heavy enough. We finally got it off the main road with some pushing and more shoveling, but then the question arose: where to park it?

We had to find a non-snow emergency road to park the cars, but those parking places were few and far between. Plus, those side roads were in even worse shape than the main roads, so there wasn’t much chance of getting through. James and I decided that he would take his car and look for parking while I worked on digging my car out of its snow bank.

Up to this point, I hadn’t even seen my mess my car was in. I had parked in a different street than James, but the street I parked on was also a snow emergency route. When I saw what my car looked like, my jaw dropped. 
I seriously considered just saying to hell with it and letting the city tow the car. It would’ve been a whole lot easier, that’s for sure. Ultimately, I decided to get it together and start shoveling. After all, my arms could use a good workout. Plus, I didn’t even want to guess what the towing fee would’ve been, but I knew it would’ve been out of my price range (my price range being $20 or so).

I had only been digging around my car for about twenty minutes when one of my neighbors (who I’d never met) offered to help. He had a bigger shovel, so between the two of us, we made fast work of it. My car also does not have four-wheel drive, but it is a sedan (as opposed to James’s coupe), so I slammed my foot on the gas and barreled out of the snow. I had never been prouder of my Mercury Sable. Now, the hard part: parking. I had to find parking on the odd side of the street: at 8am, you would no longer be allowed to park on the even side, and I didn’t want to be outside at 6am digging my car out of yet another pile of snow.

I found the last parking spot on the odd side of the street, and I really lucked out: it was only a block away from my apartment. It took a few tries to get myself into the parking place: I kept getting stuck in the way in, and I couldn’t very well leave the car sitting with its tail sticking out into the street. Finally, it was as close to the curb as it was going to get. I knew I’d have a fair amount of digging to do when it came time to go to work on Monday, but I was exhausted and ready to be done with the whole mess.

But where was James this whole time? As I made my way back to my apartment, I saw a figure trudging through the snow from the opposite direction. It was James, who had to park all the way downtown in a parking garage. From my apartment, the walk to downtown parking garages took 20 minutes on a GOOD day. We were both soaked and frozen, and we were fairly certain we were going to die a miserable hypothermic death. Luckily, when we bought the shovel at Walgreen’s, we also bought wine, so we could at least count on mugs of moscato to cheer us up!

 To date, last winter has been the most annoying one. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t had other obnoxious experiences with snow. There was the year that I was a senior in college, and it was finals week for the fall semester. Every year during winter finals, the college would give us a free pancake dinner. Nate, James, and I WANTED those pancakes. The school was easily within walking distance of my house (everything in Morris was within walking distance), but we decided that we could just as well dig James’s car out of the snow before the pancakes so we wouldn’t have to do it later. My car was parked right behind James’s, but he didn’t live there, so his was a priority to get out. It took FOREVER, and I think we broke a couple of the shovels in the process. We eventually tasted sweet, sweet success, and we got our pancakes. All was right with the world.

That is, until the next morning. I looked out the kitchen window to see how much work it would be to dig out my car… only to find that my car had vanished. So had my roommate Sara’s car. Turns out that Morris declared a snow emergency and all cars had to be off the streets… but none of us knew it. They had announced it on TV, but we weren’t watching TV – we were diligently studying for finals! There was also an announcement on the radio, but we didn’t have the radio on. I’ve heard that there was an email, but most of the people I knew (including Sara and me) didn’t get the email. We were screwed.

I had a final to take that morning, so I had no choice but to deal with the car when I got home. Sara’s finals weren’t until later that afternoon, so she braved the impound lot. When I got home from finals, I heard a horror story. First of all, the charge to get your car back was $90: cash only. That may not sound like a lot to you, but to college students right before Christmas time, it’s a fortune. Plus, who in college ever had cash?! Sara’s car had also acquired two flat tires. I was terrified.

Luckily, I could get the cash, and not in a shady back-alley prostitution kind of way. I had just gotten my check from the coffee shop where I worked, and for a nominal fee, the local grocery store would cash a local paycheck. My check was something like $102, so I made it just under the wire. I dragged myself to the impound lot, forked over most of my worldly wealth, and took my little car home with me.

Let me tell you, that winter (2008 – 2009) was TOUGH. Sara, Nate, and I (we were all roommates) all came back from winter break a little early that year. Our first order of business was to shovel out our spots in the back alley so we would NEVER get towed EVER again. We bundled up in our boots, winter coats, hats, and scarves and dove right it. 
We even shoveled in unison.
We only had two shovels, so we’d take turns: two roommates would shovel while the third gave direction/took goofy photographs. Then, we’d switch. I swear we were out there all night, but it was probably only an hour or so. 

We finally succeeded in making space for all three of our cars, only to be faced with another daunting task: the sidewalk. We found a music stand in the garage, and that immediately became a substitute shovel. 
Thanks, UMM Music!
When all this was over, we were all very proud of ourselves and most likely celebrated by going to the bar.

But the tales of that winter are not yet over! March 2009 marked the first (and only) snow day of my college career.  It was a Tuesday, and it was pretty snowy, but nothing we hardened Midwesterners hadn’t seen before. Sara, Nate, and I all had jazz band together at 1 o’clock. Jazz band was led by James: we were the non-committal jazz band that was led by a student each year. We had JUST gotten our instruments together when the announcement was made: classes were canceled for the rest of the day. James, whip-cracker that he is, wanted to make us stay since we already had our instruments out, but we were out the door faster than you could say “frostbite.” And how did we celebrate? By going to Morris’s classiest establishment, the Old Number One! Yes, a bar. At 1.30 on a Tuesday. But when you’ve got a surprise day off and the bar is two blocks away from your house, what excuse is there NOT to go?!
Nate and Sara brave the Minnesotan tundra.
I haven’t been through any other winters quite as memorable as those two, thankfully. There was the year that I put my car in the ditch on the way to a carefully scheduled eye doctor’s appointment, almost causing us to miss our flight to Arizona. And there was the time I got stranded at my friend Allison’s house, and we played a six-hour Monopoly game with her dad (which he won by acquiring all the crappy properties, earning him the title of “Slum Lord”). Oh! And who could forget the big snow storm of January 1994 that prevented everybody from coming to my brother’s first birthday party (though he didn’t seem to care).

As much as we whine about winter and snow, I think we secretly relish it. It’s a way for Midwesterns to prove how tough they are. If we can survive in -40˚ windchills with three feet of snow on the ground, then by golly, we can do anything! When I lived in New Orleans, few things thrilled me more than seeing the disbelieving faces of my friends when I would tell them about a winter in the Midwest. As I explained what ice fishing was, they said, “You mean… you can WALK on the ice?” When I told them that not only can you walk on the ice, you can DRIVE on it, I’m pretty sure they thought I was making it all up.

Yes, even though winter gives us bragging rights, no one’s really complaining about the freakish temperatures (it’s been above 30˚ most days, for crying out loud!) and the lack of snow and ice. You can rest assured, though, that when winter finally does show up – and it always does – we’ll be ready with our shovels and stories about how this blizzard is NOTHING compared to that big one of ’97.

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