snow in october

Ah, the middle of October, when thoughts naturally turn to ghoulish pumpkins, crunching leaves, and drunk Germans. Unless you live in Minnesota, where we got our first snow a few days ago. Granted, it was only a couple inches, but THAT”S NOT THE POINT! I  want to have burnt sienna tinted thoughts of baseball and bountiful harvests. I should be trying to find my rake, not my windshield scraper.

I’m no meteorologist, but I think we had four days of autumn this year. We had a lovely mild summer, with none of those four-day stretches of ninety-three degrees and eighty percent humidity during which an entire city becomes cranky. But no matter how nice summer is, Midwesterners know that it’s all a tease; winter will always show up, distract us with a week of crisp, clear forty-five degree days, and then proceed to stick its frozen boot up our fat Midwestern asses for five months.

I’m not a native Minnesotan. But I’ve always preferred cold-weather cities to the other extreme. Do the math with me—no matter how cold it becomes, if you put on enough layers, you’re no longer cold. You’re unable to move because of all the layers you’ve had to put on, but you have defeated the elements. Whereas, in someplace like, say Phoenix, even when you’ve removed ALL your layers, you can still be miserable. Cold places are better than hot places—Q.E.D. (which stand for ‘quod erat demonstrandum,’ which is Latin for ‘I took some advanced math classes and for some weird reason remember the Latin phrase for ‘there—I proved my point’)

I’m not a native Minnesotan, though, and I don’t quite think like one yet. The first time I saw the temperature forecast on the front page of the newspaper (news used to printed on paper) and read “8 degrees,” I thought it was a typo. That’s missing a digit. That’s not enough degrees, I thought. But Minnesotans have this amazing, resigned calm about the whole winter thing.

Everybody here has the same attitude you see in “Chinatown” when the photographer says to Nicholson, “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.” Here, it’s “Stop whining, Sven. It’s Minnesota.” Everyone seems to have accepted their fate. It’s a strange, mass-delusional badge of pride, making it through a brutal winter. You get to the other side of it and people pat each other on the back saying, “Yeah, that winter in ’88—the pipes froze, Grandpa slipped on that sheet of ice, we had to drive in whiteout conditions…” You don’t hear people say “Man, remember the summer of ‘92? That was awful—it got really…hot.”

So people in Minneapolis do the rational Scandinavian thing. We cope. We trudge through snow banks, each of us wrapped up like old Ukranian women walking through  the shtetl, muttering things like “We have a great theater scene here. We have a great theater scene here. We have a great theater scene here.” And there’s no use complaining, because when you do, a local is always nice enough to point out “It could always be worse.” Thank you, Captain Perspective.

I like that people here openly taunt Nature. For example, skyways.  If you haven’t experienced one, a skyway is an elevated, enclosed climate-controlled bridge, and Minneapolis has a series of them connecting, essentially, all the buildings in downtown. It’s like a Habitrail, with hamsters in suits and Starbucks kiosks. And it’s our way of saying “Screw you, God. That winter bullshit? Bring it on.” (note: if there is a God, then what I’ve written is satire and I don’t actually mean “Screw you.”)

The best thing about winter is spring. I grew up in Southern California, and sure, they have seasons. I’ll never forget the first time I felt the subtle change as the calendar turned from the Brushfire Solstice to the Mudslide Equinox. But there is no feeling quite like that first time the mercury hits fifty after five months of ridiculous, marrow-chilling temperatures. The entire city erupts in a communal ‘woohoo!’ that can be heard as far south as Des Moines.

So I’m fine with winter. I embrace the invigorating chill, and the wind that cuts through you like a set of knives from an infomercial. It’s just too soon. Snow this early in the year is like giving someone a Nobel Peace Prize after a few months as President. It’s beautiful, but it’s too soon.

I’m just not ready to get all Currier and Ives-y. It’s too soon to start thinking about when I have to mail gifts I haven’t even bought yet. It’s too early for winter storm watches, and weather advisories, and road conditions. It’s too early to hear that “the temperature is thirty-one, but it actually feels like it’s nineteen.” I’m not ready for…ah, who am I kidding. I’m a Minnesotan now. Bring it on.


thundersnow and freezing fog

I’m sure you’ll forgive me if, every spring, i refuse to turn even one cartwheel. But I know how this works. Sure, after a relentless winter, we can now enjoy those special two or three weeks before it becomes too hot and humid. Seriously, this was turning into the mythical Winter With No End. And after ten or so winters here, I’m finally starting to realize something very profound–crappy weather sucks.

But what we have in Minnesota is a kind of collective amnesia, a shared mental illness that allows us to conveniently forget, every year, that the weather will turn to shit, every year. Yet we stay, walking around muttering things like “great theater…vibrant music scene” to convince ourselves that it’s actually a good idea to live in a place where on some days, you have to cover your mouth so that you breathe in air that might freeze your lungs!

I lived in Minneapolis for several years in the 80’s and distinctly remember telling my California friends how great it was to live where there’s a change of seasons. And of course, my friends in L.A. would call to give me grief every winter, asking me “How cold is it now?” and “Are you freezing yet?”–as if we don’t have ‘indoors’ here, like there are no cities, simply bands of nomads exposed to the elements. Of course, my snarky vengeance would come every fall, when I would call and ask “Is your shit on fire yet?” or in February when I could ask “Has your house slid down the hill yet?”

Now that I have the wisdom  that comes with middle-age, I think I’m less fond of Old Man Winter than I had been when I was a bit more…spry.  Last night, we got 6 inches of new snow.  I’m looking out my window as I write this, and it’s quite lovely–if I didn’t have to actually WALK OUTSIDE. But take it from a guy with a limp and a cane–one man’s glistening city sidewalk is another man’s treacherous path to the bus stop. Winter wonderland my ass–as far as I’m concerned, it’s just a lot of places where I can slip and crack my skull on the curb.

I try not to bitch about the weather here, but today is one of those ridiculous days. This afternoon, the high temperature will be 15 degrees. Spring training has started, fer chrissake! I really don’t understand how the midwest was even settled. Let’s say the westbound pioneers got here in…June. Beautiful skies over the endless plains, frolicking in the lakes. But a few months later in that first year, when it became butt-fucking cold (an actual meteorological term)…PACK UP AND KEEP GOING WEST! OR HERE’S AN IDEA–GO SOUTH! But don’t just…stay where you are. It’s not like the first Minnesotans were tied to mortgages and school districts–get in the wagon and find someplace warmer! Load up your wagons and take your ad hoc city somewhere else! Some place where a suffocating blanket of cold and ice doesn’t bury you for four months!

And TV weather people don’t help. They seem to perversely relish these ‘weather events.’ I want to hear the anchorman say “Here’s Dave with the live Doppler forecast to tell us what to expect” and have Dave say “Screw that–everybody get out of here! Evil Winter’s coming with her mighty arsenal of cold and ice!” Last night they predicted ‘thundersnow.’ C’mon–that doesn’t even sound real. In Oregon I saw a forecast of ‘freezing fog’. I was pretty sure that was just Portland’s Chamber of Commerce trying to frighten people out of moving there–let’s take TWO shitty weather conditions and pretend they’ve joined forces! And wind chill–is this concept even necessary? Do I need to be reminded that not only is it too cold to be outside, but that it ‘feels’ even colder than it is?

And then there’s my favorite meteorological phrase–‘a wintry mix.’ Now there’s descriptive, verifiable hard science for you. Anyway, I realized a long time ago that weather forecasting is actually just pseudo-science, like astrology, or phrenology. Think about it–when the weatherman says there’s a fifty percent chance of snow, isn’t that basically saying it might snow, or it might not? That’s going out on an empirical limb!

I’ve lived in a lot of cities, and I will say I’ll take cold weather over hurricanes or earthquakes. When I left L.A. after the Northridge quake, people would say “but every place can have disasters.” True enough, but with every other natural disaster get at least some warning. If you’re in Florida and the guy on your teevee says you should leave your home–you usually have the option of LEAVING YOUR HOME. If you live next to a river and it’s rained real hard for real long time, then during that real long time you could FIND HIGHER GROUND. Even tornadoes–if you can’t get to a basement, you at least have a couple minutes after the siren sounds to…I dunno–pray.

But not earthquakes. Not only can they not be predicted (we have the technology to go to freakin’ Mars but we can’t predict when our own planet might break into pieces like peanut brittle?–priorities, scientists?) but when one hits, you have no idea if it’s gonna be a few seconds of gentle rolling or THE CATACLYSMIC RUPTURE  THAT SENDS US ALL PLUNGING INTO THE OPEN MAW OF AN ANGRY EARTH!

So, I suppose I can deal with cold, but I gotta admit, if some opportunity presented itself in say, Austin Texas, I might take it. It might be a hundred degrees for a few months, but you don’t have shovel heat.