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In Defense of a Washingtonian’s Inability to Deal with Snow


Image: Bobistraveling via Flickr

I have seen a number of tweets mocking Washingtonians and our inability to deal with snow.  We close our schools, we buy out all the bread and milk in the store, and we stay home blogging about how scared we are to lose power every time solid precipitation comes down from the sky.  There are those who blame our mentality on Marion Barry and his ideology for snow removal: “The Lord Giveth, and the Lord Taketh Away.”  But they would be remembering 1995… and 1996… or that time they hired private firms to plow the snow and they didn’t pay them and then those firms refused to plow until they were paid.  Anyway, a large chunk of Washington’s population flips over every year since our business is government, therefore I don’t think our attitude can be traced to the actions of a single person, but rather the depth of truth in John F. Kennedy’s observations about the capital:

“Washington D.C. is a town of Northern hospitality and Southern efficiency.”

We’re dicks AND we’re incapable of getting stuff done.

We ALSO have neither the temperate climate of the South nor the ability to deal with inclement weather like the North.  We are a city in between, bi-partisan in the greatest sense of the word, and because of our ambivalence, we are unable to actually work together with snow to get through it any more than we can work together as humans to pass a budget.

Fancy Yankees move to our capital and believe THEY can drive in the snow.  A case in point: Josh slept downtown last night after attending an event.  Being from New Jersey, he thought he could drive home at night.  Is he fucking kidding me?  I shrieked at him that if he didn’t get a hotel room and sleep downtown, that I would kill him once he tried to enter the house simply for driving over ice when the Capital Weather Gang (who are essentially our spiritual gurus in this town) cautioned that even SUVs were having trouble with skidding.

Even if former Northerners know what to do to travel over snow, the Southern transplants don’t.  It doesn’t matter if you are capable of driving if the people around you aren’t.

Snow gives Washingtonians a chance to stop and talk about something we share in common; our inability to function around it.  It is the ONLY time Washingtonians agree.  Are you really doing to ask us to stop bonding over the only ideology we share?

If the White House is the People’s House, then Washington is the People’s Town; a melting pot of all the other states.  You come here; YOU populate the city.  And for all of you who are watching Washingtonians in disbelief, know that the same thing would happen to you if you took a government appointment and moved to our town.  This is like the Bermuda Triangle of Weather Functionality.  People come here, capable of getting through rain, snow, sleet, and hail.  And once they sign a lease on an apartment, they lose whatever coping mechanisms they came with from their original town.  It disappears, only to return once you exit DC because your job is over.

I haven’t been out of my house in two days.  I don’t want you to think I’m disgusting.  I mean, I showered both days.  I just got back into my pyjamas after pulling my hair up into a bun so it wouldn’t drip on my freebie sweatshirt from a DC event.  Because it is practically ritual here.

The snow comes down; the city stops.

Now excuse me, Capital Weather Gang is telling me that we’re going to get snow again tomorrow.  I have to go get milk and bread to add to my milk and bread collection.


1 Jo { 12.09.13 at 12:13 pm }

Haha! We’ve been iced in since last Friday. I’ve not left the house in four days, and I’ve enjoyed every minute. I live in a Southern state, so peeps around me definitely DON’T know how to navigate in this weather. Which is fine by me! What has made me sad is all the parents bemoaning school closures and complaining that their kids are driving them crazy. It’s been TWO days and a weekend, people! Enjoy this chance to slow down and make memories! And really, would you be willing to risk your child’s LIFE on these icy roads for a few hours of quiet?

2 Lindz { 12.09.13 at 12:14 pm }

Don’t forget the toilet paper…. Around here it’s the snow trifecta – bread, milk and toilet paper. 🙂

3 Josh { 12.09.13 at 12:36 pm }

I still contend that if Dennis Quaid could get to his son, Jake Gyllenhaall by snow-shoeing it from Philadelphia to New York City in the environmental documentary THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW, then I could have made it home last night.

4 Lollipop Goldstein { 12.09.13 at 12:38 pm }

No, you couldn’t.

5 Mic { 12.09.13 at 12:39 pm }

I’m dying laughing down here in Fredericksburg. This is hilarious and so true. We moved here in 2002 (from fucking ALABAMA of all places!) and it promptly snowed 9″ a mere 7 days later. I remember thinking I was stuck in an alternate univerise with the lack of preparation. People were freaking our (think Hurricane Katrina-level panic – and growing up on the Gulf Coast I know about hurricanes!) but DC came to a grinding halt once the snow met the pavement.

And don’t get me started on Snomageddon in 2010 when all I can remember is the stupid Pat Collins measuring stick and The old NBC4 news anchor Lindsay something or other broadcasting live from the DuPont circle Krispy Kreme talking about hot donuts as I was snowed in my house incapable of procuring such a luxury.

.end rant.

6 a { 12.09.13 at 12:58 pm }

Snow makes people everywhere freak out. Except maybe in the north by the second or third snow. Maybe. I don’t much care about snow – it’s no big deal. But we get ice and I hate that. Give me a foot of snow over an eighth of an inch of ice!

7 a { 12.09.13 at 12:59 pm }

Also, I don’t worry too much about the bread and milk, but I do obsessively gas up my car! And Josh could have made it home – it just would have taken twice as long.

8 loribeth { 12.09.13 at 2:12 pm }

The hardy, Canadian Prairie born & bred part of me is rolling my eyes. ; But then the part of me that’s lived in the Toronto area for the past 28 years remembers the hysteria surrounding our last major-major snowstorm in January 1999, when the mayor of the time (not Rob Ford, but a goof in his own right) actually called in the army to help shovel the city out. The rest of the country is already inclined to hate/make fun of Toronto as it is, and this is something that we will never, ever live down.

Here’ s a link to a satirical video from 2007 by Rick Mercer, this country’s answer to Jon Stewart & Stephen Colbert (he’s the guy in the glasses — originally from Newfoundland, where they know snow…!):


And a 2007 rant by Rick about Toronto & winter weather:

9 Alexicographer { 12.09.13 at 3:44 pm }

So first off, if we’re talking ice rather than snow, and if it’s real ice, the freezing rain sort (as opposed to just those ice pellets known as sleet), then it is absolutely a huge safety problem and no one has any business going outdoors (where there is ice), period, end of conversation. I drove from NYC to Charlottesville VA in a RWD Datsun 210 in 1988, which was dumb (duh — I was a college kid, what can I say), but the only really treacherous part of the drive, actually, was DC to C’ville, which was on ice, and man was that stupid. I am, no joke, lucky to be alive.

But overall I figure many parts of the US, likely including DC, get about the same number of “snow days” every year (on average over time), defined as a day when everything shuts down due to snow, even though the more southerly areas get much less … snow. They aren’t equipped to deal with it. Turns out it is possible (in theory) to remove snow from the roads effectively, something I learned only after I moved north of the Mason-Dixon line (the “in theory” because that is only true if you have the right equipment, including enough salt, and experience, and we in the South — where I am, once again — don’t. Nor should we, really, snow being the rarity it is).

@Jo I was pretty much bouncing off the wall after just one cold rainy (no snow) day home with my kid yesterday, and delighted to be back at work and him at school myself today, so I’m totally with those parents. And we made good memories. But e.g. a game where I have to chase DS while he tries to touch the walls (of our house) and I get to tickle him until he falls down giggling, if I catch him? Utterly delightful. Thrilling. Charming. But not so much better for me the second hour than it was the first (actually the contrary), an opinion with which he does not hold. So.

@Lindz I’ll see your trifecta and call you a fourth item, which seems around here to be either soda or eggs, depending.

10 nicoleandmaggie { 12.09.13 at 4:27 pm }

The only people out driving are Northern transplants, at least when it snows down here in my little Southern state. It’s quite peaceful out on the roads after a flurry.

11 Emily { 12.09.13 at 7:52 pm }

Love this and could not agree more. I am from Louisiana but really learned to drive in Boston -scary! a great education!- and the complete inability of DC-area folks (talking in large part to folks drivin’ in from ‘burbs, to be honest) to remember even the basics of driving, much less driving in precipitation of any form, makes me batshit crazy. Here’s the warm PJs and stores of milk and tp! 😉

12 Queenie { 12.09.13 at 8:44 pm }

You should see people try to drive here in the rain. I shudder to imagine what they do when they move north.

13 Tigger { 12.09.13 at 9:29 pm }

The first snow of every year results in about 150 accidents in the city. Small city, mind you (about 210,000), but the biggest in the state. Every single year people forget how to drive. It’s better if it happens on the weekend, because we have less people out during rush hour and there’s not as many accidents…but it rarely happens on a weekend. I didn’t hear the count for this year but Friday was our first real snowfall.

Snow – blech. It’s cold and wet and once I get cold it takes me HOURS to warm back up. I’ll drive in it if I have to and I’ll be okay. My parents made me take driver’s ed in the winter so I’d get used to driving in snow FIRST. My dad took me out in his big old ’77 Ford Ranger and made me drive through the fields in the snow. I will, however, freely admit that I get a giggle out of people who can’t drive in the snow…simply because it never occurs to me that there are places that are NOT the true Southern states that don’t get snow. I’m fairly certain that all of my family in MA laugh their asses off at me and my loathing for winter and snow.

Ice? Not on your life. If there’s ANY way I can not go out, I’ll take it. I’ve been known to just skip my classes because there’s ice. We pretty much always get both. Three of the four car accidents I’ve been involved in (two as a kid) have been in the winter and a result of black ice. That shit is DEADLY. I won’t risk my kid if I don’t absolutely, without a doubt, have to.

We’re already at -2* in the morning and we’re not even at mid-December. It’s going to be a long, snowy, cold freaking winter and I hate it already.

14 Kasey { 12.10.13 at 7:33 am }

I love this. Were expecting snow today and its like the world is coming to an end!

15 jjiraffe { 12.10.13 at 10:24 am }

This made me laugh, and also reminded me how ridiculous London was whenever it snowed: basically, the city shut down the tube within 5 minutes of snow, and one night I walked 1 1/2 miles in the snow and heels, falling on my ass a number of times. It’s like the whole city (and its inhabitants like me, ahem) were in denial that it would ever snow.

16 Heather { 12.10.13 at 12:06 pm }

The trouble is OVER confidence of the Northerners. The attitude that they know how to drive in snow so we’re going out anyway.
Syracuse is my hometown and they get a lot of snow. A LOT. However, there are certain conditions that do not warrant dealing with the hassle. Just because you know how to drive in snow does not mean you should. I also agree with your comment about other people not knowing how to drive in snow.

17 Catwoman73 { 12.10.13 at 12:18 pm }

Lol… as a proud Canuck, who has driven through some G-d-awful weather to get to work at a job I can’t stand, sorry, but I’m inclined to agree with Josh on this one…

But I don’t live in Toronto… we dig ourselves out around here!!! 😛

18 Lori Lavender Luz { 12.10.13 at 3:43 pm }

Laughing, too. Especially at you & Josh.

Hadn’t heard that Kennedy quote before. Apt!

19 Commenter { 12.12.13 at 12:45 pm }
(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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