Every region in America has its typical weather systems, and the natives of each region always have a certain amount of bravado or blase when the hurricane or snow storm or earthquake rumbles on their doorsteps. I grew up on the East Coast and know in my bones when to ride out a storm and when to leave way ahead of anything close to Hurricane Camille.
There was that time a smaller hurricane came through, which means the winds were still at least 80 mph and we rode it out on a barrier island in Longport, N.J. The newspaper boy even delivered the Atlantic City Press. Under the circumstances, my father felt obligated to go outside and get the paper.
Now, I'm in Chicago and the big deal for everyone outside of Chicago is the wind, the cold and the snow. I knew I was in for it when I got here and saw the warming lights on the elevated subway platforms, and everyone kept telling me the key to a warm winter was the proper socks.
However, the locals don't scare so easily. It can still snow a foot here and everyone gets up and goes to work without really mentioning the weather. No one even bothers to check the TV for school closings. We all know, everything is open. Back in Richmond, Va., a few inches would have been enough for the news trucks to head out and the school buses to remain idle.
There is a limit to everything, though, even in the Windy City. When two feet of snow fell on us one recent night, at a fast and furious pace of two to three inches an hour, with 50 mph howling winds and snow lightning and thunder cracking everywhere, Chicago gave in and stayed inside.
Well, almost everyone.
That's right. I went out for Chinese food to Friendship Chinese on Milwaukee with my friend, Carolyn, who kept assuring me that we'd be crazy to miss $8.95 night when all of the entrees are one flat price. Plus, when we called to see if they were still open, the owner tsked at us, and said it's just a little snow.
The gauntlet had been thrown down and even though our good friend, Ann, had said we were crazy, we readily took it up and got in the car. We weren't even the only ones in the restaurant. By the time we were finished, though, it was nine o'clock at night and there were almost white-out conditions. I was holding on to the handle next to me as Carolyn drove. She wasn't worried at all, and for some reason, that was enough for me.
The alley behind my building turned out to be her undoing and the car became lodged in a snow drift. Fortunately, a neighbor I've never met, named Pete, who was coming home from the store during the blizzard, stopped to help and two other neighbors, both named Matt, were willing to come outside, and we all dug and pushed and rocked the car backwards through the alley as lightning and thunder and wind and snow howled all around us.
It was a little crazy, but also a lot of fun. It's really not that often that, as an adult, I get to participate in the middle of storms anymore. Fortunately, the story ends well, even if Carolyn may need new tires from all of our efforts. She made it safely home and bonded along the way with the variety of strangers who helped push her out of snow drifts three more times.
The next day, we woke up to a quiet urban landscape with early morning cross country skiers swooshing down the middle of our street. Neighbors were digging out the alleys as a team, and the minister at the nearby Baptist church used a snow blower and cleared the sidewalk on both sides of the street all of the way down the block. Even my son, Louie, found a hill in flat Chicago where there was some great sledding and everyone was saying "hello" on the streets and sharing their heroic or funny stories. A few snow angels and some snowmen later, though, and we're all going back to work, almost blase again about the mountain of snow that will probably be here for awhile.
I'm glad I was here for the Snowathon. There are always going to be a lot of things we can choose to worry about in our daily lives, but once in awhile the weather makes us take a pause and have a little fun. That's what I'll remember from the Snowmageddon of 2011, well, and the great Chinese food.
Martha's column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc., newspaper syndicate. E-mail her at Martha@caglecartoons.com.