The City-Dwellers’ Almanac (just invented for this column) measures snowfall not in inches but in time, and defines a blizzard as a snowstorm that has you digging out your car for at least half an hour.
It might seem an unorthodox standard, but it’s useful for evaluating winters, and when trying to remember them.
Early this season, a friend of mine here in Ithaca said he hoped we’d have a milder winter than last. I thought and said, “Well, last winter wasn’t so bad, was it? I think we had only one real blizzard and one other bad storm.”
That meant I remembered one day spending 45 minutes excavating my car and another day about 20 minutes: just those two marathons.
This year there have been two such so far, almost exactly the same as last year wholly, in time if not inches.
Sometimes we exacerbate the car-clearing ordeal by not getting to it fast enough, thus courting the cataclysm of untimely (that is, timely) city snow-plowing burying our vehicles yet deeper.
If the snow comes on a workday, it’s easy to be motivated enough to get out there before such treachery can occur. You want to get to your job on time, or close.
For those of us who work nights, it’s harder. With this season’s first storm, fairly characterized as a “doozy” in polite parlance, it started snowing heavily as I was leaving work. I knew I’d do well to rise early for meteorological maintenance, before the snow plow hit my street.
Alas, by 7 a.m. (about 1 a.m. in my sleep cycle) it was already too late: the plow had already been by. So I went back to bed.
And then learned a little lesson, when I got up a few hours later, had coffee, dressed for battle and went outside, and saw that the plow had come again. Now the snow was three feet high against the car on the curb side, and halfway up the window on the street side, packed solidly.
The fact that the shovel was inside the car did not make the situation any brighter.
I sighed and figured now I’d have to go inside and fetch my largest ladle, if my downstairs neighbor’s shovel wasn’t available on the porch. Luckily, it was.
I got to work (for 45 minutes) undoing the damage done by Old Man Winter, Snowplow Driver, and Me.
My parents not having raised any stupid children, when another storm came the next week, I was up extra early.
But resolve and design don’t always triumph over chance, and as I hit the street, shovel in gloved hands, a snorting (it seemed), scraping city plow came into view at the crest of a slight incline at the far end of my block, coming my way.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I thought (again, in polite parlance). What kind of bad car karma was I suffering?
Twenty or so seasons of on-street parking in Ithaca have taught me that compassion-seeking gazes generally do not register with a snowplow operator on a mission and schedule. I weighed the option of going full Tiananmen Square on the guy and blocking the street with my body.
Apparently, however, I did not have to recreate history for the guy to decide not to be on the wrong side of justice, an agent of state oppression. I don’t know his state of mind (we were still too distant for eye contact), but instead of proceeding toward me he took a left down a side street.
Mine is a main street, on a bus route, and the side street a minor, one-block one that generally gets plowed late. So I believe I received an overt act of mercy.
Sometimes storms bring out good features in people, even hardened workers behind a wheel.
In fact, they usually do. It’s one of the nice things about snowstorms. Neighbors talk to each other. Often they shovel for each other. Kids are giddy with excitement.
Next door to me, with the first snow, a toddler was helping her mother shovel, primarily taking tiny scoops of piled snow and placing them back on the sidewalk with her plastic pastel-colored implement; but of course it’s the thought that counts. Her mother smiled and said “This is her favorite activity,” and her beaming daughter gave an avid wave.
It’s the one time you can be late for work and nobody minds. You come in, stamp your boots, swipe the snow from your shoulders and say “Whew!”
Everyone turns around and says, “Right?”
That is, unless you’re too late. I’m not forgetting my lessons.