We here at Olivia Waite have lived in the Seattle area all our life. Over the course of our three decades, it has become apparent to us that there is a peculiar dance that occurs on the rare occasions when we get sudden and huge amounts of snow. It happened this way in 2008, in 1996, and I even remember it happening that one memorable year when we were in third grade and all but two family members were in Hong Kong. I like to call this dance the Seattle Snowpocalypso.
Is it really snowing? Will it stick? Should I leave work now and stock up on food? What if I leave work now and everyone else leaves work now and we all get caught in traffic and then it really starts to snow? Can I get home without using the Metro bus system? Because if I need to bus home, I should probably do it now, right? Rather than waiting for conditions to worsen and getting stuck on a bus with angry strangers and possibly sliding down a hill and dangling over the freeway? I'm going to see what my Facebook friends are doing. The gods have mercy on you if you have kids to pick up from school.
It's definitely sticking now. They've got three inches on Capitol Hill, and Delphic weather oracle Cliff Mass says it's only going to get worse. I'm on my way home—either fighting my way by inches along an arterial street or crammed onto a bus whose windows are so fogged that nobody inside can tell where we are. Screw this, I'm getting off. Don't even care if this is my stop—I'll hoof it if I have to.
Knowing that if you slip and break your leg on a slippery patch of sidewalk, it will take ages for an ambulance to arrive. Driving's no better—not with the looming threat of black ice on a twenty-degree grade. That awful moment when you feel the road take control of your car away from you as easily as breathing. Stepping gently on the brakes and feeling the wheels lock but the car keeps moving forward. You knew Seattle was a city on a hill—several of them, technically—but you've never quite realized that means that to get anywhere you must go either up a hill or down a hill. This is a tremendously bad idea and you will have no part in it. Once you get home, you worry about the possibility of power outages. Spoiled food. The story you hear every storm of someone trying to cook indoors on a charcoal stove and dying of carbon monoxide poisoning.
The city becomes an archipelago of neighborhoods, islands of light in the darkness. The break with mundane routine makes all other social rules seem immediately more flexible. People walk to the bar nearest their house in search of warmth and society, greeting each other with all the effusive delight of those who have survived some great calamity. Impromptu snowball fights and sledding runs are common. This is Seattle, so lots of people have plenty of outdoor winter equipment for mountain climbing and skiing and showshoeing and the like. Crampons become as common here as Uggs are everywhere else. With vehicles immobilized, city streets become accessible to pedestrians in ways that only seem possible in the golden glow of an imagined small-town Main Street. People walk boldly down the center of the street, knowing that no harm will come to them.
4. Knee-Jerk Self-Justification
Family and friends in Oklahoma and Nebraska are making fun of the way we drive in the snow, are they? Well they are giant flat boring places with square city shapes. Our city is a series of hills with mountains on three sides, two lakes, and an ocean. Because of the geography, our streets are necessarily steep and wiggly. Anytime it snows here, it means there is also ice. Especially when it snows for more than two days. Few people have big trucks or heavy off-road vehicles because, duh, it is a city and parking large vehicles is a right pain. There are only a handful of snow plows, and they have to move slowly and carefully on account of those aforementioned hills. So tell you what, Nebraska and Oklahoma, instead of mocking what you do not understand, how about you drive up and down one of the mountains in your state and post a video of that to show us how it's done. Oh, you don't have a mountain in your square, snowy state? Well. (Drops microphone, walks away.)
The snow has turned to rain. Melting happens slowly, as though even the weather is exhausted by the thought that the fun is over and we have to get back to the dull grey winters that wear us down so long before spring comes around to green things up again. And it's almost February. February is the worst. I'd go sit by a fire and drink some single malt for comfort, but I have all this catching up to do from the work days I missed sledding down Queen Anne Avenue. At least I can listen to this appropriately poignant Finnish tango while I work.