Yesterday morning, Karen Sparks of Alexandria bundled up, walked out into the storm, threw her two 85-pound dogs into the back of her tiny Honda Civic and yelled, "Okay, guys, weigh me down," as she drove onto the snow-covered streets, careful not to touch the brakes for fear of skidding.
Sparks, a receptionist at the Dupont Veterinary Clinic in Washington, was among the few, the brave and the cold who made it to work in the Washington region yesterday.
With many major employers and government agencies shut down and neighborhood stores snowbound, countless thousands of the region's nearly 3 million workers could stay home and snuggle by the fire, play computer games, or make snow angels. But some Washington area workers hauled themselves to work.
Some like Sparks reported to organizations such as hospitals, that simply do not close. Others, holding essential positions such as security, had to show up even if office mates did not. Car pooling, lots of food and long lunch hours kept many of these employees going.
"Our [snow] policy is, we work," said John Taylor, a spokesman for Ruesch International, a financial services company that deals in international transactions, "It is not snowing in Florida" or in many parts of the world in which Ruesch conducts business, he added.
All but a handful of the 150 Ruesch employees in the D.C. office went to work yesterday. Because most Ruesch employees spend their days conducting financial transactions using sophisticated--and highly secure--software programs, telecommuting is not an option, Taylor said.
Owners of sport-utility vehicles found themselves in great demand yesterday. At Loudoun Hospital Center in Leesburg, about 30 volunteers with four-wheel-drive trucks helped pick up doctors and nurses who couldn't travel through the drifting snow, according to hospital spokeswoman Linda Roberts.
"It's been wonderful," Roberts said. "We've received tremendous support from the community."
At the Leesburg Giant Food store, manager Tom Ames said he keeps a list of employees with four-wheel drive vehicles and of those who live close to the store. About 12 employees were at the Leesburg store, compared with 20 on a normal day, Ames said. Those who did show up were treated to platters of food and liberal breaks. Giant employees facing a long commute to work had the option yesterday of working at a company store close to their homes.
Fannie Mae also set up a transportation pool for the 200 "essential workers" who run the company's trading desk or technology systems, said spokeswoman Janice Daue. The District-based company asked the rest of its 2,500 workers "to stay home and off the roads," Daue said.
Freddie Mac in McLean was also closed except for essential workers, who have the option of staying for free at one of two hotels near the Tysons Corner headquarters.
Other large employers in the region, including Marriott International and Comsat Corp., also closed yesterday.
Comsat Security Supervisor Brian Daniel, an employee of First Security Services Corp. in the District, was one of two people at the company's huge building in Bethesda, and took the opportunity to get ahead on payroll work and other paperwork. It took Daniel three times as long as usual to get to work yesterday, and because no one else would want to brave the storm, he figured he would be working until 7 a.m. today, even though his shift ends at 11 p.m. "Sleeping," he said, "is definitely out."
It was a day when even some hearty FedEx delivery people stayed in. Banks all over the Washington and Baltimore areas--rarely closed for anything but national holidays--also shut down. At TeleBanc Financial Corp. in Arlington, however, "the issue of not getting here just wasn't an issue," said Mitchell Caplan, chief executive of the Internet bank, which was recently bought by a Palo Alto, Calif., company.
"This is an opportunity for all the people who bought a sport utility vehicle after the blizzard a few years ago to actually use them."
Staff writers Kathleen Day, Maria Glod and Amy Joyce contributed to this report.