I have stopped looking forward to weekends recently, not so much because of the weekend itself, but for the 5 to 24 inches of snow that has been following it with some regularity this month.
It's not as though I haven't been through disastrous situations before. I experienced firsthand the Northeast Blackout of 1965, the move of the Washington Senators to Texas in 1970, and the Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter administrations.
Like the recent snows, some of the other disasters were not forecast until they had buried us.
With no office to go to on Tuesday, a car that was inside a garage instead of inside a snowdrift, a refrigerator that was still stocked, and a working furnace, I decided to take some time to reflect on the Great Blizzard of 1979 (or, to use the Weather Service's phrase, the Great "Near-Blizzard." I still do not know how we avoided getting a full-blizzard rating -- perhaps hell had not frozen over).
Was it really possible that the District would send out snowplows without chains on their wheels or ballast in their trucks? Standing at the intersection of Virginia and New Hampshire Avenues, near the Kennedy Center, I could watch three snowplows simultaneously spinning their wheels in unsuccessful efforts to move. Not to mention the Metrobus that was in the same fix.
Never move into a subdivision if you have a fear of being confined. By the time the plows get around to clearing your street, the next snow has arrived. Emergency vehicles can't get in, and residents can't get out. Unless they have a four-wheel-drive vehicle.
Make friends with the owner of a four-wheel-drive vehicle.
If the person also has a backyard pool, then he or she won't have to be considered a fair-weather friend.
The tractors that came here to protest by stopping traffic and ripping up the Mall offered some much-needed help during the clean-up, but it was too little, too late for my purposes. At noon Sunday I tried to drive to the Mall to buy someone a birthday gift, but I turned around because the tractors had once again blocked traffic. I figured I'd go on Monday. The birthday was Tuesday. I gave a card and an I.O.U.
What can one say about a bus company that takes a person from Bethesda to Dupont Circle Monday morning, calls in the buses, and forces the ex-passenger to walk home?
In the time I was outside Monday I only saw two vehicles with chains. One had Georgia tags.
After the snowstorm on the 12th, I read that the WDVM live sports show "Sidelines" had been a real treat to watch as Glenn Brenner and Sonny Jurgenson had to ad-lib it until their guests showed up just showed up just a few minutes before the closing credits. I tuned in this week to see the Glenn and Sonny show, hoping to see something akin to the Muppet Show. Instead the station had substituted a taped show, one of a series entitled "Disasters."
Life Goes On Department -- As WRCTV cut live to Sue Simmons in the newsroom to bring us an update on road conditions, there in the background, amidst the clattering typewriters and stern-looking newspeople, was a lady methodically emptying wastebaskets into a large garbage can. Cinemaverite.
Best line of the day: From Bill Trumbull, speaking by telephone to his fellow Two-for-the-Roader Chris Core on WMAL. When asked if his supply of cigarettes was holding out in his snowbound Gaithersburg home, Trumbull replied: "I started smoking The Washington Post last night." (Maybe you had to be there.)
And speaking of The Post, I still can't figure out how it got delivered on Monday. Must have been the guy from Georgia with chains.
It was mid-December 1973, I'd worked all week on a three-column story, with charts, on the commuting habits of New Yorkers based on a Census Bureau report. As a reporter-intern for The New York Times Washington bureau, this was my chance at Page One. The article was my chance at Page One. The article was printed in the paper of Monday, December 17, as the offlead. Another front-page story told of the first snowstorm of the season. No papers made it to Washington, and I figure 18 people in New York got the paper. Had they only wanted it for the entries at Aqueduct Raceway. It's not much of a story, but it's mine.
Perhaps the less said the better. Or perhaps not. I am particularly indebted to the television weatherman who, after predicting snow on Sunday and Monday most of the previous week, changed his mind for the early news Friday night and said we would not get any more precipitation until Wednesday. Something about a strong high up north.
That forecast was relayed to my sister in New York, who proceeded to drive to Washington on Saturday. I'm writing this on Tuesday afternoon. She still has no idea when she'll be able to get back to New York and to work. At least she's staying with friends who like her a lot. I know people who are stuck with "friends" who, if they stay much longer, will be ex-friends. Isn't there some famous saying about guests and fish both smelling after three days? Never mind.
One more weather-forecaster note. I think the Weather Service should be given a third chance. There are humans working there with the computers, after all. I know this because no computer would be quoted in the paper, referring to private forecasters' criticism of the service, as saying "He's full of it" and "I'm not saying the guy's a jerk, but..."
NOTES FOR NEXT WINTER.
Buy thermal underwear. Ski pajamas cannot do double-duty for long if you want to keep your friends.
Schedule no appointments for February.
Go to a phobia clinic to cure my fear of flying and book an early flight for Florida.
A FINAL WORD
One of our visiting farmers, noting that a mere two feet of snow closed up the city and that he had to use his tractor to get telephone operators to the Pentagon, asked in amazement, "What would happen here if they had a war?"