We're expecting snow today, and a lot of people will make fun of Washington. They'll laugh at the school cancelings and the doomsday predictions and the supermarket stampedes and the gridlocked streets and giggle unkindly about how the Capital of the Free World gets paralyzed by even a hint of the sort of winter weather other cities handle with aplomb.
Well, it's not our fault.
This is an important city and people have a lot on their minds. In other cities, people worry about snow. Here we worry about the war in Chechnya and the Iowa caucuses. We can't be expected to deal with everything. That fellow over there, for example, who just pulled his SUV into the middle of the intersection instead of leaving a space for the cross traffic. You might think he's an incompetent idiot, but that's not necessarily so. He's probably pondering the dangers of an accountable D.C. school board.
We may look and act dysfunctional, but it's not our fault. The drivers spinning their tires there on Shirley Highway. Why do you think they're in such a hurry? They're from the government and trying to get to work fast so your tax dollars won't be wasted. Besides, it has long been considered more important in Washington to spin your wheels energetically than to get anywhere.
In Washington, never attempt to draw parallels between someone's effectiveness on the highway and his effectiveness in the office. Just because a commuter can't get any traction on the Beltway doesn't necessarily mean he can't get a grip on important concepts. He may be a lawyer who writes regulations. Intellectual traction isn't a requirement.
It's also not our fault that we don't have enough information about snow. The National Weather Service has been saddled with an ancient Cray C-90 computer that was electronically retarded. This week things improved with the inauguration of a new, five-times-as-fast IBM that can make 690 billion calculations per second. The new NWS superbrain appears to have been caught napping by the Tuesday night snow event, but obviously that was due to teething problems. Everyone in Washington knows more data make things clearer.
It's not our fault that streets get gridlocked. Pierre L'Enfant laid out a very tricky design for Washington. The east-west, north-south grid works well enough. The problem is those state avenues that keep angling in and confusing traffic. This makes it very difficult in snowstorms. Is avenue traffic more important than number or alphabet street traffic? How are we supposed to know? Equality is an important concept here.
In fact, all those people gridlocked around you in times of snow or flurries, they're all equally important. They know that. And that's why they're not about to let you in front of them.
CAPTION: A dusting of snow turned 15th Street into a slide show.
CAPTION: Line in winter: A few flakes bring Washington to a halt.