IT IS FRIDAY as I write this and it's snowing in Washington. My friend, Tony, new at the newspaper and new to Washington, does not understand all the excitement. We are explaining to him what snow means in this town. It starts, as all snows do, with the closing of the Fairfax schools.
The Fairfax County schools close anytime the temperature is under 40 and the skies are cloudy. This is in contradistinction (I love that word) to Montgomery County where the schools merely open an hour late. This is in contradistinction itself to the belief that people who live in Montgomery County are smart. If they are so smart how come they don't know that the longer they wait, the more snow there is on the ground.
Tony is astounded. We tell him next about the District schools. The District schools almost never close, but before they never close it is announced that they are closed. Then they open. once the did close, but that was announced only after the kids had gone to school and the parents to work. As a result, 4,123 kids are still missing and presumed lost.
Just before the snow hits, all the old ladies in town get into old Green Buicks and drive up Connecticut Avenue to an institution known as the Giant. This is because it is universally believed that once it snows, no more bread is baked anywhere in the world. All the old ladies drive their cars very slowly in the left-hand lane and when they come to a hill, they hit the brake and then try to make it up the hill. This is known as The Washington Maneuver and has been widely copied throughout the area.
Tony, a worldly journalist, is not prepared for what happens next. What happens next, he is told, is that the car can not make it up the hill.The driver then floors the accelerator, cleverly forcing the car into a spin and it comes down the hill sideways, taking out maybe six or seven cars. The local record is 13 cars and is held by Sonny Jurgensen. It was in August.
Tony is then told that after one inch of snow has fallen, everything is canceled. This is all you hear on the radio. I have been listening for years and it is my impression that the institution with the largest number of cancellations is the Jewish Community Center in Rockville. This is because it has lots of programs for singles. The next largest number of cancellations belongs to the Prince George's Community College. Night school there is sometimes canceled because of darkness.
Tony does not understand why this happens. It does not happen in New York where Tony last worked and he points out, rightly, I might add, that it does not snow that much more in New York than it does in Washington. At this everyone scratches his head and wonders what could be the reason. Some say it is because Washington is a Southern town, full of people who never have seen snow. This ia a canard. Far more people are from the North. No matter, once they go South of the Beltway, they go spastic in the snow.
Tony sits down, dumbfounded. Tell me more, he says. We do. We tell him that shortly after the first snowflakes are seen, all the cab dirivers in Washington head for home. This is because some of them sense, almost instinctively, that they will he needed and some of them don't want to drive in the snow but most of them see the old ladies driving north on Connecticut, figure something's up and simply follow.
The next thing that Tony is told is that he will hear what are called Virginia stories. Virginia stories are told by people who swear that it takes them only 35 minutes to commute to Washington but who, in the snow, somehow make the trip last four or five hours. In the snow, Vienna gets to be five hours away and Reston four hours and places in Fauquier County (a place Tony cannot pronounce anyway) are days away.
Tony has to sit down and we are not up to Metro yet. Metro is new in Washington, but already there is tradition. At the first sign of snow the trains are pulled out of the tunnels and left outside. The they can not be used by federal government workers who leave early whenever it snows, except on Fridays when all of them leave early anyway. District workers leave later and essential workers don't leave at all. In fact, 14,000 essential workers are still missing from the last snow. Some of them may be looking for their children who got lost when school was closed after being declared open.
By this time, Tony is agog. His mouth is open and his forehead has broken out in sweat and he has a panicked look on his face. It has not taken him long, but already he has the look of a Washintonian in the snow.
Welcome to Washington, Tony.