Today, one hopes, will be a bright, sunny day, and the events of Monday will be left as just a reminder from the weather god that among all the things that embarrass this city, from inaccurate water bills to miscounted ballots, snow still leaves 'em with wet pants.
It wasn't so much getting stranded for nearly an hour Monday morning in a fishtailing line on the Fredrick Douglass Bridge, that stretch of South Capitol Street over the Anacostia River. You figure a bridge over troubled water is bound to freeze sometimes, anyway.
But then I wiggled my way up to Pennsylvania Avenue and curse the weather god: U.S. Park Service workers were busting their shovels throwing salt all around the White House, while a special brand of dirt truck with a heavy, screeching blade made me grit my teeth as it scraped pavement alongside the Treasury Department.
So where were the city trucks, the ones responsible for keeping the real D.C. clean? The people's trucks, Mr. Mayor's official Snow Man told us, were out doing a helluva job. He said, and I quote, "We're going to ease right on through this." Let me tell you, anybody who didn't ease right on through ended up in a ditch.
Somehow, the people's trucks, the ones city tax money paid for, didn't make it to those far-out places called "side streets." As usual, the neighborhoods, those off-the-beaten-path areas peopled by taxpaying city residents, went begging while the streets into Washington that are traveled by commuters were pretty clean. That this lopsided dispensation of public services is probably not exclusive to the District is poor comfort in a snowstorm.
Working my way through traffic, I saw an elderly man trying to ice-skate to a bus stop, in his lowtops. I had to look away because I knew he was going to end up with a busted back stop. And had I gone to his rescue, I probably would have skidded and struck him with my car.
I also saw a woman packing dirt from a plant pot around the wheels of her car. The person behind the wheel pressed the accelerator and sprayed her with dirt and slush. Tears of frustration mixed with the mud as she stalked back into the house.
I wanted to cry, too, when I got stuck on the Douglass Bridge, but I was too scared. Here I was in a caravan of cars caught in freezing rain on a frozen bridge next to the Navy helipad. And the compact in front of me was not maintaining traction. In a futile effort to burn rubber and hit pay dirt, the little bugger careened and blocked both lanes.
The drivers trapped on the bridge tried desperately to stay aligned with the road, aiming for the tracks of the car in front of them. But once you stop on an icy incline, there is no place to go but down. I stopped--I mean, I pressed the brake, only to see the bridge wall outside my window go sliding ahead. Was I going backward, with my foot on the brake? My pelvic area contracted as I braced for the crash, which was barely avoided when the car behind me went sliding backwards, too.
In a panic, I rolled down my window to wave at the guy behind me. Why? I don't know, but I know that rolling down an ice-caked window gets you a lap full of ice.
Did I hear more spinning tires, or was that a whirlybird from the helipad honing in on me? Cold and wet, my car sliding out of control on an icy bridge, I started talking to the weather god.
To look at the pictures of the snow you'd think this city was blessed. All those pigeon-stained statues become glistening ice sculptures. Nothing makes me feel so young as watching children playing in the snow, especially a child from, say, Mexico. Fix them up with some snowballs and a snow-loving dog and it becomes the stuff that sells Kodaks.
Now you take that same stuff and put just a little bit, say two measly inches, on D.C. streets and we're talking disaster area, travelers' alerts, school closings.
I am reminded that in Los Angeles yesterday an International Earthquake Conference began in which earthquake preparedness was tested with a simulated quake of 7.5 on the quaker shaker.
So what we had here must have been the weather god's snow conference. But instead of the predicted l0 inches, we only got two inches--simulated snow. In the end, however, the volume that fell didn't really matter; as usual, the city's treatment of its own amounted to nothing less than a snow job.