David Smith stood on Connecticut Avenue yesterday morning fumbling with his cellular phone, as horizontal snow pelted his face like buckshot and his Subaru sat mashed against a telephone pole.
It was 9:30 a.m. and he had been on his way home after a futile trip to work. He lived 20 miles away in Columbia. And the car, with its crumpled bumper and buckled hood, belonged to his parents.
As Chevy Chase Village police officer Martacia Hall, her pant legs flapping in the gale, told him that a tow truck was on the way, and a snowplow rumbled uselessly by, Smith was not having fun.
Few people did yesterday. A week after the Washington area made peace with winter's first two snowfalls--one capricious and one benign--the season blew in a day of sheer, wind-driven misery. It rendered the region ghostly by dawn with a foot of snow and kept it that way through the night with icy missiles that were blown by 30 mph winds into eyes and ears and under coat collars.
After the joy that greeted last Thursday's genteel six inches, the mood yesterday was more pained.
"I don't want it to snow at all," said Dionna Harewood, 25, a security guard from Woodbridge, as she loaded two bags of sand into a shopping cart at Home Depot. "I don't like snow. It's cold. . . . I'm not happy."
Elsewhere, people cringed at bus stops, eyes tearing in the wind, or stood panting with snow shovels on sidewalks and driveways. Few braved the outdoors to sled, it seemed, and those who did were clad in goggles or swathed in scarves against the gusts, as if in a frozen desert.
Even the air seemed hostile--loaded as it was with billows of snow and what sounded like a distant howl against the background of quiet.
Winter was indeed a tyrant yesterday, showing off its power, blanketing cemeteries and forlorn tombstone wreaths and smothering forgotten pansies in nurseries that were closed for the season.
The storm treated those who braved it with contempt.
On Connecticut Avenue, Smith, 30, had made it to his job with the Washington Opera at the Kennedy Center yesterday, leaving shortly after 6 and arriving about 7:30.
"Driving in . . . wasn't too bad--just a lot of stupid people who shouldn't have been out," he said. "I've got all-wheel drive. It's all the people in their expensive Volvos who . . . think they can drive it in the snow.
"We didn't get the call about closing us down until we got there at 8 o'clock this morning," he said as he stood with Officer Hall in the blizzard.
Heading home, he said, a car in front of him went out of control approaching Bradley Lane. He swerved to avoid a collision and veered off the road into the telephone pole. "I slid right into it," he said.
He was not hurt, but the car was.
As other motorists whooshed by, some of them honking, Officer Hall emerged from her cruiser and called: "Excuse me! A tow truck is coming to get your vehicle."
Smith replied, "Thank you very much." Then he telephoned home. "My wife's probably trying to call me," he said.
As snow swirled around him, he quickly got through and described the damage.
"The center of the hood, right in the middle of the telephone pole," he told her. "The hood's gone, bumper's gone.
"Uh, I'm all the way down on Connecticut Avenue, downtown," he said. "When the tow truck gets here, I'll have them take me to wherever they're going to tow me to, and I'll let you know. It's all I can do.
"I don't want you to come down here and try to pick me up. I'll see if I can get the insurance company to arrange a rental car or something. . . . I will. I will. All right. I love you."
Then he settled in to wait.
Others were waiting outside, too.
Along Rockville Pike, Tony Smith, 39, of Rockville, and Warren Johnson, 54, of Greenbelt, shivered at a bus stop. They'd both been in the Dunkin' Donuts across the street but had been waiting for the bus for 25 minutes.
Johnson was wearing plastic goggles, but Smith's eyes were unprotected and watering in the wind. The wait was much longer than usual, they said. In the gray distance down the pike, no buses were in sight.
Nearby, Chris Neeme, 27, of Gaithersburg, who owns a Jerry's Subs and Pizza in a strip mall along Rockville Pike, was shoveling the sidewalk outside his establishment.
A native of Beirut, where the weather is usually fine, Neeme bought the sub shop a year ago, and he didn't need this kind of weather. "Very bad for business," he said. "It's gonna kill everything around."
One establishment that remained hard at work yesterday, true to its reputation, was the U.S. Postal Service. Post office trucks were notable for the presence on otherwise deserted roadways.
"The post office never closes!" said letter carrier Mike Patterson, 49, laughing, as he emerged from Spartan postal Jeep 6108713. "Yeah, we're all out today. They want to make a show, I guess. If everybody stays off the road, it's passable. . . . I've seen worse."
"They expect us to come out, make the attempt," he said of his customers. "Whatever weather, you're supposed to make the attempt. People want their mail if they don't want anything else."
Patterson, of Beltsville, a veteran of 16 years with the Postal Service, chuckled at the change in attitude about the season.
"Winter's a word that's nice," he said.
"As long as there's no snow involved in it."
But yesterday there was plenty. Clearing a driveway or a sidewalk often required two or three rounds.
"I shoveled the entire block in front of my house twice, and it doesn't seem to have made a dent," said Andrew Braswell, 34, a carpenter in Alexandria. "I just hate cabin fever, and I'm starting to get it."
Teams of shovelers attacked walkways outside churches and public buildings. Snow blowers got bogged down. Even a giant plow got stuck, spinning its tires helplessly in the parking lot of a Montgomery County middle school.
Outside their home on Great Falls Road, in Rockville, Becky Hubbard, 37, her husband, Bryan, 31, and daughters, Meagan, 13, and Anna, 18, labored over their sidewalk and driveway.
Becky Hubbard said the weather didn't bother her.
"We used to live in Michigan, and this is just another winter storm for us," she said. The sidewalk was done, and "now we're trying to find our cars."
Daughter Anna, though, found the weather a drag. "I hate it," she said, "because I can't go anywhere. I'm stuck here."
As they spoke, the snow tapered off for a moment. But then it resumed, this time with a different texture. It was hard and glassy, and it pattered off their jackets.
Bryan Hubbard held up a black gloved hand and watched the pellets bounce off.
"Right now, you're getting a little sleety snow," he said. "This isn't the big flakes you had overnight. This is not the pleasant stuff."
Overhead, the sky was stubbornly gray, and the wind wobbled the bus stop sign by the curb.
Staff writers Carol Morello and Emily Wax contributed to this report.
CAPTION: Jeff Grimes makes a cold and lonely walk down Prosperity Road from the Dunn Loring Metro station to his office in Fairfax.
CAPTION: The intersection of Emerson and 14th streets in Northwest Washington saw few pedestrians. "Winter's a word that's nice," said letter carrier Mike Patterson of Beltsville. "As long as there's no snow involved in it."
CAPTION: Harry Scott, 8, slides down the walkway outside the Maryland State Capitol in Annapolis with his mother, Sally Scott. Behind them is his father, Dave Scott.
CAPTION: Amneris Lee shovels snow from her driveway in Annandale. The battle to clear roads will continue today; more snow and more winds are expected in the Washington region.
CAPTION: Jim Harp uses his snow blower to clear his walkway in Annandale. High winds caused drifting, making it difficult to keep walks and roads clear of snow.