There is ecstasy in the agony that a blizzard brings.
With 31 inches of snow on the ground and more expected, with the thermometer seemingly stuck below zero, with traffic paralyzed and with Illinois officially labeled a disaster area by President Carter, there is a feeling of euphoria -- an almost perverse pride -- among many who are living through one of the worst storms on record.
"If you want ti know the truth," says lifelong Chicagoan Betty Lou Salzman, "I love it. There's a sort of cozy feeling. There's a kind of solidarity that happens in this minidisaster that I think people really like, me among them."
John R. Waltz, a law professor at Northwestern University, says, "Putting aside the hardship aspect of it, it's really a beautiful sight. Anyon who likes variety likes staggering seasonal changes. It gives us an opportunity, which I think most of us enjoy, to assess human nature. This blizzard seems by and large to bring out the best in people."
Wes Marchuk, an advertising copywriter, explains, "I think it's an adventure, and almost everyone loves adventures. In fact, I can't think of anything I love more."
Chicago public relations executive Thomas G. Summers says, "It's a break, a change of peace, a little variety. By and Iarge, it's exhilarating.c
And Sheldon Zenner, an associate in a major Chicago law firm, says, "If it weren't for work, it would be perfect. I absolutely love it. It's 'kid time' again. I just wish the whole town would shut down, sit back and enjoy it. But they keep making me come to work."
These are not reactions of observers in ivory towers, insulate from the brutality of the Great Blizzard of '79, but of Chicagoans who have ventured out to meet the storm head on.
While they do not discount the devastating effects of the storm, which has been blamed for a score of area deaths and a multimillion-dollar loss to the area economy, they clearly enjoy the challenge it has brought.
In the evening, downtown bars are packed with commuters waiting for public transportation to clear away the rush-hour onslaught of humanity.
There is only one subject of conversation: The weather, and, most agree, it's miserable and they love it.
"It's rebellious, childlike, let's play hooky attitude," says Dr. William W. Weddington, assistant professor of psychology t the University of Chicago. "I talked to many people who hate the disorder and the unreliability of certain instruments, such as the public transportation, but the storm serves as a challenge as to how they're going to meet a very complex situation.
"And, when your car is stuck and you see a guy walking down the street, you look at him as an ally rather than an amonymous individual. There is definitely an increased appreciation for others, and a sense of cooperation.
"If the storm were more life-threatening or if the economic consequences were greater, the reaction certainly would be different. There would be grief. But, as it is, it's a lark for many people.
"In a sense, it's a test of faith. We don't see the light at the end of the tunnel, but we know spring is coming."
Joseph A. Asbel, a World War II combat veteran, gave this explanation for the phenonmenon: "It's like being in the trenches on Armistice Day. People like to rise to a crisis, and they really liek to be social. This is a war fantasy for every Chicagoan."