Monday, February 02, 2009

Celebrating Ground Hog Day, 2009: why we hate winter in Boston

Well, I can never remember whether it's a good thing or a bad thing if Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow. All I know is that this winter can't end soon enough.

I thought last winter was bad, mostly because I was nursing a broken shoulder. This winter.... Yikes!

Unlike winters past, there was no January thaw this year. None. Nada. Zilch. Some years, we even get a bit of weirdness in which the buds start to appear on the trees, before beating a retreat once they realize it's still winter. This year, however, we've had generally cold, below average temp, miserable weather since before Christmas.

Boston.com has been trying to put a smiley face on things, with all kinds of "Why We Love Boston in the Winter" features.

Fair enough.

There are, after all, some things to love about winter here:

  • After a snow fall, it's pretty.
  • It's fun to see the apple-cheeked toddlers being dragged along on Flying Saucers and toboggans.
  • The nighttime skating on the Frog Pond on Boston Common has got to be one of the most beautiful urban sights on earth.

Mostly, though, there are a lot more reasons "Why We Hate Winter in Boston." Here are mine:

  • Ice bound corners: Yes, most people - at least in my neighborhood -  do manage to shovel their sidewalks. So you can make it from one end of the block to the next without risking a broken ankle or hip. Alas, at the corner, you get to the no man's land, where - depending on the temperature - you'll find an 8" deep, 10' wide icy-cold slush puddle, or mounds o' ice. Gray, treacherous mounds o' ice. Come on, Boston residents and businesses: it only takes an additional 15-30 minutes of shoveling to clear out the corners and open up the storm drains - I know, because I do the one nearest my house - but you have to do it before the snow hardens to a gray, treacherous mound o' ice. At that point, you'll need to spend an hour with a jack hammer to clear things up.
  • Everybody doesn't shovel their sidewalk: And when that happens, the entire sidewalk turns into a gray, treacherous patch o' ice. The other night, we went to dinner, and when we go Arlington Street, where it's bisected by the Commonwealth Mall, we had to pick our way gingerly over that gray, treacherous patch o' ice. I believe this is city property, Mister Mayor. You could at least have someone throw sand on it.
  • After it's pretty, snow gets ugly: The Public Garden, which is right out front, does manage to maintain its pristine snowy beauty for the duration, but the snow that borders the sidewalks turns to hardened, soot-covered, dog-pee (and worse) stained yecch within days of a snowfall. The yecch is typically decorated with blown-on pieces of trash, too. U-G-L-Y.
  • The trade-off between looking good and being warm:  I pretty much decided where I stand on this trade-off twenty years ago, when I tied a headscarf under my chin, babushka style, and braved a storm, hunched over and passing for my grandmother. So, like most other folks (excluding girls and young women between the ages of 12 and 32, who continue to venture out in light coats, no hats, high heels....), I bundle up: big old LL Bean parka, goofy ski hat, clunky boots. I even have a pair of polarfleece snow pants that are so baggy I can wear them over my workout clothes, and probably even a pair of jeans. Still, there are times when I do want to look good. For those times, I want to wear the same good, black coat that appears to be owned by 95% of the women in Boston between the ages of 21 and 91. Mine is lovely: a long, black, double-breasted, cashmere-wool combo from Lord & Taylor. It's just not all that warm. Sure, I was smart enough to buy it large enough to fit over a business suit, but that's not quite warm enough. Maybe next time I need a good winter coat, I'll get one that fits over a snow suit.
  • Potholes: I no longer have a car, but, when I did, I went through 2-4 hubcaps a year. Sure, that's what I get for being too cheap to take the good, built-in wheel rim option, and electing to go with the flimsy, cheapo plastic ones instead. Still, 2-4 per year. I got so I kept a couple of spares in the trunk. The first time I lost a hubcap, it was on Storrow Drive. I saw where it flew off to (a safe space on the side of the road), so I pulled off at the exit and went back to retrieve it. When I neared the place where I thought I'd seen it land, I spotted it. Only to find out that it was for another make of car. I then looked up and saw that there were about three dozen hubcaps on the ground. I did find mine. But after that, I seldom bothered to go after a lost hubcap. I'd just pop a spare on. And, of course, there's far worse damage that can be done from potholes than lost hubcaps: destroyed tires, bent axles, etc.
  • Runny noses, fogged glasses, chapped lips, broken nails: Yes, winter in Boston: one misery after the next.
  • The alarmist weather reports: For those of us who lived through it, the Blizzard of '78 - which shut the city down for over a week - was something to behold. Our forecasters apparently missed the boat on calling it, so people were stranded: at work, in cars.  This was before there were ATM's, the banks were closed, and people ran out of cash. Stores ran out of things like bread and milk, and when they were first re-stocked, they asked people to limit their purchases. The woman ahead of me buying the-first-bread-in-Boston was a hoarder: her arms were full of loaves of bread, English muffins. And I thought I was a carbo-junkie. Well, ever since the Blizzard of '78, every storm is treated as if it's going to be The Big One: Storm Alert! Winter Storm Warning! Run for your lives..... This, despite the far greater sophistication of the forecasting technology these days. Two inches, two feet, makes no difference: every storm story is a huge deal.
  • The predictable news stories: Two inches, two feet. No matter. The night before The Storm, we can be guaranteed a news story on people stocking up on milk, bread, water, batteries.... Of course, this year, they're probably feeling quite justified, as there was a brutal ice storm in the central part of Massachusetts and in New Hampshire, pre-Christmas, that left some people without power for a couple of weeks. Still, those "stock up" stories have such a sameness, they could slot the same one in year after year and no on would notice. Then there are the stories on the municipal salt/sand/plowing budgets. (Reporter, live, standing in front of 20 foot high mound of municipal salt, in headlights of plow, telling us we've already spent the entire year's budget and it's only November....) Post storm, there's the kids in Harvard Yard who are seeing snow for the first time. Are there no new news angles under the snow-blotted-out sun?
  • No school:  As a kid, there was nothing I'd rather hear on the radio than the blessed announcement, "No school, all schools, Worcester public and parochial" - an announcement that was only made once or twice a year, and then only when we had at least a foot of snow. Now, they call off school for any amount of snow, even before any snow has fallen. I don't have any kids, so I don't know why these prophylactic school closings drive me batty. Perhaps I'm channeling the feelings of my sister Trish and broth Rick when they hear those dreaded school closing announcements. (Of course, I am delighted for my nieces when these calls are made....)
  • The glare: Sure, we complain when it's overcast, but on the odd sunny day, you will be snow-blinded if you're so foolish as to venture out without your sunglasses. Seriously, in these parts, you can get away without wearing sunglasses in the summer, but in the winter? Never!
  • No baseball:  Okay, there's plenty of hockey and basketball, but, other than the Hot Stove League dramas - (Will Varitek take the paltry $5M the Red Sox are offering him? Well, yes he will.) - there's no baseball.

Ah, winter in Boston.

But at last it is Groundhog Day.

Which means it's February, which brings longer days, warmer nights, and the first crocuses peeping up.

Big storms may dump a lot on us, but they disappear faster.

At some point, I will be able to venture out in a shoe that doesn't have a lug sole.

Pitchers and catchers start in a couple of weeks.

And I also heard that, if Rush Limbaugh ventures out today and sees his shadow, he'll be off the air in six weeks. Here's hoping!

1 comment:

katrog said...

The other day while walking I noticed some really stellar trash in the snow mounds--two bright blue plastic bags of dog poop--somehow I find this more disgusting than unwrapped dog poop, or "dog doo" as we used to called it when I was a kid.

I saw a news article that the Boston Housing Police (who monitor sidewalk shoveling) have been issued devices that take time-stamped pictures of unshoveled walks and print out a citation with the picture on it. I don't know if it has improved the shoveling, but it has cut down on the number of folks who contest the tickets. ;)