The Long Winter

Philadelphia got dumped on again Wednesday night. Mounds of blackened snow were covered with yet another thick, white coat, giving the city once again a suede-like sheen in the dampened gray daylight.

Honestly, I love the snow. And I love the response. Everyone emerges from their houses like worms after a rainstorm. It’s funny how similar the behavior looks between such dissimilar species. Up and down the main streets, dark shapes move against the whitewash, coated and bundled neighbors doing their best to push back the weather, dig out their cars, clear their sidewalks. Cars get stuck, and within minutes there are two or three men (always men, it seems) gathered around offering advice, pushing, pulling, calculating the mechanics of a spinning tire in a frictionless ditch — get a brick, get a board, get some rope. It always ends in a complaint about the bad plow job done by city trucks.

In the climate of negativity toward the response of northeastern cities to recent winter weather emergencies, it’s nice to see some happy news. Here’s something from the Associated Press about random kindness and senseless acts of shoveling.

Between storms, a builder in Connecticut uses his skid loader to plow his neighbors’ driveways. In Maryland, a good Samaritan hands out water and M&Ms to stranded drivers. The mayor of Philadelphia urges residents to “be kind” and help one another out — and they respond by doing just that.

Across the Northeast, full of large cities where people wear their brusqueness like a badge of honor, neighbors and even strangers are banding together to beat back what’s shaping up to be one of the most brutal winters in years — and it appears to be contagious. [MORE]

I witnessed the storm grow from a gentle snowfall to maximum-strength blizzard during my weekly Bolt Bus trip from New York to Philadelphia. All across New Jersey, traffic moved steadily on I-95, at about 3/4 speed, but periodic curbside clusters of red flares and occasional 16-wheelers, like dead whales, breathless, dark and still, on the wrong side of the median, were unsubtle reminders to me and my fellow passengers that Bad News could happen at any moment.

We applauded the driver when we arrived safely at 30th Street Station. We were an hour and 10 minutes late, but we were there, and I love that no one complained.

When I saw three cars stuck on the open streets nearby, one of them a cab, I decided to take the subway to my neighborhood and walk home.

Later, stumbling down unshoveled sidewalks (sometimes it’s easier to walk in the street), I heard a mechanical crescendo behind me and turned to see an approaching brigade of half a dozen yellow-and-black loading shovels led by a brave little pickup truck. With their top-mounted headlights shining through the thick haze of flurries, they reminded me of machines in post-apocalyptic science fiction movies. But these were the good guys in the conflict between man and nature. They passed me to seek out needier streets.

The next day, we had to clear out our sidewalks. I forced myself out of bed and sleepily pulled on my boots to go shovel at 6 a.m. My neighbor had already cleared out half of the block on his side of the street. Someone on my side had us taken care of us from the corner up to my house. With so much good-samaritan activity around me, there was no way my conscience would allow me to shovel only one house worth of sidewalk. I paid the path forward about five houses down and went back inside to make coffee.


1 Response to “The Long Winter”

  1. 1 Joshua Lucero
    March 16, 2011 at 8:22 pm

    Good man.

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