Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It...Wait a Second. What the Hell Is This?

Starting last Thursday, the weather people of the Greater Portland Area couldn't stop talking about the winter storm that was headed our way. It was a kicky little storm, one that had squalled up in the Midwest and worked its way across the Great Lakes, hitting--of course--my hometown before it bore down on New England. The Portland meteorologists predicted it was going to be a record-breaking affair by the time it was over.

I didn't think much of it on Friday or Saturday because, well, I'm from Buffalo. If there's one thing I know, it's snow. My people and I have been brought up to worry about snow only on the occasions that Don Paul looks extra ornery, extra haggard, like he's spent all night pressing his face against complex meteorological equipment in the Channel 4 weather lab, like he's spent eight hours mapping out the latest lake effect storm so he can tell people exactly where it's going to hit and when. When Don Paul says, "Stay inside," we stay inside. But if he doesn't say that, all normal activity is fair game.

Here in Maine, I don't exactly know how to read the weather people. I also can't yet gauge Maine's sensitivity to snow. The phrase "bad snow storm" means extremely different things to people in different geographical locations. I will never forget, for instance, the way the people of North Carolina reacted to snow when my family and I were down there over spring break years ago. One, two, maybe three adorable snowflakes descended from the sky, and you could hear the entire city of Charlotte's panic. It was as if every resident had cracked open his or her mouth to scream, "WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE!!!!!!" They closed almost every school, business, and restaurant.

"What is going on here?" I asked my parents as we cruised the almost empty streets. There was a light, powdered-sugar-dusting of snow on the ground, and you could still see grass cropping up underneath it. If ever we passed another car, we saw that its tires had been hastily outfitted with thick chains.

My father just shrugged. He was surprised as any of us. "I guess they're just that unfamiliar with snow," he said. Then we spent an hour trying to find an open restaurant so we could eat some lunch.

"Bad snow storm" was even different in Minnesota, which is a state that has winter with a capital W. It's freezing there, absolutely freezing. Your noise hairs and eyelashes freeze the second you step outside, and there are certainly times when you curse yourself for voluntarily living in such a place. But most of the "bad snow storms" I saw in Minnesota were less "bad" and more "mildly inconvenient." That's not to say that I didn't see some real snow in Minnesota--because I did--but most of the time I found myself thinking, "Really? This is 'bad?'"

Here in Maine, I am close to a large body of water--you know, the ocean--so I wasn't exactly sure how that was going to affect weather patterns. Was it going to vomit up some strange wind patterns that would unleash storms on us every other day? Were things going to brew up out to sea and the blow back to us? I still don't know the answer to that--I'm a little behind on my meteorological reading--but I do know that on Sunday night I watched the news and it scared the crap out of me.

The news opened with several bits about the storm. The chief meteorologist came on and said that the storm was going to blanket all of Maine in something like twenty-four inches of snow. He said after midnight our world was going to change. It hadn't snowed here yet, and this was how it was going to start.

This apparently made some Mainers nervous. The next story on the news was about how grocery stores everywhere were selling out of provisions like food and water and shovels and blankets. There were shots of disgruntled stock boys hefting jugs of water back onto empty shelves. There were shots of mothers stacking shopping carts full of macaroni and cheese. "I'm not taking any chances," one of the mothers said. "I mean, what if we lose power? I need to be prepared." And from the video of the empty shelves, it was apparent that all of Maine shared that sentiment. The segment closed on a shot of harried-looking women dashing out of the store with bags hanging from every available inch of their bodies. They were trying to beat the storm.

Suddenly, I was panicked. I hadn't gone shopping to stock up on provisions. I didn't have granola bars and bottled water. I didn't have extra blankets. I certainly didn't have a shovel. I started thinking about what would happen if the power went off. I would freeze. After all, I was no longer at my father's house with its wood stove that kept the house a balmy eighty degrees all winter long. If the power went out, I wouldn't be even be able to use the my stove.

I went into my kitchen and swung open my pantry doors. I assessed my readiness. I had a lot of dry pasta products: macaroni, rotini, linguini, angel hair, spaghetti. I figured I could eat those if I had to, if the whole town was buried under two feet of snow and slow to dig itself out. I had a bunch of canned green beans because they are one of my favorite things in the world, and I would have no problem breaking them open and eating them uncooked (probably because I've been known to do that on a non-storm day). I had baking supplies aplenty: baking chocolate in several varieties, sweetened condensed milk, chocolate chips, vanilla, every sugar and flour known to man, spices, sprinkles, oils, flavorings. Those weren't any help. I also had Kalmata olives and cream of chicken soup. I had salsa. I had Multi-Grain Cheerios, which, if I ate them for every meal, would last two days. I had Ro-Tel tomatoes because in grad school Diana had taken me aside and told me that a pantry was not complete unless it had several cans of Ro-Tel in it--a lesson I internalized, a theory to which I now whole-heartedly subscribe. Also in my pantry I had a stock of Buffalo things--extras aside from what was already open and in the fridge. I had beet horseradish, Weber's mustard, wing sauce, and loganberry. At the bottom of the pantry I also had pancake mix, quick grits, pizza crusts, instant oatmeal (just banana--all that was left from a multi-pack), and Cream of Wheat.

I tried to imagine what kinds of meals I could piece together from those things. I couldn't. I was too terrified by the prospect of actually having to do it.

Then I thought about water and the ridiculously small amount that I was able to store in my Brita. After watching the news, I was convinced I needed to have water--lots and lots of water. If the fine people of Maine were snatching it off the shelves, I would need a stock of it, too. And so I started filling pitchers with water I strained through the Brita. I did as much as I could before the Boy from Work called to say goodnight.

"Do you think I'll need more water?" I asked. "I mean, the news sounded serious."

"I think," the BFW said, "you will be fine."

I sighed. He was right. Of course I would be fine. It wasn't like I wasn't used to snow. It wasn't like I didn't know what to do or how to handle myself when flakes started piling up. I was tough. I was the girl who drove through travel bans on more than one occasion so I could teach the college students of western New York.

The panic that came over me was a direct result of several things working together. First, I'd learned the day before that the owner of my apartment building cut his ties with the management company that was handling all his properties. The company had a 24-hour maintenance line, which I'd had to call several times (once when the ceiling leaked and left a small ocean in my bathroom, another time when I shorted out every outlet in my apartment by running my hairdryer and microwave at the same time, and yet another time when they turned the heat on for the season and it was one hundred degrees in my apartment for two days). If you had a problem, you just called that line and left a message that would soon be returned by any number of men with really intense Maine accents. (SIGH.) Then they would come over and fix whatever needed fixing, all while shooting me looks that said, Oh, you poor woman. You need a man to help you with this stuff. And I would have to stop myself from saying, "I HAVE A BOYFRIEND. I SWEAR. He's just in New York. But I assure you he is handy."

So now those heavily-accented men are gone, and the owner of my building has yet to furnish us with any information about practical things: who we should call when something goes awry, where we should send our rent money, etc. If I don't have that kind of information just what am I going to do when the power goes off and I am freezing and sitting on the floor of my kitchen with a mouthful of linguini noodles and Ro-Tel tomatoes?

That, combined with the fact that I wasn't yet able to trust the Portland meteorologists, whipped me into a mini-frenzy on Sunday night, and I went to bed thinking the next two days were going to be very interesting.

But the next morning I woke up and peered out from behind the curtains to see a sparkling white world--one that still had power, one that still had heat. Cars were on the roads. Driveways were being plowed. Salt was being spread. It all seemed normal. It wasn't even snowing anymore.

I rolled over and reached for my remote. I snapped on the TV. The meteorologists were still on, still talking about the continued doom that was scheduled to arrive that afternoon. Schools, colleges, and businesses all over the state were shut down. I had a snow day--one that I used well. I slept in, finished Alice Sebold's latest novel, wrote, and made chocolate cake. It did not snow again that afternoon. And later, while I was grating orange rind into the cake batter, I couldn't help but think about Don Paul and how he would've hustled into those news stations and slapped everyone silly for making me--and the whole state--worry like we did.


Diana said...

I am making a spicy Mexican casserole out of the following: chicken, a brick of cream cheese, a container of sour cream, shredded cheese, green chilis, jalapenos, and two cans of Rotel.

Rotel: it makes life spicy.

Jess said...

You could be their spokeswoman!