Got to see the legendary reaction of Washington DC residents to a snow storm this week, and pile my own on it.
It was hard to relax about the snow that started falling around 3pm because people were running for their lives before darkness fell. These people know their snow and wish to completely avoid it, Supermen talking of cryptonite. One flake falls and a rush of recollection of all the other flakes they had experienced, or had mightily inconvenienced them, cascades ceaselessly. There was escalation in reported outcomes:
It took me two hours to go a mile.
I abandoned my car and walked home.
I couldn’t get out of the parking lot and got a room in a hotel.
I slept in the office because the hotels were all booked.
I wanted to top that last one by saying:
I’ve been awake since the snow storm of last year.
By 5, as we hiked across the corporate campus to the bar in the opposing mall, it had fallen very quiet. Then again there was never anyone really here to begin with, it being Crystal City, the land of sleek buildings boasting defense contractor tenants who are, due to advanced technologies, invisible. I climbed over the slush and stood in the street to wait for the crossing light, shocking my east coast companions. They gently informed me I was now a target for spray from passing cars. How so, I said? A car went by. I leapt out of the way of its spray. Ah.
We ordered one, then two, rounds so I could listen to them talk about the hair trigger shutdowns of public transportation, which was my lifeline back to the Cathedral district in DC. Night had fallen and as much as I wanted to continue doubting the infrastructure, I felt I had to use it or die, so I hiked back to the metro stop using the byzantine underground pedestrian tunnels that criss-cross Crystal City. Retail, barbershops, notably no dry cleaners, but a theater promising an extreme experience stretched for a city block, it’s entrance guarded by a woman in a booth selling tickets to presumably no one.
The red line had been single-tracking all day, so I had plenty of time to consider the barrel vaulting of the metro station before one arrived in Chinatown. The whole system thrives on a dystopian Nineteen Eighty-Four vision of the future soaking in dim sepia lighting and unforgiving grids machined from natural materials. Granted, none of them are as natural as a nasturtium, but that’s the role of the flashing red lights in the floor, blinking the arrival of trains we would never be allowed to board. A woman sat down next to me and informed me of her struggle to arrive at this spot. When I realized she was on the wrong platform, and was about to travel in the opposite direction of where she was trying to go, I tried to interject. Failed, because there were additional details she had to relate. My train arrived, and I saw her looking at it, frozen in indecision, as I boarded.
It seemed a very good idea to get out at Dupont Circle, find that restaurant that had caught my eye last time, eat an expensive dinner and then hail a cab up the three miles to the Cathedral. When I exited the station it was moving in slow-motion, cars drifting into curbs, snow blowing sideways, people losing their balance and breaking their hips as younger versions of themselves sprinted between awnings. The snow had already accumulated on all the signs, so I took my best guess and headed out.
This is where the beer comes in. About 20 minutes into my hike I realized I had picked the wrong avenue and turned around to retrace my now-hidden steps. Wearing about an inch of snow, I went into the liquor store in Dupont Circle to join the party of shoppers, television news crews, and the proprietor, who was making a killing. All of the good beers were inexplicably unchilled, so I wandered around looking forlornly at the chilled beer offerings wondering what to do, signaling that loss of mental acuity that accompanies hypothermia. It dawned on me, ever so slowly and only after finding a young couple buying pink champagne adorable (god I was really cold), that if I bought a warm bottle of beer, and hiked up Massachussetts Avenue for three miles in the snow, that it would be cold by the time I arrived in B’s vacant apartment. With a double-bagged bottle of Saison Dupont (the pun, and the selection of a summery farmhouse ale being truly fortifying), I headed out. Again. If I had stayed for 90 more minutes, I would have been able to join the snowball fight.
At Sheridan Circle the uselessness of the motor vehicle was being exponentially proven. I tried, as did six or seven others, to get the attention of taxis, but they were being driven by terrified people who were clenching the steering wheel as their passengers screamed at them. A pickup truck pulled up and told me to hop in the back to get a ride to Adams Morgan. When I thanked the women in the cab but told them I was going up to Embassy Row they strongly disagreed that was a place I needed to be. They kinda went on about it, trying to convince me not on woman-vs-nature grounds, but on social grounds, that I was going to the wrong neighborhood. Every sentence they uttered made (a) more snow accumulate on all of us and (b) me wonder why I was not getting in that truck with these incredibly amusing women. Parting was amicable, and their disappearing tail lights transgressive enough to make me feel invincible as I headed up to the bridge over Rock Creek Park.
I was wearing a suit, a concession to the hosts of the meeting that had brought me to DC in the first place, which included a pair of black boots (over the ankle) that promised to provide style while protecting from inclement weather. That was lucky. If I had been wearing my usual clothes, really best described as pajamas, I would have been in much worse condition. The coat I had taken out of B’s closet (she was in Michigan with the truly awesome coat no doubt) was holding up very well, but something began to nag at me. Was it the slow progress of this first mile? Could I remember the actual distance? Was it really three miles? Or was it more like two? Should I be concerned about walking in a snow storm when I’m a third of the way there? Or not concerned because I’m halfway there? Is math really the way to look at it? Is there another measure? A philosophical one? Has everyone noticed how quiet it’s getting? I closed my eyes to listen. Someone honked at me.
An SUV slowed and rolled its window down, the driver exclaiming “What the hell!” at me. I crossed the sludge and tried his door. Oops it’s still locked I said. He hit the trigger and I climbed in, introducing myself, and holding his hand in gratitude while looking right in his eyes. We climbed the hill carefully finding out that
He was a researcher who worked with incarcerated populations
A total autodidact having dropped out of high school
Recipient of a coveted award from Delancy Street of Honorary Junkie
With a wife who had taken Rock Creek at 5pm and regretted it, suggested he try Mass Ave
And yes this was a beautiful walk during THE SUMMER
He dismissed the poor skills of surrounding drivers while still bestowing universal love upon them, as long as they stayed five feet away in their flailing, and had the post-moral smarts to drive up the opposite side of the street since it had been closed from above, allowing us to spend five minutes passing a line of cars that seemed intent on staying there for hours. After an elegant right on Wisconsin that evaded a fallen tree branch, a squadron of cops and a beached limousine, I pointed out a flat spot where he could slow to the speed I had used to get in the SUV in the first place. We wished each other a very good evening and I headed up Cathedral Avenue.
I thought. The snow, seriously accumulating on street signs, had also accumulated on Cathedral Avenue, bowing the trees down to the ground in a monumental kowtow. I walked up but had to hesitate. A dog barked, playing while a neighbor chatted on a mobile. No cars, but students making their way down from above, skating on cardboard down the middle of the street. I found a street sign and kicked it to reveal the lettering. All its snow fell on my head, which, yes, makes good sense, although a fraction of a second too late for me. But armed with this positive confirmation of location plus gravity, I pressed on, marveling at the tunnels of trees over the sidewalks. I entered, padding quietly through their branches, hearing the walkers in the middle of the street. Why would they do that when they could avoid all the snow and ice by walking in here? A rifle crack ahead and I stopped, taking in the curving branches, their lower-case, analog synth sine wave sounds. With three giant, deliberate, silent, steps, I exited and stood up straight in the middle of the street looking back at that array of tension. Flakes, weighted and weightless, continued to fall.
According to the maps on the interwebs, it’s 2.7 miles. The last 200 feet seemed a bit of an insult. The ceremonial driveway of the apartment building not yet swept meant every footfall poured slush into my boots. I moved slowly through the lobby, soaked, I realized, to the skin and my fingers appearing to be on fire. I rose to the tenth floor, dripping all the way down the hallway to 8E, where I stripped everything off, draping it on any available fixture and marveling at its supersaturation. I removed the wire cage on the Saison Dupont and slowly turned its cork. Once released and brought to my lips, the bottle stung with cold.
I drank it anyway, one swallow after the other from my station on the bath mat, the ice melting from my hair.