Snowfall: Baltimoreans just love to fret about it

JACQUES KELLY

February 26, 1993|By JACQUES KELLY

The woman on the subway was adamant. "I know it's going to come. It's gonna come like a thief in the night," she said as the silver car slid through the Northwest Baltimore night and stopped at the Milford Mill station.

Her thief was no burglar, but the snow predicted for today.

And like any snowfall heading here, it's been on people's minds since forecasters gleefully predicted it. Orson Welles' "The War of the Worlds" radio broadcast was mere static compared with the impact of a fuzzy cloud of precipitation projected on a map by television weathermen.

The Baltimore scenario never varies. Visit any neighborhood Mars or Super Fresh. If it's subject to spoiling, and there's snow mentioned, people will buy it. The milk goes first. Then the bread and the eggs. What do people do? Make tubs of bread pudding? Lettuce sells out quickly. Potato chips, corn chips, pretzels do, too. Don't forget the salad ingredients and orange juice. And by all means don't forget toilet paper.

I= One harried Pepperidge Farm route man told me he was even

getting calls for the varieties of bread that nobody usually eats. By 1 p.m. yesterday, his truck was empty of all goods.

At the Pikesville Giant, at Old Court and Reisterstown roads, the lines got long and customers grew testy. Dirty looks abounded at the checkout counters, aimed at unruly children and customers who took too long to write checks. Snow nerves striking again.

On Reisterstown Road, diners at the Suburban House restaurant were predicting the amount of snow expected to fall: "Four to eight." "Three to six."

Baltimoreans delight in worrying about snow. They compare forecasts. They feign distress. They cancel social engagements. And they plot to take the day off, loaf and eat bread. It's called a snow emergency but everyone knows it's another excuse for a three-day weekend.

The truly devious have projects set aside for the planned/unplanned winter carnival. One man I know rounded up some paint and a furniture refinishing kit so that when the snowflakes came, he'd have household projects ready.

One grocer told me that if a snow in Baltimore lasts long, and people don't have anywhere to go, they often get on with long-neglected household chores, liking shining the silver.

Part of the feigned snow anguish involves knowledge of past blizzards. Snow stories, arguments, tall tales and outright lying are part of this delicate game.

People invariably compare blizzards, like those in 1942, 1958, 1966, 1979 and 1983.

The March 19, 1958, blizzard gets plenty of mention from baby-boomers. It was a big wet one (28 hours' worth) that took down roofs, trees and power lines. There are photographs of people in 1950s living rooms going through the motions of baking potatoes in their fireplaces. Large sections of Baltimore were without electricity. Even the invincible Pennsylvania Railroad gave up.

People who can't remember their Social Security numbers can tell you where they were when the first snowflake fell that day in March and how they were forced to eat cold Campbell's cream of tomato soup for three days.

People wax eloquent about how they hoofed it to work. How they shoveled their pavements like good soldiers. How they toiled putting chains on their tires. How there was no hoarding of bread and milk back in the good old days. Yeah, right.

But we should be merciful to the poor Baltimoreans. They panic first, then polish silver.

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