Season's nasty weather gave us nasty attitudes

February 21, 1994|By JACQUES KELLY

A group of men were throwing dollars on a stand outside the Lexington Market subway stop entrance one day last week. They weren't buying apples.

It was an old-fashioned shell game, with a sleight-of-hand artist making off with George Washingtons faster than the rate the ice was melting.

The game went on a long time. When one group got cleaned out of money, another few guys took their place. People were milling all over Lexington Street as the temperatures were climbing, indicating there was still some life and energy in the human race.

I got to thinking about the Lexington Street con artist. His actions mirrored the tortuous sleight-of-hand tricks of this winter's weather. What looked like just a few inches of snow was in reality ice that has yet to disappear in some shaded cold pockets, such as the persistent one in my back alley.

This winter has played other tricks on the city. Until this past weekend, when the temperatures got out of their subfreezing funk and the city's more normal cool and damp February conditions returned, people I encountered were house-bound and frozen in depressed and foul moods, dispositions as gray as the color of snow mounds piled around the edges of a Ritchie Highway shopping center.

If Baltimoreans were touchy and edgy, blame television's weather prognosticators. This gang of professional downers should be publicly executed. They touted (while wallowing in their 15 minutes of sadomasichism) the arrival of precipitation in ways calculated to make their subjects tremble.

I also blame the reaction to these forecasts: Shoppers who hoard. A neighborhood grocery store where the general tone is pleasant and efficient became testy and scrappy during one of the many weather related grocery buying blitzkriegs.

The place is normally very clean, but the slop from the snow and ice made it less than its usual self. Customers charged along the aisles as if a World War II-vintage buzz bomb were on its way for a target at 33rd Street and Greenmount Avenue.

Whole shelves were stripped of pet food, especially cat food, which is always one of the first commodities to vanish during a spell of foul humor and weather.

All the two-liter bottles of Coca Cola were also early plunder in beverage frenzy. When the delivery man came to replenish the shelves, he parked his truck far out in the street and attempted to roll his hand truck over a snow mound.

After several tries, it upset. Plastic Coke bottles were rolling everywhere. Do you think people stopped to help the driver reassemble his shipment? No. They reacted by ignoring his predicament. A few minutes later they wanted to know why there wasn't any Coke on the shelves.

I always admired what I thought was one of Baltimore's best characteristics: Its lack of attitude. Well, the winter of 1993-94 has tested that to the breaking point. All these weather tricks are bringing out bad moods and manners.

Another downer is the late February filth deposit that snow, ice and air pollution leave behind. I have a pair of black shoes simply caked with salt. My main winter coat has been to the dry cleaners twice since New Year's. I noticed by the lines at the dry cleaners that my neighbors wanted to be rid of wearing slush splashes across their foul-weather garb.

Just walk down a street. The sidewalks will be covered with the accumulated grit of sand, salt, chemicals and winter fallout. I'd like to own a car wash in the next few weeks.

It's enough to make anyone cry.

At least the temperatures have gone balmy in the past few days. A yellow crocus popped out in full bloom in my neighbor's front yard yesterday. I walked over to examine this botanical miracle of hope and springtime promise, but then nature played another trick on me.

The crocus was under a mature locust tree whose branches arch over the property lines. As I was walking down my front walk, the corner of my eye caught sight of a falling object. At first I thought it was a chunk of melted ice, then looked at the sidewalk and saw a small smashed creature. At first it seemed to be a minutes-old baby bird that had fallen from a nest. But this was no bird. It was either a baby squirrel or rat dropped by one of the pest crows that lights atop the locust tree.

"Hummm," I thought. "This is the last straw of the season. It's raining rodents."

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