There was a time when a report of a February snow storm brought out the pioneer spirit in Baltimoreans.
There was joyous anticipation of foul weather, of deep drifts, of the sound of metal tire chains riding over asphalt. I enjoyed the disruptions, the upheaval of cancellations, the excuses of "No, I can't do that, there's too much snow." I savored the mess, the anarchy, the arrival of a fake disaster.
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But not any more.
Yesterday, my brother and I were driving over South Baltimore's most celebrated Alpine speedway, the place where Interstate 395 and Interstate 95 connect.
He asked innocently, "Aren't the river and the Hanover Street Bridge looking good today?" I muttered something about this being the best view of the Patapsco on a silvery day, but harbored secret and nasty thoughts about this cold and frozen mess.
I had turned against winter. There was no amusement. There was no joy taken from a scene that could have been a photographer's postcard view of a chilling February day.
I had made every reasonable effort to look forward with joy to last weekend's snow. Late last week, as the predictions of major accumulations jammed the radio and television airwaves, I bought a new pair of gum-soled, high-topped, lace-up waterproof boots. I indulged in warm cashmere socks bought at a fancy men's store after their prices had been slashed many times. I had new warm gloves and a huge woolen muffler scarf. I was ready to climb the Matterhorn.
I really don't have any worries when it comes to snow. My furnace works well and I don't own a car to break down or slip or slide. I have good snow shovels and even possess a secret source of coal cinders, the greatest material around for giving you good traction underfoot.
Then the snow came. I immediately began finding fault. First of all, there was not enough of it to be really disruptive, to startle the city and countryside into submission. The sun came out too fast, then the winds hit. The mercury played hide and seek. My crankiness needle was hitting acute.
But I had those new boots. What good were they sitting untested in a big cardboard box? What good is snow if you don't go outdoors and investigate its varied properties? Snow has certain qualities which beg unscientific appraisal. Is it fluffy, slushy, mean, wet, benevolent, dumb, scenic, cottony, nasty, vague or merely average?
I rated this snowfall a dull C just as my crankiness meter was edging higher.
My new boots were killing me. They had laces long enough to stretch to Denton. You wrapped them around the top of the shoe like a Marine on duty in the Arctic Circle. This leg bondage was torture. All of sudden snow (even grade C) was no fun. My winter carnival experience was more like a trip to Parris Island.
There used to be something ridiculous about old-fashioned rubber galoshes. These were hardly fashion footwear. They made your feet look like Bullwinkle the Moose. But they didn't hurt. Nor did they trigger the crankiness meter.
Then there was another episode. I decided to build a roaring fire fit for a February evening. All the ingredients were on hand -- a pile of dry, well seasoned oak, a fireplace and chimney that draw beautifully and an old living room that never looks better than when lighted by flickering flames.
Indeed, it did.
Some neighbors braved the night air and we all enjoyed the toasty heat. The next morning I left for work and closed the damper on the brick chimney. At 6 that evening I arrived home to find a first floor filled with smoke and the heavy scent of unventilated smoldering oak logs.
Indeed, 12 hours was not enough time for the evening's fire to burn out completely. There was no damage to the house, but the effect was the same as the too-tight boots. It was a double dose of February fatigue.
The temperature was now in the 20s and I had to open the doors and windows to knock out this unplanned forest fire smell.
By now the crankiness meter was spinning and sputtering.
And the snow was turning yucky black and glazing over into the kind of ice patches that result in trips to the hospital emergency room.
Come on April.