FOR SHEER entertainment value, there is nothing like a full-blown Baltimore snow panic.
I love how we get whipped into a frenzy by the local TV stations and their apocalyptic coverage of the storm's approach, including the obligatory footage of sand trucks and salt mounds at the ready and interviews with grim-faced snowplow drivers vowing to "stay out there all night" until the terrible conditions have been subdued and decent, God-fearing citizens can again take to the streets.
I love the air of desperation that grips our supermarkets as stay-at-home moms, taut and toned from gym workouts, elbow little old ladies aside for that last loaf of bread and wild-eyed businessmen on their way home from work trample innocent toddlers in the stampede for dwindling supplies of milk and toilet paper.
(The whole toilet paper thing ... well, we'll get to that in a second.)
The way-too-premature school closings, the mass cancellations of bingo nights and support group meetings and community college classes if there's even the hint of snow coming - God help me, I love 'em all.
On WBAL radio yesterday, they were talking about the big storm coming, and then I heard an interview with a man from FEMA, which is the Federal Emergency Management Agency, charged with preparing for disasters.
My God, I thought, what are they doing, evacuating people? Is the storm really going to be that bad? Are we all going to die?!
But it turned out the FEMA guy was actually giving tips on - you'll love this - readying your car for winter weather.
Tell me something: Do we really need a government bureaucrat giving us car tips? Couldn't we get someone from AAA to do this? Or Jiffy Lube?
How difficult could this be? You get in the radio station's van, take a ride out to the nearest Jiffy Lube - there are about 10,000 of them around here - and slap a microphone in front of the first guy you see wearing coveralls and carrying an oil rag.
Anyway, all day yesterday, the local TV stations were in full Storm of the Century mode, the reports getting ever more shrill as the day went on.
At noon on Channel 11, a reporter did a stand-up in front of a Baltimore County highway department building, dressed as if she'd just been dispatched to the Arctic Circle.
Dutifully, she ticked off the storm-fighting resources at the county's disposal: 40 tons of salt, 292 trucks, 360 men and women to drive the trucks, etc.
This was followed by an interview with Jim Smith, the new Baltimore County executive, who vowed bravely that county workers were ready to "take on the storm."
There was such determination in his eyes, such resolve in his voice, that I wondered if, after they took on the storm, these same county workers could take on the Iraqis for us, too.
Sure, sure, we'd probably go into Baghdad with the Special Forces guys first, followed by the 82nd Airborne, the psy-ops people, medical triage units, etc.
But it would be nice to know that, if we needed a backup, the brave men and women of the Baltimore County highway department were standing by.
I said we would get back to the toilet paper thing and, by God, we will. Right now, in fact.
Late yesterday, when I could no longer stand all the "Snow Patrol" and "Snow Team" and "Snow Watch" coverage - by this point, it was making me agoraphobic - I took a ride to a few supermarkets. And, yes, the toilet paper aisle still does a brisk trade with a storm approaching.
Maybe shoppers weren't beating each other up for that last four-roll package of Angel Soft or Quilted Northern. But lots of them were making a point to drop a pack or two in their shopping carts.
Still, the stocking up on toilet paper is something I've never understood. How much of the stuff can you possibly need during a snowstorm?
Let's say, for the sake of argument, that it snowed 2 feet. And let's say that because of this, you were housebound for, oh, three days.
Wouldn't a roll or two be enough to get by on? And yet around here, people stock up on toilet paper like they live with the Ravens.
But maybe it's not just a Baltimore thing. A call to the Maryland Historical Society - sure, they get lots of calls, but how many about toilet paper? - revealed there was nothing in the society's records about the phenomenon.
Francis O'Neill, the reference librarian, said that he didn't think stocking up on toilet paper was unique to this area. In fact, O'Neill said he had recently talked to his mother back in his hometown of Hudson, N.H., and she said people there were beginning to do it when it snowed.
But he said the wild panic-buying you hear about, the tales of supermarket shelves being strip-mined of toilet paper as a storm approaches, were probably more urban legend than anything else.
After all, added O`Neill, with a touch of bewilderment in his voice: "How could you conceivably run out of toilet paper?"
Well, I wouldn't know. Its not something I worry about.
Running out of beer when it snows - that's something I worry about.