People Who Brave Chicago Snowstorms

Thursday night and all day Friday, a casual observer would’ve assumed Chicago was preparing for Y2K—alas, no such superstition proved true. It was just another snowstorm.

After 36 hours of spitting snow, take-your-breath-away wind, and thick cloud cover, the weather is back to normal: sunny and cold, with a few inches of snow on the ground, and clear, salty streets. I’m sure it’s come as a surprise to the thousands of people who spent Friday afternoon spending their paycheck on bottled water, canned food, and candles.

Because I’ve only cultivated enough good sense to keep from wandering alleys in the dark, of course when it shows the first thing I do is put on my warm clothes and go outside.

After spending a few hours outside every day, I’ve learned there are lots of different kinds of people who go out in Chicago winter.

My dog is tired: A man wearing mustard-yellow ski pants charged past me, wearing an adult golden retriever slung rather unceremoniously over his shoulders. The dog kept sniffing people’s faces, and when an old lady reacted in surprise at a wet nose inches from her own, the dog-carrying man grunted and said, “He’s just tired.”

My rain boots are impervious: Chicago natives (should) all know that in a heavy snow, it’s far better to wear rain boots than snow boots. The city dumps about 1 ton of salt every 60 minutes, so within an hour of the snow, everything that used to be covered in pretty white is gray slush. Countless people who do know the secret of rain boots in the snow charge through intersections with little regard for anyone else—or their own feet.

My marathon training can’t wait: If running in the city isn’t already dangerous enough for you (concrete + knees = hasty joint demise), try doing it when there’s packed snow and ice on a third of your route—but make sure you don’t care about your pants. Yesterday, a runner hurried across an intersection in front of me, stomping in every slushy puddle. His joggers were splattered with water from knees down, and his shoes were saturated.

My sidewalk is my passion: It’s easy to tell the difference between the people who take pride in cleaning their 64 square feet of sidewalk, and the people who just don’t care. We have one neighbor who always shovels and salts his walk by nine a.m., and another neighbor who waits until mid-afternoon to casually step out, test the slickness, and throw some salt on top of everything. If it doesn’t melt today, I know it’ll by gone by April.

My closet is empty: Because I’m wearing every single article of clothing I own. And I also can’t turn my neck more than eight degrees. But it sure is toasty up in here.

My man card needs more punches: Manliness—or maybe just desperation for cash—inspires dozens of brave delivery bikers to skid and slip along the soggy streets. It’s a whole new level of crazy. Reminiscent of second grade, most of them also drag their toes to stop.

My kids? What kids? Sometimes adults forget the thrill, awe, and wonder of the first snow, and only realize half-way down the block that their six-year-old and eight-year-old are throwing snowballs back at the corner. It’s a sorry thing to be upset about.

My feet are so stylish: There’s a lot of real estate for commentary on winter footwear. About half the people who venture into the weather choose fashion over function. Apparently it’s cool now to arrive at your final destination with frostbitten toes and sloshing shoes, instead of dry feet in ugly waterproof boots. Also, exposed ankle skin must be stylish too. Who doesn’t want red, itchy ankles for two hours after coming inside?

My home is not here: It’s easy to tell who’s not from around here for two reasons. 1) I have a not-black ski coat. 2) I stop to take pictures of buildings in nine degree weather.

My, this is nothing: This measly snowfall has nothing on the blizzard of ’12. Or ‘94. ‘92. ‘86. ‘81. Etc.

What a good weekend to be alive.