I live in Spokane, Washington. Washington state, that is, the one up in the corner. It’s not by Seattle, in fact it’s as far away as possible. We have snow here, and recently much more of it, like much of the nation. We’ve had a cold snap too, recently, like much of the nation.
I drive a half an hour to school most days. Straight through downtown. Last week it took me 50. The freeway was at a standstill, large white disks of snow didn’t drift down in lazy circles, but pummeled our windshields, as if in desperately, passionately throwing itself down it might cover our machines before the traffic let us move forward.
That’s the funny thing about snow. The romantic in me wants to smother the scientific so that I can wonder if the snow has a metaphysical meaning. It seems to be hopeful, that as a force of nature it can stop us. It can make us stay in our houses and turn off our exhausts and simply marvel. The most interesting thing about my hometown to me is that it goes on almost exactly the same year round. People go to work, get off of work, go home… regardless of ice or broken air conditioners in 90 degree heat. We insist that there is no reason to stop, slow down, adapt. We insist that we are too powerful to change our schedules because of something as frivolous as weather.
Perhaps snow has decided that fine, we can continue to go to work when the streets aren’t plowed by by god a few people may die.
On my way to school I watch the a brand new Forester in front of me cut off the truck next to her, swing over by three lanes in a sort of terrifyingly uninterrupted arch and the cars on the opposite side of the road slamming on their breaks, but instead this seems to shove them off like a boat from a dock and the straight line embraces the arch with a crunch. And broken glass.
On my way to school I am stuck on a ramp, because the first person lost their momentum. Their Buick’s wheels scream in distress as they spin, eliciting a terrible hoarse roar that instantly connects my mind to the day I high centered my car on a burm before I had a cell phone. It’s just around the corner, and we wait, emergency brakes cranked, turn up our productivity podcasts, wondering how many more cars until it is our turn.
Finally it is just the man in front of me. His transportation squeals like a pig, he tries to push it up the hill, his tennis shoes find no grip on the ice and he falls several times. He is the car in front of me. I watch in a sort of horrified fascination.
“Why isn’t anyone helping me?!” His voice was scalding and yet unsurprised. “We’re going to have to work together if you want to get out of this!” The tone of the thirty-something man seemed to be referencing American culture on the whole, condemning the society he lived in that would watch one person struggle with a burden too heavy, completely free of guilt, their own petty lives drowning out what they saw a few yards in front of them. As if a dam had cracked shame instantly poured into my ears and sloshed down to my boots. I jumped out of my car, muttering apologies to the man as I took up position on the bumper. Two other men bounded over and took up positions beside me.
It took several tries to move the car. Perhaps it is naive to say, but every moment was sharp, I felt insanely alive, redeemed, and pure in purpose.
“Don’t worry miss, we’ll get you out of here.” One of the men said, with all of the warmth of a father in his voice. I was touched, he had enough room to get around me, and here I was in an extremely odd nighties jacket, looking like a delinquent. I realized it was a man of about 50, and his son. I felt dizzy with American ideals of helping your neighbor sacking me in the head for the first time in my life. It didn’t take long to get my car out. I can’t stop thinking about the older gentleman, and the man in the car who seemed to somehow understand clearly the obligations we should have felt, and why we forgot to feel them.
If the snow was sentient, it may be malevolent. It may hate human kind and want to cover our dirty gray streets with seamless white so it can pretend it looks like the days when there was nothing but white trees. Perhaps, instead, it knows that the snow forces human interactions. In the snow, instead of damning to hell the person that cuts you off on the road, you back off and understand that etiquette is difficult when you can’t stop within 25 feet. My strict professor sympathized with my reasons for being late. People don’t mind that you take longer to cross the street.
It made me realize, however, that I drive past homeless people everyday, and I don’t really see them. What do they do, when nothing is dry and the wind chill is 9 below?