Winter Comes to Boston

33 Snow

After living the previous 3 years in cities that experience winter in name only, this year finds me in a city that just had its first notable snowstorm. Snow is piled up in ghost white mounds and car owners are digging their vehicles out with shovels and fits of frustration. Deep puddles fill my Sambas with icy water when I miss a step and my nose drips with the coercion of whipping winds. The last time I felt this type of weather, I was living in Chicago and I wasn’t even halfway through with this project.

Now I’m a year out from reaching the horizon.

It’s good to be cold. It’s good to be uncomfortable, to feel the pain of cracked skin and chapped lips. It’s good to feel the tears well in your eyes from the sheer force of nature’s chill. And it sucks all the same.

For, it has begun again. It didn’t come on as early as some years, and it hasn’t struck with the same debilitating sweep that it did last year, but it’s here all the same. Gray skies, bundled bodies and frosty air are a sharp knife for a person with seasonal affect disorder, all the more so when it’s part of the larger cycle of bipolar disorder.

I feel the desire to push people away, to get quiet, shut out and shut down, sitting like an audience member shouting at the screen, “Don’t go in there!” The mind is a sordid bitch.

Oh well.

I’m okay. You’re okay?

State House Snow

I know what this is. I know what this will be. I know that it’ll be here for a while, then it won’t, then it will again, then… ad nauseam. So it goes.

I don’t know what will come of it this year, what bridges I’ll burn, who will avert their gaze, who will shrug and bury it. It’s not always who you expect, it’s not always who you hope…

It’s winter in Boston. There’s snow on the ground, and though some days will be warmer than others, with occasional sunlit interludes, I know there will be more snow to come, more clouds, more days-like-night. We live in cycles.

So it goes.

Chester Snow

Awaiting the Winter

After an unexpectedly hot week in which Boston jumped up into the 80s, today is looking to be a a more traditional New England autumn day, with rain in the forecast and cooler temperatures already here. Which is nice. In my book, every season tends to wear out its welcome (other than spring), so while I’m no fan of being cold, I’m happy to see summer hang up its neon green tank top.

It’s an odd sensation to be anticipating the winter and the freezing weather that will accompany it, but after three straight years in cities that don’t have real winters (Nashville, Seattle and New Orleans, naturally), there’s an almost nostalgic – dare I say, romantic – aura around the idea of a snowstorm (and I fucking hate snow).

The first now is always kind of fun. The problem is when it sticks around for four more months.

Snow Fountain

I’ve already met a number of people here who are either new to this city from southern states and are dreading and anticipating (dreaticipating?) the winter, or they’re like me and know that their mental state is adversely affected by the lack of sun and warmth. In both cases, I feel like I’m surrounded by a group of people who are bracing for the cold, like we’re all in a rollercoaster and we’re gradually climbing to the top of the first big drop.

If another storm like Sandy comes bearing down on us this year, I’ll just invite everyone over to my place, stock up on Jameson and have a week-long marathon gaming session of Cards Against Humanity and Mille Bornes.

We’re gonna get through this, people.

Until then, it’s time to pull out my warmest jacket and drink the Freedom Trail. ¡Salud!

Jameson Insta

Seattle Snow Day

It snowed in Seattle last night, and some of today.  And this is apparently a rare bird for the folks up here, so the city almost completely shut down.  Being from the Midwest, the three inch blizzard that we had here amuses me.

But, whatever, do what you got to do.  The roommate and I took our respective cameras and shot pictures.

Here are mine.

And my personal favorite:

It looks like it’s going to ice and snow tonight, so I guess I should expect another day of dead Seattle.

And those of you east of here, cherish your unseasonably warm days while you have them, they aren’t going to last.

Road Trip to Seattle (Part 2)

Part 1

I’m a pretty nervy guy, but two bad experiences driving in snow in one day were enough for me.  The sun had set and being buried in a snow mound under the cover of dark was probably not the best way to spend my Spring Break, so I decided to call it a day.

Ignoring my own advice, I parked in a rest stop parking lot just outside of a tiny town somewhere in the middle of Wyoming (I figured the cops would have bigger issues to deal with).  ‘Somewhere in the middle of Wyoming’ is as specific as I can get, because, really, even people who live in Wyoming don’t know where any towns in that state are. 

I honestly passed a township sign that read, “Population: 6.”  If that isn’t the sign to hell, I don’t know what is.  Apparently, the only thing you need to be considered a town in Wyoming is a bar.  There could be two married cousins and a toothless, diaper-wearing bag of blubber living in a barn that sells bootlegged bourbon and they’d have a sign proclaiming, “Welcome to Nowheresville!”  Oh, Wyoming.

I slept, shivering in the back of my car.  Or, at least, I eventually slept.  My nerves were shattered and my body frozen even though I was wearing a sweatshirt, a sweater, my coat, jeans, two pairs of socks and my shoes, all wrapped in a blanket that I kept permanently in my backseat.  Sleep didn’t come easily.

I turned to music to soothe my weary, frazzled mind.  Sigur Ros’ untitled album (or ‘()’) got me through that night.  Not as immediately beautiful or dramatic as most of their albums, this 8-song disc is probably the most overlooked album in their whole oeuvre, but it’s no overstatement to say that album’s calming tableau of gradually-building, atmospheric compositions saved my life.  Running on two days worth of Sprite and granola bars, with a body wrecked by cold and long-hours of immobility followed by strenuous digging in snow, sleep was vital.

I woke up the next morning to a car surrounded by snow.

I dug myself out with the ice-scraper and my brittle hands and headed out.  I still had a couple hours until Cheyenne.  On my third day into the road trip, I held on to my belief that I could make it to Idaho, possibly even Washington, if I buckled down and just drove.

In reality, the blizzard that had hit me up north was actually just the uppermost tip of a storm that was having its way with Colorado and a good portion of southern Wyoming.  Cheyenne, my mythical return to civilization, was, in fact, hit worse than anything I had already driven through.

But I didn’t know that yet.

I drove through a highway covered in snow.  Heaps of snow, really.  I have never seen anything like it:  Two to three feet of snow on the highway.  Leery of the likely possibility that I would get stuck, again, I managed to forge through it with a steady, deliberate pace.

When I finally reached a portion of the road that was mostly clear, I erroneously assumed that I had made it out of the thick of it.

After a few miles, I spotted a car stopped in the middle of the road.  As I approached I realized there was a guy trying to push it.  He and his friend were stuck on a swath of ice.  I came to a stop about thirty feet back and hopped out to help.  A few minutes of rocking the car back and forth and the gents were free.  They drove off and I returned to my car to continue on my way.

Ah, not so fast.

Guess who had two thumbs and was stuck.  And, of course, the two guys I had just helped out of a similar predicament were already long gone.  Stranded, again.

I put forth a feeble attempt to break away the ice beneath my tires and free myself, but running on two days of Sprite, granola bars and minimal sleep had depleted my energy.  I was resting in my car when I saw the police car drive up behind me.

Unlike the relatively understanding cop the day before, it was clear that this particular officer had no patience for the likely dozens of idiot drivers who had gotten themselves stranded on visibly impassable roads.  Curtly, he asked me if I had a shovel, which of course I didn’t.  He pulled one out of his trunk and went to town on the ice, furiously stabbing at it with the pointed edge of the shovel and, bit by bit, freeing my tires from their icy confinement.  I felt pathetic not helping, but there was only one shovel and I was thoroughly worn out.

Every few minutes, I would attempt to drive free, and when that failed, he’d go back to attacking the ice.

As he did, a car approached.  He put down the shovel and waved his arms frantically, trying to convey to the driver that they needed to stay back.  Blissfully unaware, the driver came to a stop ten feet behind me.  You can imagine, the already chipper officer only got in a better mood.

And then, a couple minutes later, a van approached.  Again, the officer waved his arms.  Again, the driver did not get the message, stopping a few feet behind the other car.

Now, thoroughly pissed with “these goddamn idiots” (I imagine those were his thoughts), the officer ripped into the ice until I was free.

Without a hint of patience, he strictly informed us all that we were going to follow him across the median and to the other side of the highway where we would drive back to the nearest town and all stop at a hotel to wait out the storm.  This is when I learned that Cheyenne was under snow siege.

I took up the rear of the caravan of cars back north, but like the night before, I knew I couldn’t afford to pay for a room.  Disheartened and finally realizing just how hopeless my road trip was, I followed, unsure what to do.  When the van broke off and took another highway back east, I understood what I had to do and followed suit.

That was it.  Screw Seattle, forget Idaho, I was going back.  I stopped briefly at a scenic rest stop to get out of my car and read a book for a half hour, simply to be unconfined and free from the demands of the road.  Once sufficiently rested, I saddled back into the Escort and headed off to find the road that would take me east through Nebraska.

I spotted the highway from the bridge above it.  It was clear, open and flat for miles into the calming expanse of Midwestern nothingness.  I was home free.  Except for one little hiccup.

The on-ramp that led down from the bridge and onto the road was covered in feet of snow.  I managed to drive about ten feet onto the ramp before my car came to a complete stop.  Stuck again.

No, no, no.  Not this time.  I was so close to escaping this black hole known as Wyoming, I was not about to let fifty feet of on-ramp stop me.  The ramp itself was completely buried so that I could only see the contour of the road by the fact that each side steeply dropped off into hungry troughs of unforgiving snow.

I jumped out of the car with my ice-scraper and dove at the snow.  First, I dug with my bare hands (because I owned no gloves).  After five minutes of this, I climbed back into my car, blasted the heat and waited for my fingers to thaw.  Once enough feeling had returned, I jumped back out and scraped at the layer of ice underneath the snow.

After each round of digging and scraping, I attempted to drive forward.  My little Ford would inch down the ramp, but as it did, the back end would slide back and forth.  I was ever mindful of the fact that any slide too far to the left or right would send me plummeting over the edge.

For nearly an hour, I maintained the pattern of digging, thawing, scraping, thawing, and inching forward.  On the verge of physical and mental collapse, I pushed myself, unable to accept that I could be so close yet so far away.

And, then, finally, my car broke through.  I picked up momentum and, despite feet of snow still in front of me, I was able to ride the ramp with constant speed until my tires found the heavenly embrace of pure, unfrozen highway.

I drove like a man escaping prison.

By late afternoon, I was somewhere in Nebraska.  I saw a town, pulled off the road and drove up into the parking lot of a shopping center.  If there hadn’t been people around, I very well might have kissed the pavement.  My first act of freedom was to stop into a Subway and eat a food substance other than granola.  Fast food has never tasted so wonderful.

Filled up on as much food as I could shove down my gullet, I walked back to a Wal-Mart and luxuriated in walking the aisles of the store.  I didn’t want to buy anything (couldn’t have afforded to, anyway), I just wanted to move my legs and be surrounded by people.

When I got back in my car, I was renewed and ready to see the end of this godforsaken road trip. 

I drove down single-lane highways populated by nothing but semis.  The snow storm had followed me out of Wyoming, but the warmer weather in Nebraska had turned the snow into rain that poured down on me and blurred my windshield.  My wipers had all but been ravaged by the snow and ice in Wyoming, and so I viewed the road through a river.  When large trucks passed me, their tires would send gushers onto my windshield, while the wind vacuum they created nearly ripped me off the road.

Zeus was not through with me yet.

Eventually, highway 92 met up with I-80, and I happily took the road more traveled.

The wind was still roaring across the highway and it took all my remaining strength to hold the wheel straight, but I saw the end of my nightmare ahead of me.  Somewhere outside of Lincoln, I pulled to a rest stop and found a payphone (back when those existed).  I called my mother and let her know I’d be returning the next day.

I slept in my car one more night and returned to the road the next morning.  Disappointed and embarrassed that I had failed so miserably, instead of heading straight back to Kansas City, I continued on 80 and drove into Iowa onto Des Moines.  I had no purpose there, no interest in stopping anywhere and no money to spend even if I wanted to, just a desire for the roar of life.  After a couple of hours of driving around aimlessly around the city, I finally gave in and headed south on I-35.

I arrived back at my mother’s early that evening, worn out and in need of a shower that didn’t involve splashing water on myself from a sink.  My mother made me dinner, only the third actual meal I’d eaten in four days, and I passed out on the couch.

The next morning, I woke up disoriented.  My mother was gone to work and I had the apartment to myself.  Dizzy, I walked into the bathroom and stared at my disheveled reflection in the mirror.  I looked like rolled-over hell. 

And then I blacked out.

I woke up a few seconds later, on the floor.  Home at last.

So I didn’t make it to Seattle the first time, but I’m going now, finally.

And this time, I’m flying.

Screw you Wyoming.

Road Trip to Seattle (Part 1)

As I’m prepping for my seventh move of the project, everybody seems to have an opinion on my destination city, Seattle.





But, as enjoyable as it is looking forward to a new city, my thoughts are also trailing back to a road trip years ago, my first and only attempt to visit Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. 

This was my sophomore year of college, I was still living in on-campus housing and I was half-anticipating, half-dreading the end of the school year and a summer internship I was pretty sure I didn’t want to do. 

A road trip to clear my head and escape the looming feelings of displacement seemed in order.  My original destination was Idaho.  Childhood friends who had lived there for awhile claimed it was a pretty place, and I figured that was about as far as I could hope to get in a few days.

Late on a chilly Monday morning, I packed a smattering of clothes in my car along with a nylon case of CDs and my portable CD player (with accompanying tape-deck converter; ballin’), a six-pack of Sprite and a box of granola bars and set off north from my mother’s apartment in Kansas City.  In my wallet sat less than $200 cash. 

With classes starting back up the next Monday, I had seven days to drive, which meant essentially three days there and three days back and one day to explore my destination.

By afternoon of my first day on the road, I-29 had led me deep into the wilds of Iowa, past the border city of Omaha and into a warm, brilliant spring day.  My windows were down, I had slipped out of my sweatshirt to just my t-shirt, and music blasted out of my speakers as I hung my arm out into the wind.  This was just what I needed.

After a full day of driving with minimal stops, I pulled off the road in South Dakota to sleep for the night. 

Lessons of the Road: The best place to sleep when taking a break from driving is about 10 to 15 meters into an on-ramp.  The reasons for this are many.  For one, cars coming onto an on-ramp are accelerating, not decelerating (as on an off-ramp), so if for some reason they lost control and hit your car, they won’t have gained much momentum.  Secondly, cops are a lot less likely to bother you there than if you pull off on the shoulder of the highway.  Also, sleeping in a rest area parking lot is not allowed and will almost certainly get you harassed and shooed-on, if not worse.

If you’re driving the highways late at night, take notice, you’ll see semis littering the on-ramps.

After a furtive evening’s sleep, I was awoken around six in the morning by sunlight pouring through my dew covered windshield.  I started my day with a hardy breakfast of warm Sprite and two granola bars and took off again.

As I drove, I realized I was making better time than I had planned on (even back then, I had the mindset to always budget for a worst case scenario).  My mental calculation suggested I could make Idaho by evening and be all the way to Seattle by the next day.  Seattle would be a much cooler final destination.  My new goal had been set.

Feeling free and with time on my side, I decided to take a detour off of I-90 to take in the majestic touristy views of Mt. Rushmore.  This involved steering my two-door Ford Escort onto the mountainous roads of Black Hills National Forest.

If this were a horror movie, right about now is when the ominous music would start playing.

My first failure (of many) was believing that a National Monument in the middle of the mountains would be free to view.  Oh, so naïve.  Currently, the website lists the parking fee as $11, though I remember it being more.

Either way, though, I wasn’t about to pay money to see Mt. Rushmore.  When I say I had less than $200, I mean in total, not just on me.  A few chiseled faces weren’t worth 5% of my net worth.

I continued on, disappointed, but overall in good spirits.

Then it started to snow.  Now, I was in the mountains in March, so even a relatively un-worldly fellow such as my 19-year-old self recognized that this was to be expected.  That didn’t make it any less stressful trying to maneuver my little hatchback over the slick, undulating roads of America’s grand hills.  It also didn’t help that large trucks with all-weather tires were impatiently riding my ass, screaming, “Move!” with their headlights

I slid, I skidded, I sweated, I drove 20 miles in 2 hours until I finally saw the most glorious view I could have asked for:  Flat land.  As if there was an invisible wall, the moment I drove back onto the plains, the snow disappeared.  Ahead of me spread miles of gray, dry open road.  I’d lost some time, but I was still determined to make it to Seattle by the next evening.

Into Wyoming I drove, intent on meeting back up with I-90 to cut through the Northeast corner of the state, into Montana and onto Idaho by evening, hopefully.  By the time the snow inevitably began to fall again, it was early afternoon.

I’m from Kansas, so a little snow on an open road doesn’t faze me much.  In the mountains it was unnerving, sure, but across this straight patch of highway I felt pretty confident that I could handle a, surely, piddly little early-spring snow flurry.

Again with that ominous music.

It was snowing pretty heavily by the time I passed the point-of-no-return.  By that, I mean, an open gate and a sign explaining that when the road was impassable, the gate would be down.  The gate was open, so I drove on.  Let the camera linger ten minutes longer to witness that very gate closing.

Patches of snow and ice littered the highway, but I drove on valiantly, my eyes focused miles ahead.  Which is not the best place to be staring when the road you drive on is a skating rink.

I recall it like a scene from a movie.  An ice patch in front of me, directly in the path of my tire.  I didn’t try to avoid it, I didn’t swerve, I just hit it straight on.  Did I maybe flinch at the last second, twist my wheel an inch?  Maybe, I can’t really say, but I do know that my car was suddenly perpendicular to the road.

I landed in a bluff of two-feet snow in the median between the two sides of the highway.  If it hadn’t already been snowing for a few hours to create that cushion, my car undoubtedly would have flipped and rolled.  As it was, I settled into a pit of snow, 90° to the road.

No other cars were behind me.  It was fifteen or twenty minutes before any cars drove by me going the opposite direction, including a family in a van who stopped and allowed me to use their cell phone to call the police.  In the hour and a half that I waited for help, I tried in vigorous vain to dislodge myself from the icy grasp of Wyoming nature.  Since all I had for a tool was the ice-scraper for my windshield, I wasn’t going anywhere.

When the police finally arrived, the officer made a few perfunctory attempts to push me out, to no avail.  Together, we waited for the tow truck that pulled me out without much effort.  And all it cost me was $50.  If you’re doing the math, that was a hefty portion of my budget.

The cop advised me to go back the way I came from and find a motel in a nearby town to spend the night.  It was already dusk and the storm was gearing up to be something massive.

I took his advice to follow the highway back, but I had no intention of paying for a place to sleep.  I’d already lost a quarter of my cash getting towed out and a room for the night would certainly have depleted my funds to an unmanageable level.

I took a road that broke off from the highway and went south.  My logic was that the further north I went, the worse the storm had gotten, so if I went south I could navigate around it, go through Colorado, into Utah and up into Idaho.  I’d be behind my new schedule, but if I drove straight through I could probably still make it to at least Utah before I had to sleep.

Initially, the road seemed to support this logic.  There was no snow on this back road and traveling was considerably easier and faster than it had been on the main highway.  I was a bit frazzled from my recent roadside excursion, but generally I felt like I was on firm ground.

Then it started snowing again.

To Be Continued…