Snow Day, March 15, 2017

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There’s something totally relaxing about sitting in the comfort of your warm home while Mother Nature unleashes her winter fury all around you. Why does it relax me so? It’s not because I’m taking the day off from work. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I can work anywhere, anytime, 24/7 (as long as the electricity is working, but that concern was so last week for most people and so two weeks ago for me, but more on that later…). It’s not just because I can rest easy, knowing my family is safe with me (or safe wherever they are).

That’s all true, but there’s something else that relaxes me. It’s knowing that I’m sharing a common experience with everyone else in our broader community. There’s something to be said about this collective involvement. When a snow storm beyond a certain magnitude strikes, everyone stops. Well, they stop once they’re finished raiding the local grocery store for such essentials as milk, bread, and (fill-in-the-blank-with-your-favorite-non-nutritional-snack). Once prepared, we all head home and wait.

Admit it, are you like me? Do you agonize in anticipation waiting for that first flurry? Do you grow anxious when it appears the snow won’t be coming? Do you turn on the TV not to watch any particular show, but to watch for closing announcements to scroll across the bottom of the screen? Finally, and if you don’t do this you’re simply not a human being, do you get excited when you see your school district just announced it’s closed – no matter how many years ago you, your kids, and anyone else you know has graduated from that school?

The special feeling of “Snow Day” is universally recognized. They’ve made a movie about it. There was an episode on The Simpsons that featured it. Myths abound that tell of ways to make a snow day (my kids liked the one about putting your planner in the freezer the night before). That the concept of “Snow Day” is recognized by our popular culture tells you all you need to know about it. In fact, I’ve often felt sorry for those who live in the deep south or desert southwest. They’ve never had the benefit of a snow day. There’s no way they could ever know what it’s like to live through a snow day.

How do you get this feeling of excitement when it comes to snow days? I could say you’re conditioned for it as a youngster, and that might have some merit. Who doesn’t want to get a free vacation from school? I remember growing up in the Snow Belts south of Buffalo. We got a lot of snow days. This frequency didn’t make them any less special. There was one sequence of days right before Thanksgiving where it snowed so much we didn’t go to school that entire week. There was always something fun for me and my brother to do. When the weather turned better we ventured outside and built snow forts, went sledding on whatever hills we could find, and tracked rabbits if only because they left easily recognizable tracks.

One time, as we saw the blustery blizzard outside our parlor window, the TV showed a picture of downtown Buffalo. It was a mere six miles to the north of us and it had no snow. None in the air. None on the ground. No snow in site. We rushed into the kitchen to inform our mother of this strange meteorological phenomenon. We were too young to understand the meaning of “snow belt” and our mother was too busy cooking some delicious lunch.

Have you noticed something peculiar about these stories? My father isn’t a part of them. He was definitely there at night as we watched the snow coming. He was there in the morning when we went into our parents’ room to listen to the school closings on the radio. But, no matter how bad the weather, he always went to work. He wasn’t doctor, a snow plow operator, or any other worker that’s needed in bad weather. He had a regular job and he went to work like everyone else. By the time the Blizzard of 77 hit Buffalo – when the snow was so bad no one could go to work – we had moved to Rochester. So, growing up, I can barely recall a single day when the weather was so bad my father couldn’t go to work.

That’s the role model I had as I began my career. I would go into the office despite the weather. People called me stupid for taking the risk, but it was my duty. The owner of the firm apparently felt the same way because he was one of the few who also showed up.

Today, things are a little different, both personally and for our society as a whole. In the old days – and maybe this is because I grew up in Buffalo and heavy snow was just something you had to live with – cancellations didn’t start until the snow was already on the ground and it was clear the plows couldn’t keep up with it. (This is why so many people got stranded at work during the Blizzard of 77 and why people in Buffalo continue to get stranded at work (or, worse, coming home from work). Today, most municipalities throw in the towel before the first snow falls.

For me, today I depend on the kindness of strangers. A stranger comes and plows our rural subdivision. A stranger comes and plows my long driveway. I’ve accepted the fact our subdivision and my driveway aren’t on the “critically important” list, so when a bad snow hits, it might be a while before we can get out. It was three days in 1993 before my street was plowed (I was on the Town Board back then and my neighbors wanted to know why I didn’t pull a few strings). It was three days in 1999 before our road was cleared (and three days before the Thruway was open so I could return home from Buffalo – yes, Betsy and my three young children were stranded alone at home for this blizzard).

Today I’m less concerned about being trapped by the snow. As I said, I could do work from anywhere – as long as I have electricity and an internet connection. Which gets us to the rest of the story. Two weeks ago Betsy and I were invited to speak about The Sentinel to the Honeoye Falls-Mendon Rotary. That was the day of the big windstorm when half of the Village of Honeoye Falls lost power (and decided to go to Flaherty’s for dinner). Betsy and I dutifully showed up at Flaherty’s for the Rotary meeting. Of course, being responsible and caring for the safety of both their members and the community, Rotary cancelled the meeting.

So we rescheduled our presentation for last week. Once again, those Rotarians did the right thing when the extent of the snowstorm became apparent and cancelled the meeting.

We’re rescheduled again. If there’s an earthquake on a Wednesday in the next week or so, you’ll know why.

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