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Snowed in

December 11, 2009

Here in Reno it started snowing Saturday night and didn’t stop until Monday evening. By that time my neighborhood was mostly housebound and I was struck by a fundamental truth about any state south of Michigan: they don’t have a bleepin’ clue about handling winter.

If the world enters another ice age, the only Americans who will survive are the ones who live in northern New York, Maine, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, etc. The rest of you are doomed. Snow is like kryptonite to y’all.

Snowbelt people would barely notice an ice age. “Been a long winter, eh?” you might hear them admit after a couple of years. “Yah, you got dat right,” might be the reply. “But at least the mosquito numbers are down.”

Never mind the windshield washer fluid south-of-the-snowbelters (SOTS) sell that freezes solid as soon as it gets cold outside (there’s a name for windshield washer fluid that freezes: water), or the terrified drivers who poke around at ten miles per hour (everybody looks like Mr. Magoo the way they hunch over their steering wheels), or the speed bumps they install every ten feet which make snow removal problematic (if they ever get around to trying to remove snow). Never mind all that.

The real issue in Reno is the lack of snowplowing.

In my three years of living here, no county snowplow has ever traveled down my street. Not even to look. Not even twisted curiosity about how the trapped citizenry is faring will lure them down a “side street,” which is what they call the avenues where people live and work. In fact, until this week, I had never even seen a Washoe County snowplow and wouldn’t have taken an oath that they even existed.

This week I have seen two of them, both with their blades up, apparently on their way elsewhere. Minnesota maybe.

The private plow situation isn’t much better. Back in Michigan, as soon as it starts snowing every Tom, Dick, and Harry is out in his driveway welding a plow on the front of his pickup, hoping to make an extra buck. Here in Reno there might be two or three guys who plow snow for money and they seem unenthused.

(Granted, there’s a higher need for an extra buck in Michigan. I hear Governor Granholm stopped trying to count the number of unemployed. She decided it would be faster to count the people with jobs and then just subtract.)

I work in a federal building—it’s Friday, six days after the snowstorm, and they still haven’t found anybody to plow the parking lot. They sent out an email yesterday promising to get it done over the weekend. Ha. I think they’re just hoping the weather warms up and the stuff melts before Monday.

I expected snow incompetence when I moved to Atlanta five years ago. The South is notorious when it comes to winter weather. Thirty years ago I drove to Florida from West Michigan in my Datsun 280Z—not exactly a winter vehicle—and ran into snow in Georgia. You can imagine what that was like. The whole state shut down. Literally. Officially. I pulled off the expressway to get some breakfast and the restaurants were all closed so I went to a Holiday Inn, thinking, “They have to be open because they have guests.” Ha. Holiday Inn had one employee on duty and he was there only because he didn’t get his butt out of there before the snow hit.

I managed to bribe the guy for some bananas from the kitchen and then pointed my car south again. I had to talk my way past a state trooper who was blocking the expressway entrance, insisting the governor had closed the highways, but after that it was really neat, sort of like traveling across America after a nuclear holocaust. There wasn’t another car on the expressway and I drove through pristine whiteness unmarred by a single tire track. I couldn’t really see where the road ended and the shoulder began, but who cares?

The slush—it wasn’t really snow by Michigan standards—was about an inch deep and I barreled along at 85 miles per hour having a blast, barely able to keep the car under control, hydroplaning my way to Florida. (Keep in mind this was the Jimmy Carter 55-mph-speed-limit era, so driving 85 was like getting out of prison for a day.) When I finally saw another car, it was a station wagon with Michigan plates. They passed me doing 90, kids’ faces laughing in the windows, dad giving me a friendly honk as he went by, mom looking a little tense but still enjoying the ride.

It’s a difference in perspective, I guess. Once you’ve bashed your way through a four foot drift at the bottom of your driveway in Grand Rapids and negotiated black ice all the way to Ohio, an inch of slush in Georgia loses its psychological impact. To Michiganders with a week off and visions of sandy Florida beaches & orange trees, an inch of slush is insufficient impediment, simple as that.

I expected something different here in Reno. After all, my house is a mile above sea level and Reno sits at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains where prodigious amounts of snow fall. Lots of people arpound here go skiing in the Sierras. They have to drive up the mountain into the snow to do that, right? So they should be good at handling winter, right? Ha.

Not only do they have a shortage of plows, they don’t know how to use the plows they have. Yesterday I ate lunch at a fancy restaurant and was amazed at the way their parking lot was plowed. All the snow was pushed toward McDonald’s, not away from McDonald’s. The closest parking spots were thus buried under mounds of snow forcing me to park elsewhere and trek up and over the snow just to eat.

“Which Way To Push The Snow.” Isn’t that Chapter 1 in the Snowplowing 101 textbook?

Speaking of the plow shortage… well, that's just it: they’re short. And puny. The county plows here are little half-size dump trucks carrying a smidgeon of salt, maybe enough for one or two streets.

In West Michigan the county plows are great hulking brutes that look like they could conquer Afghanistan. They carry tons of salt and have trained drivers who attack snow like every flake is a personal affront. If the snowfall is heavy they’ll move in formations with two or three of the brutes in a staggered column traveling sixty miles an hour and throwing snow thirty yards off the highway.

In front of the formation: two feet of heavy snow and hazardous driving. Behind the formation: dry pavement with Swedish bikini models playing volleyball. That’s how they do it in Michigan.

Yeah, okay, they have their problems, too. Anything run by government is going to look stupid eventually. In Michigan the stupidity usually arrives later in the winter in the form of insufficient money budgeted for salt and/or insufficient money budgeted for snowplow drivers’ overtime, whereupon the drivers stay home, the snowplows sit idle, the streets become impassable, and the road commissioners huddle in private meetings where they draw pentagrams on the floor, dance naked around a candle, and pray for the snow to melt.

Here in Reno it’s been four days since it stopped snowing and when you drive around downtown it’s like four-wheeling cross-country in a shopping cart. You can feel your fillings shake loose in your mouth as you bump across frozen and half-frozen snowfall that never got plowed when the stuff was fresh.

It gives me pause regarding our nation’s future to think the same kind of idiot government mentality currently charged with snowplowing the streets of Reno will soon be running the nation's healthcare and, if things go well for Obama in Copenhagen, micromanaging the world’s climate, regulating cow farts, and mandating our family planning. Yikes.

Government never really does anything right but I’d rather have them messing up the snow removal than getting into more serious trouble.

From Reno, Nevada, USA

December 13, 2009 - I don't have any kind of chip on my shoulders. I have a Team Of 28 Drivers with snow plow's and Bobcat's and Backhoes, Pay loader's,, So like I said We can Handle it... After all that is done after each snow fall, We warm up with Home Brew... - Jeff, Indiana
J.P. replies: Okay, okay, I concede that Indiana knows how to handle snow. Even if you're not officially part of the "Snowbelt" like Western Michigan, you probably get lake effect snow with a northwest wind, right?

December 12, 2009 - We can Handel it here in Indiana. - Jeff, Indiana
J.P. replies: Jeepers, what is it with the Indiana people this week? Y'all have chips on your shoulders when it comes to snow. I'll concede that some snow falls in Indiana, okay?

December 12, 2009 - You are right about any state below Mich. They don't even know enough to shovel their driveways so they can get out of the garage. Well between last Saturday and last Thursday we got 20 inches of snow which called for a couple of snow days for schools, churches, etc. The kids were out having a ball and so were the school officials who were out Xmas shoppping. Now the stupes realize the kids could have gone to school a couple of those days and they are almost out of allowed snow days. Well you know how snow is here in MI. Here today and gone tomorrow. - Harry, Michigan

December 12, 2009 - Sooooo...we should move to Reno and bring plowing equipment? Sounds like a new business opportunity. I could do Reno for the snow season. Do you know any Red Blooded Conservatives we could bunk with? - Towanna, Detroit
J.P. replies: Anything is possible for the right price. Otherwise there is a tent city for the homeless downtown that looks nifty.

December 12, 2009 - OK - so I jumped to a hasty conclusion about Indiana being left out. We do get a lot of snow and ice, especially in the northern part of the state where I live. But we are used to this every winter, We just get in our little (or really big) go-buggies and plow through and enjoy the season. - Jane, Indiana

December 11, 2009 - You left out Indiana - what do you think we do here - get suntans in the winter? Why does everyone leave out Indiana??? - Jane, Indiana
J.P. replies: You have Peyton Manning, isn't that enough? You need props for being good with snow, too? Fact is, on that very same trip to Florida, on the way back to Michigan I drove through the worst blizzard of my life—in Indiana. The state is so flat it encourages a blizzard. Thing is, all the snow was going sideways, not falling to the ground, so who knows whether Hoosiers can plow? I'll bet they get sick of shoveling that Indiana snow in Ohio.

December 11, 2009 - I didn't realize how different it is where you live. Jim and I were wondering if you guys would get hit by all this snow. It looked like it was going to hit farther east. It really started to dump down on us Tuesday night. Winter has officially arrived. Here we go again! - Samantha, Michigan

December 11, 2009 - I love this column! So true! - C.L., Michigan

December 11, 2009 - I know what you mean. Last week we had a little snow and the city almost shut down. We will be in Reno next Wednesday hope the snowing is over by then. - Sandra, California

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