(originally written in December 2012)
1. Mother Nature is but an inconvenience in the presence of peers.
The first of many blizzards hit the area not too long ago. It dropped over twelve inches of snow and the wind made it nearly impossible to see farther than ten feet. All the schools closed, a few of the local factories closed as well as my workplace. Given my new abundance of free time I decided to make the trek to my favorite cafe.
Since I only live a few blocks away, I decided to walk. Halfway through my trek I began to think that taking my car and possibly turning it into an uncontrollable weapon of destruction would’ve been a better course of action. But I pressed on and it’s hard to describe my elation when I discovered the cafe to be not only open but with a healthy dose of heat. I took a seat at a booth and ordered coffee to balance the warmth between my stomach and my skin.
I’ve developed a certain expectation when I go to this cafe. I expect someone to say something that not only catches my attention but allows me to feel comfortable with my eavesdropping. I try not to listen in on the conversations that involve family illness, divorce hurdles, disappointments in children and the like. I’m not saying that I don’t do it, I just try not to. When I first started going to my cafe I was caught off guard with the inspiration other’s words gave me. But now I anticipate it. Thankfully that day it didn’t take long for the right combination of tone, content and response to arrive.
I had just finished half a cup of coffee and placed my breakfast order in when I overheard someone say. “I can’t believe all these places are shut down. It’s just a little bit of snow.” This statement was received by a few agreeing nods and guttural noises. But the man did not stop there. “Hell, when I worked my farm, it would take nothing short of a tornado to stop us.” At this point a few other people joined the nodders and grunters. “It’s no surprise these plants keep laying off people if they keep closing down because of few flurries.” At this point even I nodded slightly from my table too far away from the conversation to actually matter. Which was probably a good thing because they most likely couldn’t see my jacket that had my recently shut down workplace’s logo on it.
I glanced outside and noticed that the opposite side of the street was invisible behind a wall of white rather than a line of trucks and cars. I turned and took a quick count of the people in the cafe and realized that the amount of people inside did not match the amount of cars outside. Unless a dozen or so people had packed into three cars, these patrons had either walked like I did or trusted someone else to drive them. It’s then that I began to wonder about the legitimacy of the man’s attack on people housebound by the winter winds.
I then thought back on the last major snowfall. Unfortunately that time my work didn’t close down and I was forced into the blizzard to fulfill my employee obligations during a night shift. It’s not often that I don’t wish for a quick and easy night, but that day I silently prayed that we’d be there until morning. My prayer of course was unanswered and after clocking out I ventured once again into the blustery and merciless white breach. The trip home was mostly a solitary one as I was alone on the road. Only once was I joined on that stretch of highway. A car pulled onto the road behind me and at the same time another came around the bend heading towards me.
I will admit that I think too much about what others think of me, so when I glanced at my speedometer and saw it hovering around the 20 mph range I immediately began to fret about how these two other motorists were going to assess my winter driving ability. Many northerners like to brag about their winter driving abilities. They make broad claims about how they could be a F1 racer if only the tracks were covered in a foot of snow and other boasts of the same tone. So when I looked again at my speedometer I began to fear that my Northern Midwest membership card would be promptly revoked.
I toyed with the idea of speeding up just long enough to pull away from the driver behind me and then pass the oncoming one. But as soon as I raised my speed to the 30 mark I felt a slight pull on my car as if someone had lined the ditch with powerful electromagnets. I promptly slowed down again. That’s when I noticed something different. The car in front of me was still in front of me and the headlights of the car behind me remained two distant yellow orbs rather than growing to a pair of electric suns. Even with my poor excuse for math skills I knew that if the two cars had stayed true to northern bragging they would’ve been past me already. When I did eventually pass the oncoming car it was slow enough that I could read the large Chevrolet decal the driver had plastered on the top of his windshield. Redemption is a beautiful thing.
It was by coincidence that I finished my breakfast at the same time that the man who almost started a small crusade against the snowbound cowards did. I gave him a slight nod as he held the door open for me. I slid my hands into my pocket and watched as he entered one of the few cars on the street. The engine roared to life and he quickly attempted to drive off. Unfortunately for him a snowplow and piled a sizable snowdrift around his car that was just too formidable to drive through. I offered my pushing abilities but he waved me off. Apparently his age gave him the ability to know when a good push just wasn’t going to cut it. I shrugged and began to walk home.
I entered my home feeling like that man was justified in his complaints. He drove in the blizzard, I walked. As far as I knew he had worked from the wee hours of the morning until he ventured to the cafe, I had the rest of the day to sit around. But, while he waited on some sort of assistance to remove him from the onslaught of snow, I was a pansy sitting at home. A warm and toasty pansy.