The first lake effect snowstorm of the season descended upon Erie-town this morning.
For those who live in oblivion, Erie, PA is notable for a handful of curious matters, both of criminal and historical significance, not the least of which is Most Snowfall in Inches for the Winter of 2013. Nationwide. Number One. (Watertown, NY actually beat us by about an inch and a half but, due to its size, never made the cut.)
To us lifelong “Erietes”, the whole First Place thing was no mild titillation on social media; but, truth be told, we are a hardy, thick-skinned (or, Eddie Bauer insulated) folk to whom fourteen inches of the fluffy white stuff is a jaded yawn.
Not so to my new friend and mother to three of my newest private string students. She and her family having just relocated to our town from the west coast – Washington state, to be exact – following her husband’s medical fellowship appointment, I was bemused when, upon entering my foyer today to pick up two of her brood, she exclaimed: “ Wow! I can’t believe they haven’t plowed your street yet!?”
The question was the punchline. I live on the southwest corner of a quiet street in an area I call Slumtown (what used to be Little Italy), just a block east of the main north-south, west side artery. As she makes the right turn off of Liberty Boulevard, little does my new friend know how many times she will be swimming across that final intersection, her destination in full view, straining to get across the chasm to the curb before her tire rubber catches fire.
Yes; city design takes on many forms across this wide land of yours and mine. Most have a variety of hills and curves, valleys, cubbies, and cul de sacs. Not.so.the.northwest corner of Pennsylvania. “Philadelphia grid” is the term used by city engineers and other planners for the endless, square, “tic-tac-toe” blocks that populate our satellite view. Of slightly less significance are the number of pizza shops per capita. But, be that as it may, when winter arrives, the city snowplow regiment mobilizes for their long slog east to west, north to south. Usually with marked absence of enthusiasm, seeing as they’d just morphed from the streetcleaning contingent one likely week prior.
But, because of the lay of the land, and the limits of the city budget, this fleet of heavy yellow metal must play selective about its fuel consumption and general wear and tear across the tundra of that interminable, ever-expanding season we call winter around here. This means that those of us who live in the latitude line sandwiched between the aforementioned main drag and the massive Erie Cemetery ( 14 un-interrupted blocks of permanently-occupied space ), might be lucky to get mail delivery. Most of our dwellings do not have driveways; yet, multiple household residents have their own cars, and they park them, bumper-to-nose-to-bumper, from corner to corner, all winter.
Around here, we count the sight of a plow by the sound of its approaching rumble and clank. And, with Even-Odd parking, if we’re lucky enough to remember on which side of the street to park the night before, we are graced with a clean cut to the curb from the cemetery to the boulevard – on one side of the street.
But, I live on the corner. And, even a street cleaner rig is no match for an Erie snowplow. Nothing clumsier to navigate than one of these Abrams tanks. Yes; the plow cuts a straight swath, east to west, alright….and, like the garbage route in the dead of night, won’t be coming north to south anytime soon until the east west veins are vanquished. But, most important to fully grasp: never in all my years on this planet, let alone in the town made notorious by a hapless bank robbing pizza deliveryman with a bomb strapped to his torso, have I ever witnessed the King of All Motorized Machines turning.a.residential.corner. Even a Zamboni has these babies beat.
Nope. Never had it happen. These monsters bore across, or they rumble on down the grid, like prehistoric dinosaur serpents, pushing the prohibitive precipitate aside the whole way – and, that, past as many as ten bisecting streets. Consequently, there are mountains of plowed snow deposited on either side of each intersection, in both directions, and then.left.there to await the next even or odd day.
Woe to the lowride used car that ventures south on an even day, lucky to cover one short cube of the grid before encountering a Rocky Mountain Ridge roadblock of the flakey stuff at the corner; or, to the SUV heading east on an odd day, hoping to get beyond a single block without sliding into the imposing mound awaiting, only to fishtail its weightless derriere into a 360.
In most cases, the snow has met the underbelly of the driver’s vehicle before it reaches the intersection. Tires are useless in such a scenario. If cars could swim, there might be a sliver of hope of reaching one’s destination; but, alas – even GM, and its eternal warehouse of recalled parts, hasn’t a gill or a fin to offer here.
Die-hards though we be, whenever we see network news broadcasts of marooned caravans on regional highways, we are far less transfixed than the rest of America. We know that the same thing will probably happen to us the next morning, just for trying to get across the street.
So, if you happen to live on the edge of the Great Lakes, remember to look out for the drivers with foreign license plates; these people may only be here on limited visa, but if we can help it we’d better be ready with shovels, sandbags, and chains to lift a bumper or two in the name of good old Northern hospitality.
© Ruth Ann Scanzillo
all rights reserved. Thank you.