Saturday, December 15, 2007

Gauging the snow by the sounds on the street

There's no such thing as a snow day when you're an adult. At least not when you work for a national media company, in a department that requires staffing 24/7, and the terms "weekends" and "holidays" aren't so much as guaranteed days off as much as guaranteed days of a quieter office and -- hopefully -- less news.

Yet despite this, and despite my duties as a homeowner, particularly shoveling, I still find myself rooting for snow. And not just a light dusting or a brief afternoon snowshower that covers the neighborhood with a couple of inches but then melts away when the sun comes out later in the day. I watch the weather and hear the forecast for New England and hope that a little of it comes our way. I'm jealous of Boston, where the Weather Channel's Jim Cantore has decamped -- a sure sign of impending doom, weather style.

On the one hand, I hope it passes us by, or at least makes the afternoon amenable to heading out early for the city so Casey and I can meet my sister for lunch at Ditch Plains. I could go for a burger and a beer before work. But on the other, an inclement afternoon would keep us housebound, and give me a chance to watch the Jets and Patriots, where a nor'easter could even the playing field a little and at least give my fantasy football team a chance against a team that owns both Tom Brady and Randy Moss.

For the past two years, as we've lived in a second-floor apartment, winter storms meant little more than a treacherous walk to the bus stop and perhaps a little extra time to get to the city to account for slow going on River Road. Plus, my car was parked in the garage beneath the building, meaning the snow brush and scraper were kept in the trunk in the event that snow came while I was at a movie or somewhere else where the car might be parked outside. And I certainly got the car washed much more often, knowing that even if the five-day called for rain or snow that the Grand Am had a chance to remain dry and covered if I had no apparent plans to head out. I enjoyed the snowstorms guilt-free then, with no sidewalks to shovel, no driveways to clear, no car to clean.

Two days ago, we had an afternoon of freezing rain, snow and sleet, creating a firm, heavy much that felt like shoveling a sidewalk's worth of snowcone filling. If I added some flavoring, I'm sure I had about a dozen square feet of marketable slush. And that day's snowfall also revealed to us how low on the city's list our street is for plowing, since it seemed like we got no attention on our block. But that may have been the result of the guidelines -- many municipalities won't plow until there are at least three or four inches on the ground, because anything less will damage the roads and the plow blades more than they'll effectively clear the snow. Thursday brought no more than two inches, I think.

So we head to bed tonight not sure of what the low-hanging clouds outside will bring, other than a brighter night as they reflect the lights and cast an artificial glow over Clifton. The sky has a pink hue above the rooftops and the treelines, a low ceiling as an indication that precipitation is afoot. I'll wake up tomorrow, no duties or commitments until the afternoon, and be able to lie in bed listening for a passing car on the street. If the sound of an engine comes with the rain-soaked swish of a wet road, I'll know the night stayed above 30 degrees and the storm system brought only rain or slush. But if those motors are muffled, if an engine seems otherwise alone, a silent gliding or faint hint of crunching evident beneath the tires, then I'll know an hour bundled up out in the cold awaits. It's how I used to gauge a snowfall in high school, wondering if I had to bolt out of bed to get in the shower before school, or if I could hold off a bit and sleep in a little while, knowing that Mom would come alert me if school was indeed on and I was falling behind. In the end, I got pretty good at making the right call.

It's starting now as rain, though perhaps freezing rain, the sound of tiny water pellets drumming on the air conditioner in the dining room window. Hazardous conditions surely await with the daylight.

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