This column was written several days ago, but publication was held up due to the loss of Internet connection. The irony was not lost on me…
When my kids and I disagree on an issue, it usually can be explained by the gender gap. I prefer Van Halen to Kanye West; they prefer their pants to hang low, while I prefer the waist line of my pants to reside at, well, my waist. Usually, though, we find room for compromise.
But there is one item that will forever separate my kids’ views from my own. Snow.
When the word came down late Tuesday – snow arriving, school closing – my kids chose to celebrate it with the combined glee of Thanksgiving and Christmas. I am sure they were not alone.
On the other side of the fence, I could do nothing but groan. A snow day meant little more to me, as a public safety employee, than a nasty commute and difficult work conditions. I’ll bet my groan was echoed throughout the region.
When I pulled out for my morning commute to the police department Wednesday morning (which involves surface streets and three freeways), I estimated that traffic volume had diminished by at least a factor of five. That was good, but not great.
That small amount of car traffic, even plugging along at 35 on I-5, was slipping, spinning and crashing. The Washington State Patrol reported well over 200 wrecks in just the first day of snow, a tenfold increase over normal.
Putting my limited observations together with these figures, and recalling that math is not my strong suit, I estimate that drivers were fifty times more likely to crash on Wednesday than on a normal traffic day. In other words, deciding that you “needed” to go shopping, out for dinner or to a nonessential workplace put you in a very dangerous position.
Cops, firefighters and utility workers spent a great deal of time responding to car crashes and stalled motorists Wednesday (and Thursday and Friday). This work took priority over responding to Mother Nature’s relentless acts: Snow and ice-laden trees falling into power lines, power outages and other cold-related injuries.
In the mad rush of people leaving safe homes to venture out into perilous conditions, I only saw one bright point. Near the end of my shift on Friday, I drove into the jam-packed parking lot of a coffee shop. I wedged my car in and went inside to the warmth, electric lights and sounds of conversation. The power outage had brought people out of their dark homes and into this community gathering place. Some were tapping out work on their computers. Others were charging up batteries on their cell phones. Still others were ordering hot meals.
All of the people seemed to be enjoying each other’s company. If that’s what happens when it snows, maybe my kids have a point.