Saying that 2014 has been cold and snowy is an understatement.
Whether conditions on the ground are turning O’Hare into an exercise in mass exasperation (good thing they have a yoga room!) or frightening away celebrities, inclement winter weather has a way of bringing out the local color. Being warned not to leave the house doesn’t stop people from helping neighbors shovel out plowed-in cars while wearing every hat in the house, halt the great dibs debate, or dissuade people from battling the polar vortex to go sledding. People-watching becomes more interesting when your subjects are the brave souls venturing out in subzero temperatures and biting wind. You’re nearly as likely to see somebody calmly standing on an elevated platform waiting for the train in a windbreaker and no gloves as somebody desperately clutching a travel mug of coffee through three pairs of mittens that protrude from the sleeve of a parka worn over another parka worn over a hoodie. Who is just trying to get to work? Who is waiting for a tow truck? Who is questing for pie?
One particular thing that always amuses me is the language used to describe the winter weather. I dimly recall my mother and her friends referring to one storm in the winter of 1988-1989 as “hell frozen over.” More recently, there was a “snowpocalypse” in 2011 that left cars stranded for days on Lake Shore Drive. This year, meteorologist Ricky Castro noted that Chicago is colder than the South Pole and coined the phrase, “Chiberia.”
I enjoy living in a place with real seasons and, what’s more, extreme seasons. Despite the occasional mild winter or cool summer, I can generally expect to both sweat and freeze while walking down the same street within each calendar year. My January landscapes are reliably dotted with snowmen. Hot cocoa tastes better because I really need it. Going for a run turns into a scene from Rocky IV. These harsh winters make me grateful that it isn’t this way every year while making me see ordinary places in extraordinary ways. I love Chiberia (but I can’t wait for August)!