The night before the big snow started to drop on our nation’s capital, frenzied shoppers stockpiled toilet paper as if the entire city were about to be scooped up and airdropped into Outer Mongolia.
Apparently, this is one of Washington’s winter rituals. “You have enough toilet paper?” one person after another asked me throughout the day on Capitol Hill. “You gotta get toilet paper. Don’t wait till tomorrow to get toilet paper. It’ll be all gone.”
What’s up with that? They hear they’re going to be cooped up at home and can imagine only one thing that could make them sit still for so long. So they’re shopping for toilet paper. Makes me think nobody’s going to be calling Washington a bastion of deep thought any time soon.
This is an amusing response to winter for those of us from the Midwest who grew up hearing stories about spring, summer and fall but end up with little evidence to back up the rumors. We’re built for winter. We pull out the boiled wool by Labor Day and wear trapper hats long after Easter. We’re used to snow, lots of snow, and there’s no quicker way to spot a fellow Midwesterner in Washington than to peek out the window and say, “Yep, looks like snow to me,” and watch who starts breathing into paper bags and talking about toilet paper.
I am writing this on Friday afternoon in Cleveland, after catching the last available flight out of Washington before 2 to 3 feet of predicted snow dropped on the city. People were going just this side of crazy, I tell you.
Schools and offices had closed before a single flake had fallen. Motorists were filling up gas tanks even as police warned to keep all cars at home. The Virginia Legislature, for the first time in four decades, canceled all meetings. Stores had sold out of the few snow shovels they had bothered to stock.
At the airport, travelers on standby hovered around gates like moths to a cabin lamp, hoping to snag seats on one of the few planes still scheduled to take flight.
The Capital Weather Gang posted on its Web site all-caps warnings full of ellipses, as if they were cherry-picking the bad news because there is only so much bad news mere human beings can bear:
“LOOKING BACK AT THE BIGGEST STORM OF RECORD FOR WASHINGTON DC … THE JANUARY 1922 KNICKERBOCKER STORM … 28.0 INCHES OF SNOW WAS PRODUCED FROM 3.02 INCHES OF LIQUID WATER. CURRENT FORECASTS FOR THIS EVENT HAVE TOTAL LIQUID FALLING FROM THIS STORM APPROACHING 3 INCHES … WHICH ACCORDINGLY WOULD CREATE A SNOWFALL THAT WILL RIVAL THE KNICKERBOCKER STORM TOTAL. GENERALLY ACROSS THE REGION … 20 TO 30 INCHES OF SNOW WILL FALL BY SATURDAY EVENING.”
What were they leaving out? What was lurking between those dot-dot-dots?
At 1:42 p.m., NBC reporter Chuck Todd tweeted: “#snOMG update: new DC forecast calls for 20-30 inches now with some localized accum getting closer to THREE FEET?!?!?!”
As my plane lifted into the gray skies, I couldn’t help but feel a little hopeful for the town we were leaving behind. I don’t believe God singles out geography to make a point, but I do wonder whether he might be up for the occasional act of thoughtful mischief. There’s a special camaraderie when everyone has to bundle up and waddle like Weebles through 36 inches of snow.
Here on the shores of Lake Erie, we know a little something about that magic. We’ve raised our faces to the dark sky and felt soft white stars rain down upon us. We’ve joined the collective oomph of strangers melding into a single force of humanity to shove a fellow traveler’s car to freedom. And we’ve heard the rage and rancor of daily life soften to a giant sigh under the weight of something so fresh and white it blinds us to the flaws it buries.
By the time you read this, Washington may be covered in white.
Here’s hoping they find a few angels in the snow.
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland and the author of two books from Random House, “Life Happens” and “… and His Lovely Wife.” She is a featured contributor in a recently released book by Bloomsbury, “The Speech: Race and Barack Obama’s ‘A More Perfect Union.'”
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