Every winter Virginians moan and bitch about the cold. “Can you believe this weather? I’m really sick of it,” or, “I’ve had it up to here with this damn cold,” you hear from everyone. Sure 0° degrees is no fun, neither is 20°. Even if we have a string of 20° days, it quickly warms up, goes up to 65° or even 70° in January.
What we fail to take into account is the folks in Fargo have an average low of 0° in January and an average high of 18°. Okay, you say, but who in their right mind would live in Fargo? But plenty of people do live in Chicago where the average low is 17° and the high is 31°.
So relatively, we’ve got it good. I know because I lived in Chicago for twenty years. On one winter day in February, even though it was cold as hell and starting to snow, I decided to hoof it home, a distance of twelve blocks down the main drag, Michigan Avenue.
After two blocks, I realized I was in the middle of a full-fledged blizzard. Already there was two inches of snow on the ground and all I had on was my pair of red Italian loafers, very stylish complete with fancy tassels and decorative stitching but hardly the mukluks I needed for a snowstorm. Of course there were no cabs, and few cars on Michigan as it was coming down so hard no one could see five inches in front of their face.
By block six, there was a corresponding six inches. The snow was so high you could barely make out the curbs. Plus it started piling up on the soles of my loafers, sticking to them and creating big slippery pads so I lost what little traction I’d once had.
Now I was holding on to window ledges along the avenue and slip-sliding from light pole to traffic sign in an effort to stay standing. Plus the wind started to whip up (in Chicago, they have a special name for it, the Hawk) so despite my shaky footing, I was getting buffeted around the sidewalk like a toy top.
Here I was in the middle of one of the biggest cities in the country and I might as well have been in the middle of a Saskatchewan snowfield during a major blizzard. It was now taking me ten minutes to walk a block and the snow was sneaking inside my collar and coursing in rivulets down my back. My eyebrows and moustache were crusted with snow and I could feel my feet getting first damp then frigid, the snow getting the best of my Italian loafers.
“Why did I decide to walk home?” I asked myself. I could have stayed in my nice warm office until the snow let up and I could call a cab.
After eight blocks, there was a good ten inches of snow on the ground and I was high-stepping like a Lipizzaner horse. In block nine, my feet slipped out from under me and the wind took me down. In that one block, I hit the ground four times and it occurred to me that if I happened to bang my head on a lamp post and passed out, I could conceivably freeze to death on the Magnificent Mile and not be found until hours later when a snow blower revealed my lifeless, frostbitten form.
Three more blocks, then two. Now I was covered in snow, it was piled on my shoulders, stuck to my coat, accumulating on my knees, though I couldn’t see, I wasn’t wearing a hat so it must have been crowning my head.
One more block, I was smelling the barn. Now there was a foot of snow on the ground, making the going even harder. Finally, I made it to the front door and banged the doorknocker hard.
When my wife opened the door, her hand flew up to her face and she gasped, “I hardly recognized you. You look like the Abominable Snowman,”
“Look like him? I feel like him.” I answered, stepping into the hallway.
“Stay here, I’ll run get a broom to brush you off.”
Though my red loafers never looked the same, I quickly recovered. And over drinks that night, we had some good chuckles over my Arctic experience in the middle of the city.
So whenever I hear a Virginian complain about the cold, I offhandedly say to them, “You ought to try living in a place like Chicago, you’d now what cold really is.” I always get an odd look, as if the person is thinking, “Why would I ever do that? This is plenty cold enough for me.”
So I drop it, thinking, at least I know what cold is—and this isn’t!