Sunday, December 11, 2005

Winter Knocks Twice, Then Kicks in Door

IT'S NOT NICE TO ignore Mother Nature. Last week, she twice requested our attention by way of a snowfall. Like toothsome icing, it sweetened our area with a white frost, which endured due to near- or sub-freezing temperatures for the past few days.

But this was insufficient to rivet our attention. We had had enough of weather extremes. Hurricanes into the Greek alphabet. Devastation along the Gulf Coast. Ridiculous heat in autumn. No, we were quite content to have a proper late fall for a change . . . bare trees stark against gray skies, yellowing grass on varsity football fields, winds finding cracks in the caulking. December would usher winter in at a reasonable pace.

Nature, as she usually does, follows a different schedule. When I awoke Friday morning, even with my lenses out and my glasses somewhere on the nightstand I could see fat flakes fluttering down. From what had settled on the trees and fence bordering my apartment complex, it looked like it had indeed started shortly after midnight, when the previous night's poker game had broken up.

Not unexpected. I had set aside street clothes for today so I didn't get my work pants all salty. I got my act in gear, dug my heavier gloves out, and set out for the train station.

Outside, the snow was exerting its usual eerie sound-deadening effect. Aside from the hiss of billions of flakes settling on cars and parking lot, road noise was muted. I wondered at the contrast from a week earlier. This is how quickly seasons can change. Even if we saw this snow melt in a day, there was no denying that autumn was over. There was no taking this back.

As usual, the sidewalks leading to the bus and train stops were not as well plowed as the roads, so I walked up the streets, snagged a bagel and Diet Coke from the bagel joint (note to self: travel back in time and establish a bagel and breakfast spot catty-corner from a busy transit hub, then semi-retire at 45 and run the joint from Vegas), and trudged over to the station. Here, too, little had been done to clear the still-falling snow, so I had to take care to avoid stumbling on the rise from tracks to platform. Under my deployed umbrella, I waited for the 8:05.

And waited.

A crackling speaker on a lamp jarred everyone there to attention, and said that the 8:05 had been cancelled. Next train: 8:20.

Shit. If I'd have known that, I'd have slept for an extra half hour! With no choice but to wait — the buses would be barely moving across the crash-choked highways of New Jersey — I took a seat in the station building, which used to be the ticket office before machines rendered it obsolete. Unlike some of this line's stops, which have been converted to gift shops or closed outright, this one was left open and provided with climate control and restrooms (thank God). Seemed like a good time to assimilate my bagel, which I tore into.

Shortly thereafter, some guy came in and began talking to himself. Not a street person or anything — he just walked in and began bitching about the weather, with all of us sort of on the other side of the conversation. Not wanting any part of this futile discussion, I buried myself in the Wall Street Journal and hoped his string would eventually run out before someone replied and kept him going. No such luck; he immediately got a cellphone call, which he proceeded to conduct AT FULL VOLUME while pacing around the echoing confines of the ticket office.

I will suppress the rant on cellphone etiquette that you surely have read or even written elsewhere. I decided to stare at him as he walked around. Whether he got the hint or not, he eventually walked outside with the call . . . but because he stood under the eaves to avoid the snow, it offered little sonic protection from his braying.

I looked at the guy sitting next to me and asked, referring to his initial, untargeted complaint, "Who was he talking to?"

"I don't think his phone was even on," he replied. This caused me to spit Diet Coke on my paper.

Eventually, the train did appear, at around 8:30. I had since gone back outside, as the dickhead had returned to the interior and resumed his rant. I had no reason to let some specimen like this elevate my blood pressure, so I decided to exit and appreciate the snowfall. Work was gonna get done one way or the other. I knew the snow in the city was surely being churned into a foul grey slush by vehicles and pedestrians alike, so aside from watching it fall on Chelsea from one of the north-facing offices of someone who quailed in the face of harsh weather, I would have little chance to enjoy its beauty.

Between the late arrival of the train itself, and the slow progress across snow-swept Bergen and Hudson Counties, I didn't get into work until 10:00. The last two blocks, from the PATH station to my building, were, as I suspected, a slushy slog, made worse by the switch of the snow over to rain. I squared my shoulders, cued up The Power and the Glory: The Original Music & Voices of NFL Films on my iPod, and let the gladiatorial fanfare of Sam Spence's orchestra fuel my plunge through the defenses of slow-moving pedestrians and corner puddles of slushy water and toward the end zone of my cube.

The most amusing aspect of the day came around noon. I noticed more light in the office, so I walked over to the northern end of the office. Blue skies had assumed dominion over the snowcapped city, the sun even now melting rooftops full of snow. Century-old brick and years-old steel glittered alike under the melt. It was like someone had grafted an early-spring day onto this late-fall storm.

Fickle bitch, that Mother Nature.

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