Bad Snowstorms Make Good Neighbors

By Dr. Joseph Schaub

You may have noticed the abundance of snowfall in the mid-Atlantic region this winter. Just when we’d gotten used to the balmy, 60-degree January days that global warming had been kind enough to grace us with, Mother Nature goes and pulls a Throwback Thursday move. Global warming, and its attendant polar vortexes, el ninos and assorted climatic surprises, could actually wind up making our winters colder for the foreseeable future. But that’s not the irony I really want to discuss.

What strikes me as interesting about major snowstorms is that, at least in my Southeast Baltimore neighborhood, the more snow there is, the more people come out. Most of us, during the many tolerable, temperate days of spring, summer, and fall, rush from our cars to our front doors with nary a nod to the other denizens of our brick barrio. Why is it then that after a heavy snowfall, we all rush out to clean off our cars (we’re not going anywhere anytime soon), shovel our walks (they’re only a few feet long), and stand around talking about (what else) the weather?

One reason we all come out is because, if you don’t, someone will shovel your walk for you. If you live in a rowhouse, there is literally only about 10 square feet of concrete you can claim as your own. The first person out usually does everybody else’s walk on the little five-house section that makes up my block. Still, after hearing that first scrape of metal hit the snow-covered concrete, everybody comes out with their shovels, brooms, handfuls of salt, ice scraper for the car, or just to talk.

Once, during a snowpocalypse in the not too distant past, I was out shoveling, just like everyone else in my neighborhood, taking frequent breaks to comment on whether the last two-plus feet of snowfall happened in January of ’96 or December of ’95 (because these things matter). About a half a block away, I spotted a young woman who looked terribly familiar to me. Not familiar in the haven’t-we-met way, but familiar in the family-are way. Even though we were both bundled in heavy winter garb, I could tell she was looking back and forth at me in the same familiar way. Finally, I approached, and within 10 feet of each other, we both realized that we were indeed family, as we simultaneously shouted the other’s name. I’d been staring at my cousin Lauren, who’d been living down the street from me for almost a year without either or us knowing it.

I often think about this when it snows and I have to shovel my few feet of concrete. I’m indifferent to snow, but unlike beautiful or harsh weather, sunshine or rain, snow brings people out of their houses. Ages ago, on muggy summer nights, neighbors would convene on their front stoops, drinking cold bottles of beer, listening to ballgames on transistor radios, and talking about, what else, the weather. Now, if it’s summer, you only see people on their steps during a black out, when, thanks to all the central air conditioning units overloading the circuitry, the power dies, but nobody feels much like talking then. The only thing that can thaw out today’s chilly urban neighborhoods is a heavy winter snowstorm.

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