Party Like It’s 1888

Telegraph and electrical lines dangle dangerously overhead during the Blizzard of 1888.

Telegraph and electrical lines dangle dangerously overhead during the Blizzard of 1888, the blizzard by which all others blizzards are compared.

Between Friday night and Saturday morning, snow fell on New York City. I was out late, and it snowed enough that I had to ditch my bike in a friend’s basement for the weekend. By Saturday morning, there was a nice layer of snow covering the streets. It was just enough to hide the grit and grime of the city streets, but not enough to cripple the city. Many people I spoke to on Saturday rhapsodized about waking up with snow on the ground. To these shiny happy people, I offered these two thoughts:

  • Sure it’s nice to wake up with snow on the ground on a weekend. Snow on the ground isn’t so lovely on a weekday when you have to schlep to work.
  • Wait until Tuesday.

By Saturday, only the most fervent weather watchers were aware that we were expecting significant snowfall starting on Monday. I knew there was something coming but couldn’t believe that we were in store for about two feet of snow over a two day period with hurricane force winds. Today, it seems, the blizzard is all we can talk about. Will we get an early dismissal? Will our classes be cancelled? Is the city actually shutting down the streets tonight at 11:00 PM?

The answer to all these questions is yes.

The awning of a grocery store is damaged from the weight of the snow during the blizzard of 1888 in New York City.  The blizzard on March 12-14 paralyzed the city with about 40" of snow and winds that reached up to 60 miles per hour, creating drifts as high as fifty feet.  (AP Photo)

The awning of a grocery store is damaged from the weight of the snow during the blizzard of 1888 in New York City. The blizzard on March 12-14 paralyzed the city with about 40″ of snow and winds that reached up to 60 miles per hour, creating drifts as high as fifty feet. (AP Photo)

Although it’s worrisome that the usually dispassionate NOAA warning has qualified this storm as “potentially historic,” my attitude towards these things is pretty blazé. I learned long ago that I couldn’t control the weather, and that it was fairly pointless to fret about rain, snow, cold, heat, hurricanes, etc. Instead of sweating these uncontrollable climatological events, it’s more productive to find a few things to do to occupy my time.

  • Be thankful it’s not 1888. The Blizzard of 1888 is one of those weather events that led to at least two major infrastructural changes. Power and telegraph lines were moved underground because they dangled dangerous over the street: icicles were like daggers waiting to come down onto an unsuspecting pedestrians. Similarly, elevated train lines and streetcars were crippled by the fifty-foot-high snowdrifts, leading to move mass transit underground and the construction of the first subways systems in Boston and New York. The Bowery Boys have a great written summary and podcast about this storm. Another extraordinary fact about the Blizzard of 1888 was that it was a “superstorm,” not unlike Sandy. The major difference is that it happened in the winter: imagine all the flooding from Sandy, but instead of water which can recede fairly quickly, it was snow that has melt or be cleared.
  • Make chili. During our many storms together, from hurricanes to blizzards, Sarah would make us a huge pot of chili and leave it out on the stove. We would scoop out a bowl at a time over the course of several days. But these days, I’m making my own chili. Dan Nosowitz argues that the essence of chili is the spices and suggests you make chili without meat. This is consistent with my thinking about Mexican pozole and Japanese ramen being more similar than different: their essence lies with the broth, not the meat, noodles, or hominy.
  • Take photos with your nice camera. Writing for The Verge, Chris Plante argues that you should buy and use a nice camera instead of your phone to capture your life’s memories. In this spirit, I’ve packed my SLR and will be carrying it around in the event I come across some worthwhile photo opportunities from this blizzard. I doubt any of my photos will be as impactful at the one above from 1888 with the dangling power lines threatening New Yorkers below, but maybe your photos will.
  • Do something. And because a blizzard of this magnitude usually closes roads, schools, and some offices, we get the luxury of time. This is a good time to write something or clean the bikes.

By Wednesday, we’ll all be back to fighting our fellow humans and the elements to get to work. And some of us will be rethinking how nice it is to wake up to snow on the ground.

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