St. Louis was in disaster mode today. The city — no, the entire area — was gripped with panic, when we were suddenly attacked by an enemy that strikes fear into the hearts of the majority.
The first snow of the season. By unofficial measurement in my backyard, the accumulation was well over an inch. Maybe two. Call it four or five in the outlying areas. Bottom line, while other parts of the country were being hit pretty hard, we weren’t exactly experiencing a blizzard.
Immediately, my fellow citizens let go of their natural instincts and decided that they no longer knew how to drive. Roads were backed up for miles. Sure, there were some accidents, some sliding on slick surfaces (and some unnecessary alliteration), but in many instances, it wasn’t collisions or hazardous conditions that slowed down traffic. It was simply the anxious overuse of the brake pedal instead of the gas pedal. If you listened carefully, you could hear thousands of frustrated drivers shouting at the slowpokes, “Go! Go already! It’s only a little bit of moisture! Drive! Go!”
Half-hour commutes were turned into morning-long adventures. Once the destination was reached, there had to be a discussion of each person’s hellish drive. At this point, the common complaint was heard again and again: “People here do not know how to drive!”
I’ve heard that same grievance in every city I’ve ever lived in or visited — and I’ve been to more than half of our fifty states. No matter where you go, the locals will always complain about the bad driving abilities of the other locals. Of course, no one ever steps forward and says, “You know what? I’m not a very good driver, and I’m even worse when the weather gets messy. I don’t even know why they gave me a license. I’m an accident waiting to happen. From now on, blame me.”
Another effect of snow is what it does to television newsrooms. They go into hyper-overdrive, with all the standard “team coverage” clichés covered. Here’s one reporter at the Department of Transportation garage, where the plows are ready to roll. Here’s another reporter at the giant salt and sand pile, where the trucks are loading and spreading. Here’s a third reporter at DOT headquarters, where the supervisor is confident his troops can get the job done (as if they’d admit, “We’re completely unprepared! We don’t have any gas for the vehicles, and I forgot to order sand and salt this year. You’re on your own, folks!”)
Here’s the weather crew, enjoying yet another adrenaline rush day thanks to all the expanded airtime they’re receiving while explaining the difference between air temperature and ground temperature and pointing out snowfall amounts in sixteen different locations on the map. Here’s the station’s consumer affairs reporter informing us that snow shovel sales are up considerably today. Here’s the health reporter reminding viewers to be careful while shoveling, and not to over-do it (never mind that most viewers will be able to clean their driveways with a broom). Here’s the traffic reporter, standing in front of an electronic road map that’s so covered with red arrows and other symbols that you can’t even tell which street is which.
Here’s a reporter live on an overpass showing us how highway traffic has slowed to a crawl. Here’s still another reporter — standing right next to the previous reporter — telling us how several side streets are backed up because TV live trucks are taking up the entire right lane on the overpasses for live shots.
The snow panic equation wouldn’t be complete without the supermarket rush. What is it about snowflakes that makes so many people develop such an intense need for milk, bread, and toilet paper — especially when the snow is only going to fall for a single day, followed by sunshine and warmer temperatures? I could see the need to stock up if we were under the siege of your average Buffalo, New York, snowstorm in which we can’t even leave our houses for a week. But we’re talking about a couple of inches. You’ll get there tomorrow. In the meantime, scrounge around your kitchen for some ramen noodles, a pickle, and a glass of water — it won’t kill you!
Hearing and watching the way this town — like so many other towns across the country — reacted to this rather mild version of a storm today, I thought about all those disaster movies. No, not the ones about winning a free cruise on the SS Norwalk Virus. I mean the ones in which some American city is about to be attacked by some madman with a nuclear device, or an asteroid is going to hit nearby and cause calamitous damage for hundreds of square miles, or Eddie Murphy is shooting scenes for “I Spy on Pluto Nash.”
In every one of those movies, they always try to save millions of lives by evacuating the big city. I’m here to tell you: forget it! Can’t be done. If we can’t even make it down the highway safely through two inches of snow, we’re never going to get out of town should a bona fide catastrophe occur.
If and when the time comes, I’m not going to try to get out of town. My family and I will sit in the living room and watch the whole thing on CNN. At least we’ll be close to the refrigerator and kitchen cabinets, where we’ll make due with some orange juice, a can of peas, and a box of saltines.
That’ll be better than being on the highway, surrounded by cars going nowhere, with drivers yelling, “Drive! Let’s go! It’s only a little bit of radiation! Go!!”