Citizen Green: The precarity of our winter wonderland

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Jordan Greenby Jordan Green

Adverse weather conditions can bring out the best in humanity, but I think the first great snowstorm of 2016 revealed my petulant streak.

First, a big thank you is in order to the many police officers, doctors, nurses, utility workers and road crews who are absolutely indispensable, who show up for work to provide essential services whether the roads are clear or not. Thanks also to the restaurant servers and bartenders who pull shifts so people can get a hot meal or just enjoy the company of others, and to the people stocking shelves and manning cash registers so the rest of us can stay supplied with bread and milk.

Most everyone else should and did stay home during the three-day snow-in. I admire people who follow the promptings of the weather to throw together a soothing potato soup, settle in for a nice stretch of Netflix binge-watching, or drag a snowboard out to the nearest backyard or park slope. But for the most part that’s not me.

While putting out a weekly newspaper is by no stretch an essential service, at the same time the work must get done in order to have a paper ready for production on Tuesday evening. Winter wonderland be damned — this is stressful! Our household functions like a symphony, where timing and instrumentation are everything, so the slightest change of plans can throw everything into chaos.

We rely on my mother-in-law to watch our 2-year-old daughter two days of the week to defray the cost of daycare. Considering that my wife risks losing her job if she doesn’t show up for work, it obviously fell to me to handle childcare when the snow prevented my mother-in-law from coming on Jan. 22. Some reporting work can be done by phone or internet, while juggling feeding, diapering and clothing a 2-year-old, but even on her best days the kid gets cranky if she isn’t entertained and cajoled by an adult.

Regardless of the snow, the pages of our paper still need to be filled with content. For our small crew of staff and interns, this means that when meetings and events are canceled over the weekend we find ourselves scrambling to make backup plans, preferably ones that don’t involve leaving the house. Completing assignments is only part of the challenge: I also find myself worrying about how the snow hampers collections, and will certainly depress pickups of our paper.

A reporting assignment in Winston-Salem on Monday morning means that we’re praying that our daughter’s daycare will be open. If it’s not, hopefully her grandmother can come from her third-shift nursing job to take over, assuming the roads aren’t too icy. If that’s what we need to do, it’s essential that a path be cleared up our sloping driveway so she can walk up to the house safely.

We become closely attuned to the exactitudes of sunlight and temperature. A couple days of snow will teach you that the best opportunity for snowmelt lies in the relatively tight window between noon and 4 p.m. Consequently, those four hours provide the best opportunity to scrape the solid layer of sleet and snow off the driveway. One hopes the sunshine will melt off the stray slush and that any melt-water will drain off before nightfall so it doesn’t refreeze into a clear film of ice. It seem like a lot has to go right just to make sure the new workweek is on track.

I realize none of these circumstances are particularly special or unique. We’re lucky in so many ways. We kept our power. No one fell or froze. We had adequate provisions. And in fact the situation of our family and the small business that provides half of our household income is probably completely typical. Like many North Carolinians struggling to survive in this tepid recovery, we’re hanging on.

The three-day snow was a relatively tame weather event. But it taught me firsthand that, as with hurricane or earthquake, the hardship we experience when adverse weather hits is only partly a result of the magnitude of the storm but also a consequence of the economic resources that we had or didn’t have beforehand. In other words, the storm only reveals the ways we were already vulnerable and exposes our pressure points.

And, yes, there is some magic in exposing a 2-year-old to a real snow. She squealed with delight when we pushed her around the backyard on a plastic garbage-can top, and next year we’ll have to get a real sled. But this is a kid who can find endless fascination in a couple rolls of wrapping paper stashed in a corner, so what really intrigued her was licking snow off the picnic table.

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