Waxing Poetic: Winter Mask
Living in Palisades, that benevolent Siberia, I have to take the bus to get anywhere. So when they closed down Metro’s above-ground services at 1 p.m. Saturday I found myself even more isolated than usual. Two friends and I had plans to make camp at their place in East Capitol and get ourselves snowed into bars on H Street, but with the snow at knee height and me without boots, hoofing it to the Dupont or Foggy Bottom Metro stations seemed at best uncomfortable, at worst dangerous. But spending the weekend alone in my apartment seemed at least as grim, so I slipped into my low-top Etnies and stumbled through the unshoveled walk to the street.
I padded stiffly in the direction of Reservoir Road, planning to follow it past the hospital to where it meets Q in northern Georgetown then follow Q to Dupont, where I could ride the Metro to Union Station and then walk more from there. Obscurely, I found myself thinking of 19th Century U.S. Congressman Roscoe Conkling, R-N.Y., who fell ill and died in 1881 after trying to walk three hours to his favorite pub in a blizzard despite having forgotten his overcoat. My shoes were already wet to my socks. This must be why, I deduced, of all anatomical afflictions they settled on “cold feet” as the metaphor for being hesitant to undertake some planned task.
As I contemplated idioms and 19th-Century statesmen, I noticed a cab trundling up MacArthur Boulevard. It had passengers, but the driver rolled down his window as he drew up next to me. He was going to Rosslyn and could take me as far as the Key Bridge, if I wanted. From there I could walk to Foggy Bottom and get to H Street via Eastern Market. I climbed in. The cabbie was in a jovial mood for a someone trying to steer a two-ton, rear-wheel drive Crown Victoria through a foot of snow. “Boston!” he exclaimed when I told him where I was from. “Hoo hoo! Walkin’ to Dupont all cavalier—I’m from Boston, he says!” The other passengers were a couple guys my age from Syracuse and Montreal. We talked about snow and my ill-suited footwear while the cabbie shouted happily—half to us and half to his daughter, through a bluetooth—about how his son-in-law needed to stop trying to help a stuck motorist and take her to Subway for lunch like he promised. “If the guy ain’t got the tires, he ain’t getting’ out, honey. You wanna be a Good Samaritan, buy him a sandwich!” The cabbie explained that had just put new tires on his own car. Snow tires, I asked? “Naw, regular tires are good enough!” he bellowed as we skidded precipitously down the steep curve to Canal Street.
I got out at the Key Bridge and hiked along M Street, where a few people were walking around and others were gathering, flushed and soggy, in what shops remained open. We exchanged conspiratorial glances through the glass. There was a flirtatious thrill in the air that reminded me of an Updike story from a few years ago about a power outage: “There was a brimming, an overflow of good nature, and a transparency: something occluding had been removed, baring neglected possibilities.” In this case an occlusion had been added, but with the same effect. The disruption of the snow had put everyone on the same improvisational footing. It had dressed up the city in a ludicrous mask. And knowing it would be over in a day, we too could be whoever we wanted.
On 25th Street I saw a Jeep Wrangler spinning its tires trying to pull on to Pennsylvania Avenue, with two men pushing. I jogged up giddily and put my shoulder into the rear fender. The three us must have looked cartoonish, our feet slipping and running in place with big dumb exhilirated grins, but after a moment the Jeep started floating forward and spitting gray snow at my shins and knees and after a few more we were running and stumbling as it rolled away ahead of a stream of white exhaust and then we were whooping and high-fiving and I couldn’t feel my feet at all.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery.