Feeding a storm

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Associated Press wire photo showed a woman, wearing a parka and snow boots and oversized mittens, standing in front of an empty grocery-store dairy case. She was talking on a cell phone, relaying to someone on the other end of the call that she was too late. Other shoppers had wiped out the store's entire milk supply. There wasn't even any skim milk or soy milk left. Other shoppers had panicked at the news:A blizzard was on the way.

Why people make a dash to stock up on milk and bread when winter storms are forecast isn't exactly clear to me. I know for a fact that many of these frantic shoppers don't even drink milk or eat bread. On the other hand, many of them eat out so much that a glass of milk and a peanut butter sandwich may be the only meal they know how to prepare.

In recent days, other storm-related items have sold out as well. I was buying cat food for Miss Kitty at our favorite cat-food store just before this week's Blizzard to End All Blizzards struck a huge swath of the nation. In the short time I was in the store, four customers came in looking for stuff to melt ice. Another purchased a snow shovel.

Late January or early February seems, to me, a strange time to be buying a snow shovel. Did a snow shovel wear out clearing the light snows we've had so far? Did the purchaser decide letting the snow be packed in a layer of driveway ice wasn't such a good idea after all? Did it suddenly occur to the buyer that a shovel might be better than a broom?

Of course, looking at the sidewalks up and down Broadway during our recent snow would indicate not everyone, not even those who own snow shovels, actually shovels any snow.

Our older son lives in Boston, which has been the target of several severe storms this winter. He depends on public transportation most days. And he finds that buses move more smoothly after a snowstorm, because there is so little other traffic.

Younger son, in Dublin, has watched the Irish coping with not just snow, but below-freezing temperatures. The cold has been more devastating than the snow. Water mains froze during the holiday cold snap, and when the temperatures rose the mains started spewing water everywhere. Water had to be shut off for hours at a time so repairs could be made.

Which would you prefer? A street that hasn't been touched by a snow plow or no running water?

In our case, my wife and I have discovered one of the best perks of retirement is looking out the window on a dark winter morning, confirming that the snow forecasts were accurate and going back to bed.

But sometime during the day, after a snowfall, cabin fever sets in. It's a strange sensation. You really don't want to deal with the snow, but you don't want to stay in the house either. So you start thinking about where you could go out to eat. Maybe a cheeseburger. Maybe a pizza. Maybe Chinese. Are the streets passable? Will the restaurant even be open if you make the effort to get out? Where can we drive with no steep hills?

And so on.

Too bad we didn't stock up on milk. And bread.

Joe Sullivan is the retired editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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