Column: White out



Last week’s snowfall in the city was, as they often can be, a gentle phenomenon with the flakes outside the north-facing windows dancing sideways and upward showing little interest in heading to a landing spot.

But eventually six inches of them accumulated on the window air conditioners.

Sixteen floors below, the sidewalks were assiduously being shoveled and salted in a way that is probably unique to New York City. The city does snow removal very well, probably the best of any city I’ve lived in.

One time, during Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s tenure, the plows did not get activated on time, and the streets were a disaster. Cars, cop cars, cabs, buses even the plows themselves were incapacitated in a sea of snow.

It was rumored that a union was deliberately slow to respond to punish Bloomberg for some perceived slight during contract negotiations, but both sides denied it.

Two cities, Philadelphia and Washington, rank dead last in snow removal proficiency in my informed opinion. In Philly the merchants don’t even bother to clear the sidewalks by their storefronts, and most residents could care less about shoveling. As a Midwestern kid, I cannot help myself. I always shoveled, usually leaving a clear patch of sidewalk amid snowbound sidewalks for as far as the eye could see.

In Washington, the city shuts down at the mere mention of snow. My theory is that the huge population of government workers skews this reaction in order to get snow days. As for clearing the streets, they don’t seem to try and so, voila, a snow day is declared.

Clever, when you stop to think about it.

I lived in Vermont for 10 years and as you can assume, they take snow removal very seriously up there.

It seems like there’s a plow for every man, woman and child in the state and the roads are immaculate.

When I moved to Montpelier I was awakened by the sound of a military operation. Down below I saw a huge V-shaped plow in the middle of Main Street pushing the snow into two rows that were scooped up by two trailing trucks shooting the white stuff into huge, waiting dump trucks. The sidewalks were tended by miniature tank-like machines with treads.

No messing around in Montpelier.

Back then there was always a week or so when the temperature never got above zero, freezing your car tires flat in the parking lot. It would take a couple of miles before they regained their circular shape. These days that almost never happens and the ski areas are often begging for a good snow.

One time in college outside Chicago, a massive blizzard shut the city down. When I went downstairs to explore, the entire front door was a wall of snow. They were dumping it into rivers and carting it out of the city in fleets of semis.

Back to New York, the recent brutal cold snap has turned our attention to our fireplace. Built in 1927, it draws perfectly and once we have that first fire we can’t stop. The grocery store across the street sells bundles of firewood, and it works out to about a dollar a stick and worth every penny.

Curiously, most of the firewood that winds up in Manhattan comes from Estonia, making you wonder if there is a tree left standing in that small country.

All this fireplace talk has me thinking. I’m going to light one right now.