Blogging the Snowpocalypse

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You will probably have noticed that I did not post this morning.  That's because sometime before 8 am, I decided that I should get to the grocery store and pick up my lung medicine in the hiatus between snows.

Four hours later, I returned with a trunk full of whatever could be scavenged from the grocery store shelves.  You have never seen a city as completely incompetent at dealing with snow as Washington DC.

I mean, two feet of snow is inconvenient anywhere.  But in DC, only the main streets have been plowed.  And by "plowed", I mean that one meager lane has been cleared, so that even major arteries like New York Avenue frequently narrow to one lane.  The side streets have been turned into defacto one-way streets--except that no one knows which way.  The result is a lot like driving on a country road in Ireland, where you are apt to come upon someone going the other way, and then spend precious moments staring at each other until one party reluctantly backs up to a wider spot.

The difference is that Irish drivers are somewhat familiar with the conditions.  DC today is the province of taxi drivers and SUV owners who seem simultaneously confused and overconfident.  As I eased down the street in our little Japanese sedan, I quickly surmised that none of the drivers in the bite-sized tanks surrounding me had ever seen snow before.  Three blocks later I revised that opinion:  I don't think any of them had ever seen cars before.  Certainly not the ones they were operating.

Apparently, if you buy an SUV in the Greater Washington DC area, this gives you license to drive much faster than the rest of traffic on a road that only has one open lane.  Unfortunately, it does not give you any basic information about the function of four wheel drive--such as the fact that while 4WD does allow you to accelerate better in snowy conditions, it does not improve your braking ability.  Nor, as one of my twitter mates pointed out, does it enhance your turning power.  And of course, four wheel drive will not stop you from fishtailing on the slick layer of slush covering a solid base of hard-packed snow.  I witnessed one minor fender bender and three near accidents in the perhaps three miles that I covered this morning.

By the time I finally got to the grocery store, I discovered the scene many of you have already viewed on cable television.  There was virtually no meat.  There were no eggs--I thought I was missing them, until I realized that the egg section comprised the rows and rows of empty shelves stretching beneath one lonely carton of egg beaters.  The frozen pizzas were pretty well decimated.  Oddly, all of the shredded cheese and sliced cheese was gone, but there was plenty of the stuff in blocks.  And I scored the last three containers of Yoplait Light.  Oh, and the last four twelve-packs of regular diet coke.  Sorry, Safeway shoppers--but I'm told that Diet Dr. Pepper tastes more like regular Dr. Pepper.  More than what, I couldn't say.

I also noticed what Brian Caplan has remarked upon:  the store brand frozen foods were pretty much still stocked at normal levels.  This, even though Safeway's store brands tend to be private label versions of top premium brands--and more than occasionally, are better than anything else on offer.  I helped myself freely to their quite tasty rising crust pizza, but anyone who wanted a slab of Red Baron's tomato-flavored cardboard was out of luck.

Naturally, both the fresh and frozen vegetable sections were still stocked to overflowing.  I spent quite a bit of time last night making backup lists of vegetables I might buy, since I naturally expected that the produce would be picked over pretty well by now.  Silly Megan.  Apparently, when DC gets snowed in, it wants to do so with diet soda, Ritz crackers, six pounds of shredded cheddar, and a lifetime supply of stew meat.  Me, I'm making slow cooker spaghetti sauce tomorrow.

When I got to the store, the lines looked reasonable.  But by well before 9 am, they were stretching towards the back of the store.  God knows what was left for the people who put off their shopping until noon.

I understand that it doesn't necessarily make sense for DC to maintain plentiful snow moving equipment, when these types of heavy snowfalls only occur about once every seven years.  But it seems to me we could try to maintain some psychological readiness.  If this is how we react to a snow storm, what are we going to do when the Russkis invade?

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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