It was 53 degrees in Louisville on Sunday afternoon. My legs ached from six days pacing the same long stretches of hotel hallway between ballrooms and meeting space; my eyes were strained and bloodshot from too many too-short nights and even longer days spent under buzzing fluorescent light. I was dehydrated and hungry and homesick. I could have napped. I could have gone for a long, leisurely late lunch. But all I wanted was to run. And it was 53 degrees.
Families in bright red Louisville Cardinals sweatshirts were out for walks together, kids ran amok over thawing patches of mud and wood chips on the playgrounds, and dogs on leashes were everywhere, begging to be kidnapped and taken back to my hotel suite. There would have been room. I lost my place on the map as I tracked it online, but I think my meander through the park along the banks of the Ohio River was about four miles long. It was exhausting; those six sedentary days had clearly taken their toll. As I peeled my base layer off and melted under the stream of scalding shower water, I was out of breath and just shy of miserable, still achy, eyes throbbing and throat parched.
But the sun had come out to warm me back to the world of the living, the world of the normal. And when I flew home the next morning, I was happy I'd ventured out to say hello back.
Now, safe and sane back at home in Chicago, my balance has returned. The sun knew I didn't need it to welcome me back here; the grey skies and unexpected blasts of arctic air are homecoming gift enough. It is not 53 degrees. I find myself, in fact, preparing for the winter storm to end all winter storms.
This is the most formidable snow to hit the Windy City since 1967, to hear the meteorologists tell it — they must be wetting their pants with excitement.
My mother says she remembers that snowstorm. She was 11.
I'll believe the radar hype when I see it in its powdery flesh — we were expecting the storm of the century back in November and were left with little more than meteorological blue balls. There, I said it. Still, snow puns abounded on Twitter today: snowmageddon, snowpocalypse, Snow-prah Winfrey, Snow-torious B.I.G., Barry Mani-snow. I just made that last one up. (Snoowki? All right, it's a stretch.)
There's a citywide panic to collect as many eggs and loaves of bread as possible before the worst of the weather sets in. The parking lot of the grocery store was an accident waiting to happen, and it was every man for himself inside. I was willing to fight for the death for my broccoli and jumbo bag of jasmine rice; luckily for my fellow shoppers, it never came to that.
A friend and I settled in with two episodes of Gossip Girl and gorged ourselves on Thai food until we looked outside and saw the rooftops coated in white. She rushed home to the Ukrainian Village, and I rushed to the kitchen to put on a pot of pasta e fagioli soup. Which I didn't realize needed to simmer for two and a half hours.
So here I am. The gas flame glows blue under the pot, and I check it occasionally. I turned off the television — Alton Brown was making enchiladas — and put on Chet Baker, Fruit Bats, Mumford & Sons. I shuffle past Radiohead and Creedence Clearwater Revival. That's not winter music.
Despite the general population's frenzy to hunker down, I am calm. I'm warm at home and stocked with enough produce to feed a family of rabbits for days.
The city's lights have turned the sky orange; I opened my blinds to watch errant snowflakes drift by knotty, bare black branches. The street below me is pristine; not a single car has passed since the snow started to stick. But a train rumbles by every few minutes, a reminder that there's still life outside — not just a still life — though there are no passengers boarding. Empty. Empty. Empty.
This is the weather I've waited for all winter, the white Christmas I wanted but didn't get. I want to be the city the Weather Channel goes on and on about. I want a bright-blue ticker of school cancellations along the bottom of my television screen. I want pictures of bundled-up babies to clutter my Facebook feed. I want to see kids running amok through paths walled off by the newly plowed snow, and bewildered dogs in little snowshoes experiencing their first big winter adventure. I want to put my boots on and trudge through the heart-attack snow to grab the half-gallon of organic milk I forgot to pick up while I was out. I want to drag my forgotten yoga mat out of the coat closet and stretch out on my new, old wooden floors. I want to bask in the glory of my easy commute to the "home office," proud to be working while everyone else takes a snow day.
I'll enjoy Tom…Snow-kaw for about 30 minutes, then I'll change my mind and decide I'm ready for capri pants and baseball season, patent-leather flats and fireworks in Montrose Harbor. Even 53 degrees won't be enough for me, and I won't be sorry for it. Because I'm a Chicagoan, dammit.