Thursday, January 30, 2014

Culture Shock

   Winter came to Columbus Tuesday afternoon. Culture shock had set in nearly twenty-four hours earlier. Monday evening, as Alex read the answers and the Jeopardy contestants asked the questions, a long list of school closings crept across the bottom of the television screen. Besides being closed Tuesday, many of the schools – nay, most of them – announced that they would also be closed on Wednesday, and a few were even pushing back their start times on Thursday. Outside, according to the Weather Channel, it was fifty-one degrees in Columbus.
   Back in Ashtabula, back in the last century, Beth and Russ would look out the window when they awoke on a January morn and quite often see a scene from a snow globe: the ground covered with three or four inches of new-fallen snow and the air filled with swirling white flakes. The not-so-eager students would fly to the radio and listen for the announcer to say, “The Ashtabula Area City Schools will be closed today.” Sometimes that is what he said, but just as often he would say, “We have no reports of school closings today.”
   Soon after Jeopardy ended, the telephone rang. It was the woman from the doctor’s office. She called to tell me my appointment at 9:45 Tuesday morning had been cancelled.  Once the weather had settled down and they were able to get back in office, she would call and reschedule it. It was still fifty degrees outside; it wasn’t raining; the fearful weather – a wintry mix of precipitation, turning to snow with a possible accumulation of one inch – was to begin Tuesday afternoon.
   Tuesday dawned as predicted: overcast. I saw Al when I went to get my mail. He was just getting back from Publix. The place was a mad house, he said, everyone getting ready for the big storm. At two o’clock, it was announced that, in order to allow the kitchen and wait staffs to go home early, dinner at Covenant Woods would be served at four o’clock instead of five. To further expedite things, the residents would eat off paper plates and use plastic flatware.
   The feared weather began at three-thirty that afternoon. First there was rain, then there was sleet, and by five o’clock there was snow. The snow continued into the evening and stopped after an inch or two had accumulated. The low Wednesday morning was near nineteen, and the streets of Columbus were dangerously icy. To someone who had arisen and looked out windows in either Bethel Park or Ashtabula almost every day of his life, the view from my porch door was of a typical January morning. The cars in the parking lot were covered with a thin layer of snow; the snow on the driveways was crisscrossed with tire tracks.
   It was the kind of day that in Ashtabula brought forth a loud “Isn’t winter ever going to end,” liberally salted with profane phrases and other inappropriate language. But once you went out into it, it was a day like any other, albeit cold and miserable. In west Georgia that was not the case. It was like the great blizzard of ’78 without all the snow. Here in the home, dinner was a box lunch. Most of the staff had been given the day off.
   On the TV, hyperventilating reporters and hyperactive meteorologist who seemingly have never experienced actual weather; outside my window, an inch of snow.
   Culture shock.

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