Like it was 1994 and I was watching a slow-moving, white Bronco on a California highway, it was mesmerizing, and in all likelihood not going to end well. I’m referring to the snow that fell on Portland, Oregon last week. A couple inches was expected; we got a foot.
Now Portland knows craft beer, bike lanes, puffy down jackets, marijuana, bearded hipsters, food carts and rain. Lots of rain. But not snow – the city doesn’t have the equipment to clear it effectively and most residents don’t own snow shovels. For good reason – there’s usually no need for such things. Icy roads do develop here at times but rock salt, apparently the devil’s de-icer, is replaced with an environmentally friendly alternative which doesn’t harm the fish in the nearby river. It is as effective on the roads as an umbrella in a hurricane as witnessed during last month’s ice storm. Due to multiple factors, there were accidents, injuries and hundreds (maybe thousands?) of cars stuck on the roads for hours, idling and polluting the environment. Ironically.
If you’ve read my blog beyond my Kwajalein posts, you know that I’m a hardy winter girl — I lived in Maine for over a decade. I grew up in Pennsylvania. I’ve worked two seasons in Antarctica. I’m used to snow and not afraid to go out in it. I learned there’s a time to just stay home though – fewer cars on the road makes for easier snow plowing and less likelihood of being one more accident the police have to attend to. Having learned how Portland handles snow, I would never have gone out if I’d had known we were getting a foot, particularly for something so unnecessary as a swing dance lesson. There was a certain amount of security I felt for taking public transportation though, because they’ll be prepared, right?
By the end of class, the snow was coming down hard with about 4 inches already on the ground. Hopping on the bus I sit down and listen to the teenager next to me argue with multiple people on the phone about his family issues. Through the steamy windshield in front, I see another bus nearly sideways in the road with cones around it as we creep along in traffic, now taking an alternative route. Suddenly our own bus slides sideways and hits in to something. And we’re stuck.
“Let’s push us out. Who’s in?” calls out some crazy fool from the front. Out of mere amusement that this could actually be done and fear that I may have to walk the few miles to get home, I join in with the others and pile off the bus. Off we go, a crew of unidentifiable city dwellers under our knit caps, heavy coats and commuter bags pushing on the back of a full-sized city bus. The side of it was against a metal signpost, nearly 8 feet from its back end and the tires were without chains. So we pushed. We worked with the driver. We kept each other safe. And darn it if we didn’t get that bus unstuck. With some cheering and high-fiving we pile back inside.
Then about ten minutes later we get stuck again. This time on a gentle uphill in thick snow at the Rose Quarter, a major transit center where other trains and buses meet. So off we go again, riding on the high of our last success, to try to push it out. But I could see this wasn’t going to work – it was a long upgrade and we would have had to push the bus uphill for about 50 yards in thicker snow. This bus needs to get it’s chains on! We give up and many disperse trying to pick up another ride. Unfortunately the other easy alternative for me was a train that was no longer running. With a slowly draining battery on my phone – my GPS and means of navigation in a city that I don’t know well yet — I make the decision to walk home.
Ok, it wasn’t bad. A mile and a half walk in a snowstorm, mostly down the middle of streets for the clearest path. There were challenges, such as my schizophrenic GPS screen responding to its own plan and not to the touch of my wet finger, the street signs being covered with sticky snow making them unreadable, and the fear that I’d be walking through a camp of a homeless person looking for a middle-aged woman to spoon with for the night. But I made it home safely, with only a slight chill from my wet jeans and a very full bladder eager to be emptied.
Thank goodness I’m a hardy winter gal. And thank goodness I came to Oregon to get away from a harsh New England winter.