Monday, March 31, 2014

COLUMN: Winter Sucks

It's a good thing you people have us professional journalists around to keep you informed of the latest breaking news. Get ready, because I'm about to lay down a cutting edge truth bomb that's likely to win me a Pulitzer while changing the very way that you view life. Are you sitting down? Here we go.

This just in: winter can suck it.

"But Shane," you say, "we are hearty, Illinois-dwelling individuals. As such, we LOVE winter. We live here, so we have to, right? Nothing makes our moods brighter than wind chill warnings and the third snowiest winter in the history of history. It's a beautiful sight and we're happy tonight!"

You would think. But I'm here to tell you that -- shockingly -- the "polar vortex" was neither as cuddly or lovable as its name might suggest. In fact, on the grand list of Winters I Have Lived Through, I've never loathed the season more. Let's reflect:

At the end of fall, I got the bright idea to mire myself in debt by purchasing a new car. More specifically, a car with a sunroof -- a novel concept in Shaneland and something I've never had before. From the moment I signed the paperwork, the only thing I've wanted to do is slide that sucker open, blast some tunes, and hit the open road all summer long. Except for the small matter that summer was over and the open road was about to be covered in a 4-month-long "wintry mix."

For me, winters start the instant that snow touches the ground. This year, that happened in October. As far as I'm concerned, there need to be a few simple laws of good meteorological manners, and somewhere at the top of the list should read, "the ground shall never be white prior to Halloween."

But in the end it didn't matter, because Christmas fired up around October 20th. Leaves had yet to fall from the trees, but Burl Ives was already on the radio and retailers were putting tinsel before turkeys. By the 34th day or so of Christmas, my true love had already given me sub-zero temperatures, dangerous ice on sidewalks, and snow all over my pear tree.

Christmas 2013 was a total washout. One of the coolest things about getting my own house is that I finally have an exterior to Griswold out in tacky yuletide glee. But nobody wants to hang Christmas lights in a -17 wind chill, so the only thing I got to deck with holly this year was the Christmas storage tub in my basement closet. The holiday itself was a nice if uneventful day with family, and New Year's Eve was just another DJ gig for yours truly.

And then January 13th happened. That was the day I decided to take out the trash. Well, most of me did -- my ankle had other plans. Cue one ill-placed patch of ice, and I went west while my ankle went east. Next thing I knew, I was spending the next five weeks on doctor-ordered bedrest.

During that time, I went from an uncomfortable blue cast to an uncomfortable purple cast to an uncomfortable cam walker -- all the while relying on friends and family to feed and entertain me. The only thing worse than a January of constant snowfall was being cooped up and 100% helpless to do anything about it.

After five weeks, I was finally able to return to work -- and to celebrate the day, winter awarded me the largest snowfall of the season that morning, which is SUPER fun when you're wearing a heavy cam walker and hopping around on crutches. If you were in downtown Moline and saw tracks in the snow that looked like one shoe, one rectangle, and two dots, that was me.

Eventually, the cam walker gave way to a simpler ankle brace. Just this week, I got the doctor's okay to try regular shoes again, which so far I'm pulling off with a moderate level of pain and a stylish Quasimodo gait. And hey, just in time for 50 degree weather -- which was, of course, just a 1-day psych-out because winter is a jerk and the next day we had snow advisories yet again.

But me? I'm not letting winter win. I'm an optimist, and despite the comprehensive suckitude of this winter, there was a bit of silver in that lining of white upon white. So today, I celebrate the things that made the winter of 2013-14 great:

• THE FACEBOOK POSTS OF LOCAL METEOROLOGISTS. It's no secret that a certain local weatherman is a self-confessed fan of snow, and his favorite pasttime of late appears to be terrifying the innocent. There was seldom a week that passed without a post informing us that two weeks from next Thursday, all signs were pointing to a 12-18 inch snowfall that would be the death of us all. This usually involved a series of incomprehensible yet colorful maps, something called the "European model," and what I'd reckon to be a crystal ball, some tea leaves, and maybe a well-intentioned coin flip or two.

Then another local meteorologist would warn us not to believe the hype and that he foresaw little to no snow. Usually the reality was a compromise of the two, but the budding rivalry was fun to behold. The only time they agreed was two weeks ago, when pretty much every area meteorologist predicted a "dusting" and we ended up getting almost four inches of snow.

• THE WINTER OLYMPICS. And by "Winter Olympics," I refer exclusively to the pants of the Norweigan curling team -- a fashion statement rivalled only by NBC's skater-turned-commentator Johnny Weir, who single-handedly put the "boy" in flamboyant. His Today show bit where they forced him to go ice fishing with some seriously confused and burly Russians might have been THE highlight of winter.

• MY NEW NEIGHBORS. I barely even met them when they moved in back in December, and I don't even remember the guy's name. But the minute they saw me trying to hobble to the doctor's office in a cast, they made sure that my walks were shoveled and my driveway cleared with nearly every snowfall. That's downright neighborly. I need to bake them cookies or something. Next project: Learn how to bake cookies.

A better piece of breaking news: It's almost over. I can feel it. That sun gleaming down on us last week was a SPRING sun. When I fired my car up at lunch, the auto climate control turned my air conditioning on. Soon winter will be gone and spring will be upon us -- for precisely one week, and then it'll be 102 and humid and gross until October. I, for one, am ready for it.

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