When I first started writing my column, it ran in just one newspaper. I knew that I had to find just the right topic to strike a chord across the country in order to get it into more papers. One day, early in 1996, we had a snowstorm. Snow in Vancouver is about as common as braincells in a former Alaskan Governor, so it made for some good fodder, and since we like to point out to our brethren in the east, that our flowers are already blooming in January, our snowbound misery was something they could enjoy. Here is the column from way back then:
© Gordon Kirkland, 1996, 2010
Hopefully, by the time you read this we should be recovering from this ordeal. A natural disaster struck the Lower Mainland region of British Columbia, on January 20th, so horrific you may want to shelter your children and keep them from reading this column. Their little hearts could break at the thought of our suffering.
We're often told about the potential for earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis. From time to time we're given a shake reminding us of what happens in San Francisco. Mount St. Helens is just three hours drive from here and the next volcano in the chain is Mount Baker which dominates the view from my place.
For the first several years I lived on the coast I thought tsunami was something disgusting in a sushi bar. It turns out that it isn't nearly so bad. It's just a tidal wave.
This latest disaster is much more common than all of those. It occurs every few years in January or February. When it does Vancouverites panic and go into severe shock. It's a disaster so paralyzing that you, in the rest of Canada, who don't really understand the sheer willpower and strength of character it takes to survive such an ordeal, may be moved to tears.
It was just terrible. You'll be amazed that we have survived to tell of it when you learn, depending on where you live in the area, that we got, (brace yourself), between 2 and 6 inches.
I've lived on the coast for 14 years. Even so, I am still amazed at what happens when a snowstorm or freezing rain hits the city. Simply put, the collective population looses 75 points of their IQ's. This is particularly well shown by two groups, drivers and municipal government employees.
On the January day that we flew out of Ottawa in 1982, the temperature dropped to -38°C, and the wind-chill pushed it down colder than an Ottawa Senators power play. When we landed in Vancouver that night, it was a bit cool for here too ... +12°C.
A couple of weeks later, my clock radio came on in the morning darkness. The newscaster was reading a litany of school closures due to the overnight snow. Picturing the huge snowdrifts we were used to, I peeked through the curtains and could still see the green grass of my lawn poking up through the snow.
Over the years, I have become acclimatized to the weather. I'm cold if the temperature dips blow 8oC. So I am as traumatized as the rest of the region this week.
Even reasonable drivers, and I've heard that there might be one or two of them out there, look at a snow covered road the way Mario Andretti looks at the Indianapolis 500 track. They share the thought that the only way to drive is to floor the accelerator. Both their speedometers climb to the upper limits. The difference is that Andretti actually moves.
In one snowstorm, I watched a driver's panic stricken face as he skidded sideways, out of control down a hill toward a busy intersection. Somehow, he has come to symbolize Vancouver drivers facing snowy roads for me. The reason this one case stands out so clearly above all the other panic stricken drivers is because he was driving the truck that was supposed to be putting sand and salt on the road.
We had a big snowfall last year on Valentines Day, so you can clearly see why we are so shocked to have snow again this year. Major streets were not plowed during the overnight storm last year. The City Engineer for Vancouver was on the radio the next morning announcing, with some sense of pride, that they had plows on the road by 4:00 am, just 12 hours after the snowfall started. And how many plows did one of the largest cities in Canada get out on the roads?
The preferred method of snow removal here, is to sit drinking double double latte mocha cappuccino expressos and wait until it rains. Part of the explanation for the city's collective panic at the sight of snow, is the thought that they might not be able to get to a coffee shop to get their daily fix. Similarly, part of the explanation for their lead footed, tire spinning, go nowhere fast driving, is that they have had too many fixes before they got behind the wheel.
I just know you will have pity for me because of the great personal loss this disaster may have caused. The blossoms on my crocuses may not have survived.