Lin, How Do We Survive Winter?

Icy Chicago River
An Icy Chicago River

Lin, how do we survive winter?

These are the desperate hours, the frigid sinkhole of winter.  And I have felt the rasp file embrace of subzero mornings from Duluth to Cohoes, New York.

Theodore Roethke once wrote of winter’s desolation.

“Alternate snow and sleet, no oncoming traffic,

And no lights behind in the blurred side mirror,

The road changing from glazed tarface to a rubble of stone

Ending at last in a hopeless sand rut

Where the car stalls,

Churning in a snowdrift

Until the headlights darken.”

Hey don’t look so worried.  You live in a big city.  When your headlights darken, you pull out your cell phone.  I’ll get you through this.

If you want to survive the winter, abandon public transportation.  I can hear city planners passing oatmeal through their nose.  Yes, I know how any times we’ve told you, use public transportation, use public transportation.  Listen.  If the temperature is below zero on a busy Chicago night, you could build a cab in the time would take to find an empty one. Taking the el to work during a record-setting cold snap is like playing Russian Roulette, you never know which line is going down. At least Russian Roulette is played indoors and it’s quicker than watching your fingers blacken waiting on a train.

Drive everywhere.  Park on sidewalks if you have to.

If you’re invited somewhere that has no parking within two blocks of your destination, turn around and go home. Use valet parking. If that makes you feel guilty, get therapy.

And when the TV news reporters are shivering on overpasses to embellish the reality of Chicago weather, some expert always chimes in to tell us that alcohol actually impedes the body’s ability to retain warmth.  I know all about the deleterious effects of alcohol in cold weather but guess what?  We’re not entering the Iditarod here.  No one’s training for the next Shackleton expedition.  You’re gonna have some bourbon and you’re still gonna make it from the front door of the supermarket to a waiting car.  Unless your family reunion takes you to the Donner Pass, drink up, it’s cold outside.

Never go someplace warm for vacation.  The shock of returning is a death warrant.

You need to burrow into the desolation of Chicago winter.  Adjust to its unyielding, unbending horror.  Then when the thermometer peeks over 40 degrees you can rejoice in shirt -sleeves while the suckers just come back from Cancun weep like the babies they’ve become.

Harsh?  Not as harsh as the week you have two flat front tires and all the locks on your car freeze solid.   It’s winter. And even if the wind chill dips below zero, always celebrate the sunshine.

Drink red wine not Riesling

Read Russian novels.

Wear oversized parkas with 20 or 30 pockets because if some radio station has told you to take public transportation, you might find an old Bari Italian sub or a cherry chapstick you can  chomp on while you pray to god one the city’s last buses arrives before a casting director shows up from Alive, the sequel.

Remember the dork imperative.  The dorkier you look the warmer you stay.

Once upon a time you could frequent crowded concerts. Why? Two words. Body warmth.

How do we survive winter?  We survive winter in Chicago secure in the knowledge that if we couldn’t we would wind up living someplace like Miami or worse, L.A.

Lin's Winter Street
Lin's Winter Street