Tag Archives: winter

No Savesies?

As I write this, the sun is glistening off the snow pack that has covered my street for the better part of the past six weeks. Temps are forecast to keep rising and, mercifully, the snow should be gone by the weekend.

But for weeks now, Philadelphia and surrounding areas have had to deal with mountains of snow in a continuous barrage, the likes of which I cannot remember seeing in my lifetime.

Sure, we’ve had large snowfalls in the past, but they seemed to last on the ground a few days, and then temps would rise, rain would come, and the piles of snow would be gone. This year we never seemed to get a break. It was one measurable snowfall on top of another. Again, hopefully that is all coming to an end now.

With the snow have come a number of practical issues that we have all had to deal with, from altered transportation schedules to cancelled school and work days, and, of course, physical labor. The need to continually dig out from the storms. In Philly under Code 10-720, residents have to clear a 3-foot wide path in front of their homes within six hours of the end of a storm.

But that clearing of “a path” only takes care of enabling folks to use a walkway. There is another issue, one that has become extremely heated and controversial over the years and been particularly highlighted this year due to the regularity of the situation: the saving of a parking space from which you dug out your private vehicle.

Over the years we have come up with a number of colorful ways to save the spaces. Some have placed elaborate, creative, humorous artworks in the space. Others have put household objects such as old toilets out there to save a spot. For most, the tried and true method is the placing of lawn or beach chairs in the spot.

These saved parking spaces have caused problems over the years, both here in Philly and elsewhere.
People have argued over them, physically fought one another over them, and people have even been severely assaulted, even shot and killed over them. What makes the idea of a saved parking space during an extreme weather situation push people to such lengths?

There are two sides to every story, or so it is said. For a man who has experienced the good, bad, and ugly of both sides, I think that I can speak on the issue as well as anyone. In winding down what will in the end have been a 28-year career in law enforcement, and having grown up in the tough, close-knit, and difficult parking 2nd Street neighborhood of South Philly, I have seen it all.

On the one side you have the position as formally taken up and aggressively advertised in news interviews and on social media during this recent difficult stretch by the Philadelphia Police Department. That position has become characterized by the simple, catchy slogan of “No Savesies” – that there is no private parking on public streets, and that it is unlawful to block access to such spots, no matter the circumstances.

On the other side you have the position as passionately taken up by a large number of hard-working, blue collar, everyday Philadelphians of all races, sexes, and across all neighborhoods. I know this simply by reading voluminous exchanges on social media and at news outlets: this other side is indeed diverse, vocal, and insistent. Their view: I worked hard to dig it out, then for a short period of time, I deserve access to that spot.

Frankly, I completely empathize with the latter group. I have been digging out cars from parking spaces constantly for over a month now. I know what it is like to get bundled up, sometimes early in the morning, get out in the freezing cold, and manually dig a vehicle out from under and behind a foot or more of snow.

It is hard work, it takes time, and at 52 years of age it is a little tougher now than it used to be for me personally. You do the hard work, straining your muscles, thankful if a neighbor with a snowblower comes along to provide some blessed assistance. Remember, you are usually digging out not just a vehicle, but also a walkway, possibly a driveway, a fire hydrant path, and more.

And in the types of conditions in which we have been faced with lately, you often have to be creative. There is an aspect of engineering and carpentry involved in carving out a parking space that both frees the vehicle now, and that will be reusable later, all while not creating hazards and inconveniences for surrounding neighbors and motorists.

So you do it. You get out there, you do all the hard work. You open up and clear your home walkway, clean a path to the fire hydrant on your street, and free your trapped vehicle so that you can get to the store, to work, to school while also making the space clear enough to reuse later when you inevitably return.

You have done a great job, and you are tired. But now you have to actually go to work, or drive your kids to school, or go to a doctor appointment, or get to the grocery store, or to checkup on a family member. You ease your vehicle out of the parking spot, leave for the doctor office, or school, or store.

And then you return an hour or so later. There is still a foot or more of snow on the ground. There are mountains of snow, both from Mother Nature’s original dump, and from the movement around of the piles by you and your neighbors. The usual limited number of street parking spaces is even further restricted by these conditions.

But you’re not worried, because you did a nice job of working hard to dig your car out, and will simply put the car back into that hard-earned, well-crafted parking space from which you left just a little while earlier. As you return, your mind finds it almost incomprehensible: someone has parked in the space that you dug out.

Now you can be a well-seasoned, even-tempered, professional law enforcement officer who thinks up pleasant slogans like “No Savesies”, or you can be a hot-blooded, mean-streak, quick-tempered “whatever” profession you want to insert here. I don’t care who or what you are, I guarantee you that the emotion sweeping over you at that moment will at the very least be described as frustration. Frankly, many get downright angry.

Here is where the truly important part of all this begins to develop. The answer to a simple question will say a lot about you: what do you do now? You really have two choices. You can get out of your car, rage, seek out the interloper, and demand they move, creating a confrontation or worse if they don’t. Or you can sigh, move along, and try to find or create somewhere else to park your car, even though that may end up being a block or more away from home.

In those cases, you really have no choice. No matter what, you cannot create a public nuisance or start a fight about a parking space over which you legitimately have no ownership stake. When you purchased your home, it did not come with public, on-street parking spaces. That is a simple fact. You cannot get self-righteous over parking, no matter the circumstances.

In many cases, the person now taking up the parking space may be a neighbor, and you may recognize the car. You may decide to go up to their home, or call them on the phone, and let them know that you are back, politely asking if they will be long. But you had best be prepared before doing so to handle the situation maturely if the response you get is that they have parked and do not plan on leaving.

The bottom line is that, other than the concepts of formally designated handicapped parking spaces and private, clearly marked driveways, you do not own a parking space on a public street. You cannot park in a handicapped space, and you cannot block someones driveway. Otherwise, on a public street, no one owns parking spaces.

There is no formal “law” against the act of reserving parking spaces in the ways that Philadelphians have been trying to do for generations during snowstorms. You are not going to get arrested for putting a lawn chair in a dug out space. However, there are a number of local and state codes, including littering and obstructing the highway, which have fines attached and which can be applied by law enforecement in such situations.

You cannot reserve parking spaces by placing trash bags, a lawn chair, an old toilet in them, by having your kids build a snowman in them, whatever. But perhaps even more importantly, if you do so, and you return later to find that someone has moved them aside and parked there, even that your items are completely missing, you cannot create drama.

We have to be mature and responsible in dealing with any situation, including under the types of difficulties created by nature over the last month. We even have to be mature and patient when dealing with our fellow man during these times, no matter how wrong or ignorant we feel they may have acted.

And also, consider this. If you are young enough, fit enough, and have enough respect and consideration for your hard-working neighbors, maybe you can even use that spot that you just stumbled upon on your own return home, the one someone so carefully carved out, as a temporary refuge for your vehicle while you go and find and dig out another spot on your block.

Not only will this save some hard feelings, it will also give you and your fellow neighbors yet one more place to put their vehicles over the coming days, when parking is likely to remain at a premium. Working together, having respect and consideration for one another, and treating one another with patience and maturity, this is how we will best get through these temporary tough times.

So yes, there are “No Savesies”, and you need to wrap your mind around that concept and embrace it. You cannot save a private spot on a public street by placing an object there, no matter the circumstances. It should go without saying that you cannot assault one another or create a public nuisance. But also, you should try to be considerate of your neighbors, the difficulties that they are under, and their hard work.

Old Man Winter’s Act Getting Old

Now is the winter of our discontent. The last four years have been a roller coaster. But this winter has been extreme by any standards.

Over the winters of 2009-10 and 2010-11, the Philadelphia area received huge snow storms that buried us for days each year. We thought that was bad.

Then we received a couple of much needed and well deserved breaks over the last two winters. Both 2011-12 and 2012-13 were mild, with very little snow. In fact, last winter was extremely mild. It was almost enough to make you forget those snow storms of recent years, and forget what a normal winter is around these parts.

Then came this season. It started calm enough back in December. But over the last month we have received 33 inches of snow, capped by the storm earlier this week which dumped more than a foot on most of the area. Since our average winter delivers about 20 inches, we are already well above that average.

It hasn’t been just the snow storms this year. The cold has been bitter and unrelenting. Here in the northeast we have been introduced to a new meteorological term: the polar vortex.

The polar vortex refers to a couple of climate features that hover near the poles year-round. The one affecting our weather normally hovers over the area of Baffin Island in Canada. In rare events, that elongated vortex can dip lower, however.

This notably happened during what became known as the ‘Winter 1985 Arctic Outbreak’, in which the polar vortex dipped abnormally low, bringing record-breaking cold into every section of the northeastern United States. Temperatures in the Philly area dipped below zero.

That cold dipped as low as Florida, where the average low is about 60 degrees in Miami in late January. Temperatures there set record lows, dipping into the 30’s. By the end of that winter, more than 90% of the Florida citrus crop was destroyed.

The bad news for us? This pattern is back. The polar vortex is back. The persistent cold temperatures are back. And in 1985, the cold lasted well into February. Our own forecasts right now show that we are not predicted to warm up at all into early February.

There is good news. Hold on. Pitchers and catchers begin reporting to baseball Spring Training in Florida in less than three weeks. The fact is, this cold wave will snap. We will have spring. Temperatures will rise. We just need to hang in there while Old Man Winter gets in a few more licks.

(artwork of meteorologist John Bolaris courtesy of Philly.com)

Snow All About Perspective

For some people here in the Philadelphia area and across the northeastern United States it’s panic time for the third time this winter, the 2nd time in five days.

For others it’s a time of excitement and anticipation. Fact is that snowfalls, even large ones, in these modern days are really all just about perspective.

Are you one of those people who reflexively have to run out to the grocery store when a large snowfall is predicted?

I stopped out at my local Acme supermarket last Friday evening just before the most recent two footer was supposed to hit. I just wanted to have a couple of ‘comfort’ treats in the house. By the look on the bread shelves you would have thought it was the end of the world.

The crowds bum-rushed the supermarkets and the neighborhood groceries, stripped the shelves bare of all milk, bread, eggs, and cigarettes, and then retreated to the comfort and safety of their homes where they battened down the hatches and prepared to ride out the inevitable burial inside their homes that was being forecast.

Overnight on Friday the snow began to fall, and then all through the morning and early afternoon on Saturday the storm intensified, just as predicted. The weathercasters got this one right on, and by the end we had received more than two feet for the 2nd time this winter.

But a funny thing happened by Sunday morning or afternoon at the latest.
People were out already driving in their cars. Most major roads and primary routes were clear. Stores were open and shelves had food on them. The snow fell, it squashed activity for awhile, but the world recovered quickly and the end never came for most.

Meanwhile, back during the hours that the snow was falling during the day, the picture of the world that most got was from inside their homes, and it was a pretty picture indeed. The snow was beautiful as it fell, laid, built-up, and buried. It provided a perfect excuse for couch potato television watching and napping.

The simple fact is that large snowfalls just ain’t what they used to be ‘back in the day’ when such events really did cripple an area.
Most municipalities have strong plowing and road treatment equipment, supplies, and planning in place. And have you noticed the vastly increased numbers of smaller vehicles with their own little plows on them in recent years?

The recovery systems of every major and medium-sized municipality and even many rural areas have advanced to the point where almost no one gets snowed into their homes for days without access to basic food stuffs and other vital supplies. People are out digging and plowing, and we get back to business.

Now Philadelphia is bracing for it’s 2nd major winter storm in five days. Beginning overnight tonight and then continuing through tomorrow, this storm is predicted to be less intense than the pair of two-footers that have already hit us this winter. But it will leave between a foot and 18 inches, depending on a number of variables that are still changing.

The area still has large amounts of snow, slush, and ice on the ground from the weekend storm because temperatures just haven’t gone up enough to get rid of much. So this storm is going to dump it’s load on top of what we already have on the ground and in large piles on the sides of roads and properties. If it dumps a little over 9 inches, as expected, this will officially be the snowiest winter in recording history in this region.

The combination of the exact timing of the storm and the mess still around from the previous one is causing the Philadelphia area to shut down already. The city has already announced that all of it’s offices are closed on Wednesday. Schools, courts, museums, the zoo, and many private businesses are also closing.

SEPTA and AMTRAK will try to run through the storm, but there will be delays and at least in SEPTA’s case, there are likely to be shutdowns.

So for the second time in a period of days it’s time to get that milk, break, eggs, and cigarettes order into the house and prepare to hibernate. When we wake up on Wednesday morning and look out the windows it will be yet another winter wonderland.

Smile and keep a sunny perspective, it ain’t the end of the world. The next day will be Thursday, and everything will open up once again and begin to return to normal. It’s all about perspective.

The winter doldrums

Embed from Getty Images

 

It’s February in the Northeast section of the country, and it’s cold. Surprise! But this isn’t the usual cold. It’s real cold. Freezing cold. Below freezing cold. Way below freezing cold. Wind chills below zero cold. Did I mention that it was cold?

Not only is it cold, but it’s also dark most of the time. The days are relatively short. It gets dark early, and it stays dark in the morning hours. Cold and dark. That is what the “winter doldrums” are all about.

We are in mid-winter, which began just before Christmas and won’t officially end until March 21st. So batten down the hatches, fire up the furnace, keep the long johns at the ready. We still technically have another five to six weeks more of this stuff, folks.

About a month ago I returned to a work schedule which has me on a steady “Last Out” shift with the Philadelphia Police Department. This means that I work from approximately 11pm until 7am each day. This schedule puts me in the large, but still minority, group of folks who are actually out and about to see the worst of the doldrums period.

While those of you “normal” people are home tucked snug under the blankets, cuddled up with that special someone, snoring away, dreaming sweet dreams, we are out on the streets. There is nothing that points out that it is mid-winter so much as being on the streets of a big city at 3am on a mid-week night in early February when the wind chills are below zero.

So what do we have to keep us entertained, to keep our minds and our lives focused on something other than just how cold and dark it is at this time of year? Let’s take a look at some of the many events that get us through this time of year, when Christmas is far back in the rear view mirror and Easter is not even on the horizon.

There are a couple of great “holidays” to look forward to at this time of year. First there is Valentine’s Day, that day of love and affection, when we remember all those that we care about and remind them in some special way, be it dinner, flowers, candy, jewelry, cards or some combination of those. Valentine’s Day, especially with your sweetheart. Very warm indeed.

Then we have St. Patrick’s Day, the one day of the year when the rest of you wannabes can put on your green clothing, and go out to get sloshed with a purpose. What could be warmer than hoisting a few with your best buddies at the local Irish taproom, a green plastic bowler on your head, shamrock stickers on both cheeks, and green beads hanging around your neck?

For those of you with a social conscience, there is Martin Luther King Day, when we take some time in service to others in remembrance of the slain civil rights leader. For you history buffs, there is President’s Day, when we honor our past U.S. Presidents, specifically “The Father of Our Country”, George Washington, and “The Great Emancipator”, “Honest” Abe Lincoln.

For you political junkies, there is the State of the Union address, given to Congress each year by the President as a highlight of where we are and where we are going as a nation. This year we have the added attraction of a new candidate emerging weekly in the battle for the 2008 Presidential race. This week it was Rudy Giuliani on the Republican side, after Joe Biden jumped in last week on the Dems’ side.

For you sports fans, there is a smorgasbord of selections. If the middle of the all-too-lengthy NHL and NBA seasons aren’t good enough, if the Australian Open of tennis or the U.S. figure skating championships don’t excite you, you always have three of the biggest sports events of the year to entertain you at this time of year.

First there is the greatest single sporting event of the year, the Super Bowl, just completed this past weekend. Congratulations to Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts on finally winning “the big one” after many frustrating attempts, and to the Chicago Bears on an outstanding season. Indianapolis won, 29-17, on a rainy evening in Miami.

This year the “Can Manning win the big one?” melodrama was pushed to the side, thanks to the achievement of not one, but two black head coaches in the game for the first time: Tony Dungy of Indy and Lovie Smith of Chicago. These two men finally, definitively proved once and for all what has realistically been known for a long time. Guiding a team to the top is not about race, sex, religion or anything other than leadership ability. Period.

But the big “winter doldrums” sports rush doesn’t end there. Just around the corner we have “March Madness”, the NCAA college hoops tournament where Goliath usually reigns supreme, but where the many invited Cinderella’s usually give them a good scare. Here in Philly, it is always exciting when a few of the local Big Five teams get invited to the dance, and this year should see a couple locals involved once again.

The most anticipated sports event of the winter doldrums period is coming up within the next couple of weeks, when we hear those wonderful words “pitchers and catchers report”. Is there any more of a harbinger of spring, that the winter doldrums surely will be ending soon, than when your local nine begins showing up on the TV doing the Spring Training thing down in Florida (or for some, out in Arizona)?

The return of baseball to our collective consciousness after a fall and winter of hibernation is the truest sign that the days will indeed be getting warmer and longer shortly, the grass will again begin to grow, and we can take off those overcoats and ski caps and mittens. When what hangs in the air is not the breath from our mouths, but instead the immortal words officially ending the winter doldrums: “Play Ball!”