Just add snow—the more, the messier. A few wet, white flakes in the Washington metro area are all it takes to wash away the veneer of efficiency local politicians try to maintain. When faced with nearly 30 inches of snow, as it was last weekend, America’s seat of government freezes up.
As the virulent debate over health care has made clear, America’s legislative process already moves at a glacial pace. The near record-setting snowstorm has not only suspended the city’s semi-reliable buses and commuter trains, but has halted all congressional momentum (such as it was) for two days straight. Only the centre lanes of most important thoroughfares have been ploughed, leaving Congressmen, lobbyists and well-paid bureaucrats stranded in the suburbs. Cars that ventured out on unploughed roads packed the snow between the wheel ruts into block-long medians. Wet snow snapped branches off magnolia trees and stately pines; broken boughs still clutter the sidewalks in many neighbourhoods.
In defence of Adrian Fenty, the city’s mayor, administrators everywhere struggle to cope with extreme weather. In Britain any break from the despairing rain causes officials to panic. Closer to the DC, the governments of Maryland and Virginia exhausted their snow-removal budgets even before this latest storm had hit. They could take a page from the government of New York City, which stretches its municipal dollars by hooking ploughs to the front of its biodiesel garbage trucks.
The threat of the coming snowstorm caused a run on area supermarkets. In its aftermath, some fashionable shops dug themselves out and lured discharged workers with snow-day sales. Most bus stops still sit behind a fortress of thigh-high snow, but entrances to smart shops soon sparkled in the afternoon sun with puddles and salt crystals. I noticed the Banana Republic near my office was mobbed with shoppers yesterday when I attempted to buy lunch at the closed food court across the street.
Washingtonians seem to be making the best of the snow, despite the municipal ineptitude. Massive organised snowball fights have been staged across multiple neighbourhoods. Even the president, who spent many winters in America’s snowy Midwest before moving into the White House, took a moment to poke fun at his adopted city’s inability to process precipitation. At an event over the weekend, he thanked his party faithful for being “willing to brave a blizzard—Snowmaggedon right here in DC”.
But the collective amusement may wear off soon: an additional six to 16 inches are expected in the area later today.
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Photo credit: The Pumpernickel (via Tumblr)