It snowed last night. That means that when I woke up, the world was blanketed in two inches of soft, white powder. I had, on short notice, agreed to bring my poster in and speak for a student event.
Ordinarily, I walk. Bringing my poster meant driving. In snow.
Newcomers don't understand why Portlanders hate driving in snow. They think that the way the city shuts down is ridiculous, especially the ones who come from those icy northern countries like Nebraska, where it snows ten feet a day every winter, and the winters last eight months. The thing they don't realize is that there are multiple factors influencing Portland's snow-preparedness. The first, not insignificantly, is that this shit only happens about once every three years, and it usually melts off or evaporates before anyone has to drive in it. For the first 30-odd years of my life, the City of Portland only owned three snowplows. The first response to snow is "ignore it and see if it goes away". Not without reason; it usually does. IF the roads get graveled, it will invariably be too late, after the snow has been packed into ice. And they use pea gravel. The effect on vehicular traction is not unlike throwing ball-bearings on a skating rink.
If people want to live in a city that is prepared for snow, they should move to one where it snows.
I myself have only driven in Portland snow twice, including today. I've driven in the mountains in the winter; that's utterly different. Driving in the snow in Portland is terrifying, and that terror is five parts snow, and eight hundred parts people who came here from somewhere else who think they can drive in snow. They're probably right, but that's irrelevant; the mistake they're making is in thinking that snow in Portland is actually snow. That's an easy mistake to make, but it isn't snow, it's treachery, and it's a lot harder to drive in treachery than it looks like it would be. So they're like "I have my four-wheel-drive SUV and I'm experienced in snow driving" and the thing they don't realize is that it's going to use that against them. And then the next thing they know they've driven into a row of bike racks, a motorcycle, a parked car, and a light post at 5 miles per hour, their SUV is totaled, and they're confused and humbled. Thereafter, they are just as afraid to drive in snow as any good Portlander, because what happened didn't make any sense and they don't understand it so they fear it. Just like the rest of us.
Science tells us that it is this way because the temperature here just isn't cold enough, so the snow packs down into ice on the roads right away and is so close to the melting point that the friction of car tires melts it a tiny bit, making it extraordinarily slippery. My theory is that it's the song of the bridges, the same song that occasionally causes us to have the urge that leaves a lone bicycle leaning against the railing, no rider in sight. We don't mean to, it's just that the siren song rises these urges up in us and before we know it we're on autopilot, climbing over the railing or fighting the impulse to swerve off the bridge.That water vapor rises right up off the rivers and captures some of that song, and then it falls down on us in the winter, the soft pat-pat-pat of the snowflakes masking the song as they fall.
THAT'S the real reason the city shuts down when it snows, and the real reason everyone scurries home, pulls the blinds, and drinks until it passes.
I did get there safely, despite several mildly alarming slides and being stuck behind a guy turning left for several lights because he couldn't seem to get enough traction to get started. When I got to the auditorium, the event was canceled.