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Chris Magyar

Already Melting

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Home from work today because of a layer of ice. Austin had snow last night, about an inch, but more importantly it got wet after three days of constant below-freezing temperatures, so the roads pulled on a thick blanket of ice. The city doesn't own plows or sand trucks or salt dispersers. What would have been a mild annoyance in Denver, like a common cold, has felled Austin like swine flu.

This morning, confident in my ice-driving abilities and frankly tired of days off from work, I attempted the commute. I live just south of a large hill on Congress Avenue, where the street dips down to a moribund creek bed, crosses it, then rises up to downtown's level above the riverbanks of the Colorado. That rise is unnoticeable in the car on a dry day, but anyone who's mounted it by bicycle can attest to its steady and punishing grade.

The proper way to attack a long hill is to slowly and carefully build up a head of steam -- 20 MPH will usually do -- then coast up the hill, applying light acceleration only as necessary to maintain speed. Naturally, the uphill was clogged and littered with pickup trucks from inexperienced snow drivers -- all in their Texas editions -- obeying the instinct to slow to a crawl then becoming mired in a halt when the tires could no longer grip, unweighted truck beds fishtailing like the barely planted asses of antsy toddlers at a library story time.

I almost managed to weave between the stranded SUVs and pickups in my dainty Civic before the knot of spinning cars became too thick, and I, too, was forced to halt on the hill and spin my wheels in place. I turned against the direction I wanted to fishtail, hit the gas, and slid gracefully into a reverse donut U-turn, then slid down the hill to try another route.

Meanwhile, the much steeper hill near my office was getting jammed with similarly idiotic attempts at ice driving, and reports from co-workers much closer to the destination were grim. Finally, an hour after our supposed start time, the office called it a snow day and set us free.

Now it's noon, the streets are clear, the rooftops all have receding snowlines with slight combovers where the belching chimneys have laid morning shadows, and I'm bored.

Lifelong southerners are scooping slush into midget snowmen and sliding down tiny knolls in cookie sheets, making the most of it. The scene makes me nostalgic for real snow, the kind that buries the topography of the earth in feet of artificial white terrain and squeaks like styrofoam beneath heavy boot treads. Anything less seems farcical. A real blizzard -- with a real snow-in -- is not annoying. It's almost joyous. This is more like a city enacting hurricane warnings because a tree blew over in a gust last night. But when you can't sand the roads and the pickups don't know how to drive up hills, I guess that's reality.

To alleviate boredom, I'm heading to the internet to see if any decisive Civil War battles were won by the North due to snow. As a comedian at last night's Velveeta open mic put it (and I did okay for once!), "Snow in Texas is great. It's nice to see Southerners afraid of something white for once." (Sorry I didn't catch your name, dude. Great line.)

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