No problem, I thought. I grew up in the wintry East and was prepared to tackle the task of sliding around on frozen roads. Plus I had the ideal vehicle for hazardous driving conditions. I'm not talking four-wheel drive Hummer here. I'm talking fully-insured rental car.
Since the storm was a few days away, I had a little leisure time to explore the cultural differences between Texas and the rest of the US. It was my opinion that there are not nearly so many as Texans like to think. The hotel I'm staying in is located along a street glittering with boring chain restaurants, anchored by a vast Walmart at its nexus with the highway, a commercial cluster that is a dead ringer for a thousand others across this vast, happy, bottom-line conscious land. I have to admit that the Walmart was a major upgrade, size-wise, over other Walmarts I have entered. It was Texas big. I have watched professional sports events in smaller structures.
I guess you could count that, or the fact that while in the rest of the US everybody finds a myriad of ways to use their smart phones on Saturday, in Texas everybody is watching a college football game on theirs. And they've named a highway here after George Bush. Most other states have restrained themselves from doing that.
It was not until the ice storm hit that I realized that I was a stranger in a strange land, that in this time of meteorological crisis Texans, even temporary ones like myself, would be called upon to exercise their legendary ruggedness and self-reliance.
The locals refer to the blanket of ice as an act of God. I did not realize that God would also be counted on for ice removal until a full day had passed and I had seen no municipal effort to defrost the town. Furrows in a few of the main roads were plowed by people brave enough to drive on them, but they promptly re-froze into black ice when the sun went down. I kept waiting for emergency crews to start salting and scraping the highways, but none appeared.
“I understand that many Texans advocate small government, but until now I did not know that they preferred a government so small it did not own any snowplows.” I said to the hotel manager, who promptly trumped my California ignorance by informing me that the city of Dallas in fact had two snowplows. That was not an excessive number to begin with, I thought, and five minutes later a news bulletin appeared on TV, informing me that a major highway north of town was now blocked off completely, by an overturned snowplow. So now we were down to one, with no evidence of anybody in the state being competent to drive it.
I understand that if Miami Beach or my hometown of San Diego were hit by a sudden icefall, people there would be in the exact situation we find ourselves in here. But this is not the subtropics. Dallas is surrounded by places where it snows at least occasionally, like Little Rock, or St. Louis. There are no mountains or oceans between Dallas and the North Pole. In fact there is nothing but mind-numbing flat plains between here and the Arctic Sea. Didn't they realize that their number would eventually come up?
Of course, that inescapable dull flatness helps when you are sliding around town. A burg full of frozen hills would be much tougher to navigate. I am trying to think of silver linings here.
The manager of this hotel full of stranded travelers is doing her best to accommodate them. I planned to be here this weekend, unlike some people here who had planned to be in Cabo and preferred staying here to sleeping at the closed airport, so I am not an embittered alcoholic like they are. The manager tapped a keg and gave us all free beer to quiet us, and particularly them, down. She is the soul of hospitality. However, she is not the soul of ice removal. Not so much as a shaker of salt has been spread on the sidewalks and parking lot of the hotel. Perhaps she does not want to appear as silly as the fake Mexican restaurant I dined at last night, where they had put a beach bucket's worth of sand on their front steps, while completely ignoring the parking lot you had to cross to get to them, on which a hockey team could have held a worthwhile practice.
At least they were open. The local breastaurant, Twin Peaks, a Hooters-type establishment where young girls who look good in tight, skimpy clothing but are often completely unfamiliar with the food and drink options flirt with you for tips, was shuttered on account of the storm. I sincerely hope that enough of the staff bundles up against the cold and makes it in tonight.
It's within walking distance.
Postscript: The desk clerk at the hotel told me that Dallasites (Dallesians? Dalmations?) do in fact consider their climate too balmy to require snow removal equipment, a veritable Cancun of the Midwest. I asked him if the winters were so inconsequential here, why was the pool closed for it? He didn't have an answer for that one.
Twin Peaks was indeed open when I got there, but the manager informed me that they would be closing at 6:30, for safety reasons. Why he considered driving home on frozen roads in the dark safer at 6:30 than at midnight I couldn't fathom, but I didn't argue. I enjoyed one beer. I tried ordering it by name, but the bartender had been too busy looking good in her outfit to actually aquaint herself with her beverage menu, so I had to point at its picture on the beer list as if I was in some non-English speaking land. When they gave last call ten minutes later, I swallowed the last of my frosty with a deep sense of inner satisfaction.
First time I closed down a bar in at least a dozen years.