The Relativity of Winter

Going to school in Virginia, I built up this impression of myself, an image that coming from the brutal winters of New England, handling winter in the Blue Ridge Mountains was nothing. To be clear, winter in Blacksburg was rough. The Drillfield in the middle of campus was a giant wind tunnel, making the trek across campus to class an exercise in trying to get up a short, icy slope with massive wind bursts blowing you the other way. The temperature, often hovering around freezing, lead to mixes of snow and rain that changed rapidly to slush and ice.

Winter in Blacksburg was tough, but it was short and it was, definitively, nothing like a New England winter.

Or so I told myself.

Then I came back to live just north of Boston and, in the years since, rapidly began to wonder if I was ever that tough. The cold ate at me in ways I never remembered. Whereas I used to love the prospect of snow, and having a day off from school, I now dreaded the idea that my city would declare a snow emergency, leaving me to have to find a place to park my car, and then trudge back and forth to it to shovel it out and make my way to work.

The occasional light winters with only a couple of snow storms that melted away rapidly were a joy, and made me wonder if I had lost my New England seasonal toughness. Maybe I was better equipped for warmer climates.

Everything is relative.

The winter of 2015 is going to go down in history as probably the snowiest on record for the Boston area. It’s rarely been above freezing for the last 4 weeks, and there’s only been a handful of days that didn’t contain some snow. Navigating the city by car or on foot is treacherous and takes three times as long as normal, simply because there’s nowhere for the snow to go.

The difference is none of us seem to care any more. Or don’t care about the precipitaton and cold, at least. More snow? I just need to figure out where I’m going to put it. Only in the single digits today? Ok, I guess I’ll put on some gloves when I shovel. As the winter has worn on, I’ve realized that I never lost that toughness necessary to handle a New England winter. I just hadn’t faced a tough New England winter in a while.

Our big complaints now? That aforementioned traffic due to streets that are 60% their normal size. The T not running because the snow has come so fast and furious that the tracks aren’t even clear in some places. Are they going to have ice melt at the hardware store since they’ve run out for three days in a row. Are parking space savers ok?

My memory of being a kid and facing down winter head on doesn’t include the six layers of clothing topped by full snow pants, or coming inside and standing next to the wood stove, which in hindsight, is how we survived winter. No, I just remember winter not being a big deal.

30 years later, six feet of snow later, watching as a near blizzard drops another ten inches of snow onto our yard, already swelling with mounds of shoveled snow, winter isn’t a big deal. My hearty New England soul can handle it just fine.

It’s just a pain in the ass.

Don’t Look a Gift Gazelle in the Mouth

The iPhone 5S came out at the perfect time, as I had recently dropped my 4S and cracked the screen. I was well past my upgrade date, so the upgrade would be reasonably inexpensive (as iPhones go). And, to top it off, Gazelle had given me an estimate of $80 for my iPhone 4S with a cracked screen.

I went and bought my 5S, got my little Gazelle box in the mail, and, as instructed (really, it’s right in the instructions …), I dropped the box off at the nearest post box. It’s right at the end of my street—pretty convenient.

And that was the last that was ever seen or heard from my iPhone.

After a couple of weeks had gone by, I contacted Gazelle support to ask if they had any news. They pointed me to my local post office. My local post office had no record of ever receiving the package, so they told me to wait a while longer, then file an insurance claim (since Gazelle’s packages are insured!).

So I did that. I’ve talked to Gazelle, and the national USPS, and my local USPS, and round and round.

Yesterday, I found out my insurance claim was rejected by the government.
Today, I found out Gazelle can’t help me because there’s no record of the tracking.

Well, shit.

At this point, I don’t care. The insurance claim was $50, and honestly, I’ve spent more time than its worth trying to get my $50 to prove a point.

I give up, you win, forces of corporate and government inertia. And you win, especially you, dishonest postal service employee who stole my broken phone. [1]

What are the lessons here?

  • Gazelle shouldn’t make their boxes conspicuous. Had the box not been so clearly a Gazelle shipping container, it probably gets ignored.
  • Gazelle absolutely shouldn’t tell you to drop your package in a post box, when the insurance won’t really apply until it’s tracked by the USPS. Go hand it to the postal service agent by hand.
  • I’ll defend the USPS in most cases, but jesus, it’s incredibly obvious what happened and they just don’t seem to give a shit.

In the end, I’m not sure if I’ll use Gazelle again. Maybe I will, but I feel like I got a bit of the run around in this process. They must have dealt with a lost or stolen package before, in this scenario. And the USPS, well, I like my local USPS, but I’ll be handing them things and double-checking tracking from now on, because there’s a scoundrel in their midst.

I do like my new iPhone 5S, though …


  1. Because that’s clearly what happened. I dropped it in the post box. The next day, some postal employee picks it up, see it’s from Gazelle, and just pockets the box. That’s it. That, or it is still sitting there, at the bottom of the post box.

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Losing Nemo

The blizzard/huge winter storm/whatever Nemo, or “the storm that would be named Nemo, but we don’t name winter storms” came and went and dumped somewhere between 20 and 30 inches on us here in Somerville.

After spending most of Friday and Saturday snowed in, it dawned on me how poorly we are equipped to handle large snowstorms. I don’t mean equipped as humans—it seems like folks mostly heeded the warnings and hunkered down. Or as a society—it seems like a storm like this brings out the best in (most) people, as folks helped each other shovel out, while kids walked between piles of snow taller than they are.

I mean technologically, it is baffling to me that we haven’t come up with a better way to deal with snow. For the next few months, we’ll be stuck with 4 and 5 foot high snow piles blocking half of the streets, making it impossible to find parking, to pull out around corners, and generally making walking and driving a massive pain in the ass.

How have we not developed better technologies to deal with this? There are big trucks that melt snow and trains with jet engine-like devices that melt and evaporate snow on train tracks. Obviously, the big issue is the energy and fuel required to generate enough heat to melt and/or evaporate the snow. There’s the environmental effect of melting the snow and where all that water will end up.

It seems to me, though, that in the last fifty-odd years, these problems should have been solved. Or that they’re solvable. Why can’t we harness solar energy (expensive, most likely) or wire sidewalks and streets with heating elements (or elements that retain heat in some meaningful way) to melt snow away as it falls.

Hurricanes, tornadoes, storms like that…I get why we don’t have better ways to deal with them.

But snowstorms? They feel like a solvable problem.

Or maybe I just hate winter.

(That’s probably it.)

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