Part 17: Sorry April, But February is Actually the Cruelest Month...At Least in Chicago
Just two weeks after 26 inches of snow accumulated along the streets and sidewalks of wintry Chicago—jamming roadways and stranding nearly 1,500 cars along Lake Shore Drive—the sun shone, the mercury rose, the snow melted and the weather Gods smiled on the Windy City. For a few glorious, warm days we experienced spring in the middle of February.
When temps exceeded 60 degrees my fellow Chicagoans discarded their bulky, down-filled coats; heavy, salt-covered snow boots; Burberry cashmere scarves; fleece-lined gloves; and all the other accoutrements of winter and stripped down to shirtsleeves and jeans. A few brave souls even donned shorts and t-shirts and went for a jog along the winding lakefront path that runs alongside Lake Shore Drive, the highway that just a few days before was littered with abandoned cars. No doubt a bikini (or two) was seen somewhere along the beaches of Lake Michigan as my overly optimistic fellow Chicagoans worked hard to enjoy the brief, rare moment of warmth during an otherwise brutal winter stretch. Let's face it: after subzero temperatures, 65 degrees feels a lot like summer.
Indeed, my friend Erin actually calls this strange warming phenomenon, which seems to happen at least once each February, "Chicago Summer" (in Winter). I call it a painful, cruel reminder that winter in the City of Big Shoulders is far from over. Even though Punxsutawney Phil didn't see his shadow this year, revealing that spring will come early, I'm a cynic: it's a long, long time until spring hits Chicago. P-Phil (i.e. his hip hop name) is a notorious liar and a fraud. Never trust anyone with a hairy backside and no opposable thumbs.
Don't get me wrong: I like the warmth, however brief. Indeed, I crave it! My car doors stopped freezing shut overnight, the sidewalks are finally free of snow and ice, and I don't have to get dressed twice just to leave home: once to put on pants, shirt and shoes, etc. and then a second time to add the ridiculously complicated and voluminous outerwear for below-zero weather accompanied by ice and snow.
This winter we've had some pretty lousy weather, necessitating lots of winter gear. Hell, we even had thundersnow during the Blizzard of 2011. (By the way, Thundersnow is my recommendation for a minor league hockey team in search of a mascot.) In a word, this winter has been dreary.
Each February the weather Gods give us a glimpse of summer just to remind us that the payoff for a brutal, frigid winter is a glorious, warm summer replete with ample time spent at Wrigley Field and along Lake Michigan's many Trixie-filled beaches. Without the cruel, annual reminder each winter that temps do indeed rise above freezing—eventually—I'm quite certain the population of Chicago would be half of it's current size, and possibly less. Obviously those born and raised in Chicago and the surrounding middle west don't know anything different, but frankly I'm surprised anyone, including—if not especially—myself, would actually choose to move to this climate. But we do for myriad reasons. I suppose for most Midwesterners living in Chicago is still better than staying in Lincoln or Columbus or Iowa City—college towns with equally lousy weather—after college. At least the job opportunities in Chicago are more numerous and don't necessarily consist of delivering pizzas, pouring draft beers or stirring up crystal meth in the bathtub.
Just to rub it in the fine folks at Leo Burnett and Draft FCB—and other Chicago advertising behemoths—work hard to remind us just how cold it is here by illustrating how warm it is down South. The advertisements adorning the walls of the Union Pacific Metra Station (i.e. Ogilvie Station) in the Loop each winter are dominated by colorful images of Mexico, the Bahamas, Costa Rica, and myriad warm-weather destinations. Images of sun-tanned couples holding hands while lounging along the beaches of the Riviera Maya (i.e. ads that are strangely reminiscent of recent commercials for Cialis—I guess the mercury isn't the only thing rising) are quite amusing when juxtaposed by the hundreds of commuters passing by each morning in goose down coats, earmuffs, snow boots and Gore-Tex everything.
Head West Young Man...and Head South Old (Midwestern) Man!
Tribes tend to move in packs and Chicagoans are no different: they have decided to congregate in Florida each winter. At this time of year, older, affluent Chicagoans are more likely to be found in Naples, Marco Island, Longboat Key, Bonita Bay, Sanibel Island, and many other tony communities along Florida's gulf coast than in Chicago’s North Shore or Gold Coast. For some reason, Chicagoans seem to prefer gulf waters and sunsets while New Yorkers and New Englanders tend to assemble along Florida's Atlantic coast. As a result, these Gulf Coast communities have created a miniature, warm-weather version of Chicago replete with Chicago-style hot dogs and pizza coupled with thick Midwestern accents and cheesy Chicago Bears golf shirts. They—and, more importantly their Yankee credit cards—are welcomed with open arms down south.
Unlike my Midwestern neighbors, I have no desire to visit Florida each winter—or really any time, for that matter. As a Texan, trips to Florida are a relatively foreign concept other than the obligatory once-a-childhood family sojourn to Disney. Did I mention my feelings about Florida—that gator-infested, humid, theme-park riddled swamp? A brief rant: the typical Floridian was born during the Hoover administration and the majority of the population regards Dick Clark as a contemporary, if not a youngster. And beach-goers in Naples and Marco Island are just as likely to bring colostomy bags as they are sunscreen. In a word, Florida sucks. Okay, so maybe I'm a bit harsh on the sunshine state and the octogenarians who choose to live there.
Nevertheless, I will admit that after enduring ten Chicago winters I finally understand the desire to visit a warm climate to break up the cold, grey monotony of a long Chicago winter. Fellow Chicagoans, you may keep Florida and I'll take the American Southwest. Give me the big sky grandeur and arid beauty of New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, and California versus the humid, bland culture of South Florida. Of course, I'll admit I'm biased as a result of my Texas upbringing.
Rather than fly south during winter, my fellow Texans annually make their way north to escape the brutal summer heat in July and August. However, more often than not—unlike Chicagoans in Florida—we Texans are utterly unwanted and disdained in the Rocky Mountain West. Texans are typically regarded as interlopers with annoying George W. Bush-like accents wearing cowboy boots and hats, spending lavishly, and overrunning ski resorts along Interstate 70. Rocky Mountain retailers, tourism boards, and hoteliers love Texas money but most locals despise Texans. More specifically, they hate Texas wealth, attitudes, accents, politics, influence, and especially their boasting and self-confidence (a.k.a arrogance). Moreover, we are overly loud and aggressively friendly, which annoys the introverted, isolationist mountain folk in the Rockies. And in general, we Texans ski poorly, which likely is our most infuriating trait to most locals.
A Few Days On...Some Final Thoughts
Now...several weeks later, following the brief, cruel warm respite from winter's bone-chilling cold, the temperature is firmly back down in the low 20s and we have returned to normalcy. Just yesterday several ice blocks fell hundreds of feet from the Tower Formerly Known As Sears (i.e. Willis Tower, a.k.a. The Big Willie) and crushed a Chevy's rear window, and I am strangely comforted by the fact that the cold, blistering Chicago winter weather that we Chicagoans know and love to hate—indeed, upon which we depend for our very sanity—never really left us...it only took a brief winter's nap.