The Seattle Snowpocalypse hit right around the time the local weather outlets said it would. It was around noon on Friday, and the entire region had spent the previous two days preparing for a long-range sheltering. The place I worked had announced it was likely going to close early, and traffic on both Thursday and Friday was terrifying even by Seattle standards. The weather folks were reporting the region’s famed Seattle Cement slamming everywhere from Kitsap to Skagit counties for the entire weekend. A good 10-inch pile-up was expected.
Even after a good glopping hit the area on Sunday night going into Monday, I can’t say I was preparing to face anything especially severe. I looked outside on Sunday night and wrote the snow off as just another dusting that I would simply motor through on my work to work on Monday. Then Monday came, and in the waking hours, it was still snowing. Now, if I had been living in the Seattle area longer, I might have known better than to try and plow my way through the snow without the plow and just called in. But nope, I had to go out. I had to make my 15-minute commute to the transit center in 40 minutes across flying snow and ice which Snohomish County hadn’t even started to touch. I kicked myself while at work, doing nothing in the freezing cold, until a little past the afternoon hour when I finally begged off. I left partly because there was nothing to do, but mostly because I was getting concerned about making the final run home with the snow buildup.
The next few days were cold and icy, but unexceptional. Hell, I even enjoyed going into work more than usual because the weather was keeping everyone locked inside, which meant work had a pleasantly slow pace. There wasn’t any worry about getting the job done because so few people turned up. The bosses weren’t going to be pissed about the regular outdoor crew taking its sweet time stepping indoors. Employers everywhere understood employees’ reluctance to go out, so people just didn’t go out. If anything, I later thought to myself that I was probably on the crazy side for for going in, at least through Monday and Tuesday. Either that or my old Rust Belt work programming was getting the better of me. On Wednesday, things looked like they were returning to normal. But all week, the local news was saying the snow might not be finished yet. By Wednesday, in fact, it was saying it DEFINITELY wasn’t finished yet. The worst was yet to come. When the week started, getting myself around aside, I had no intention of treating the week any different than any other. I would go and do things as normal, just with ice on the roads. I had bought a Playstation 2 for myself just after Christmas which was meant to replace the one my Father was forced to jettison when he moved to California. That console hadn’t worked right, and when I returned it, the store put me on a waiting list for people who wanted PS2s and returned my money in store credit which was to pay for a new PS2 when one was sold to them. On Tuesday, I finally got that call from the store. My new PS2 awaited with my name literally written on it. They also told me they understood if I couldn’t get there because of the weather, and I said to just hang onto it until Sunday, when I would be free to pick it up. But it took just one day to change my mind, and with more inclement weather on the way, I made the trip to grab it on Wednesday.
Thursday, though, was the day when I sensed that there was going to be something different about whatever was coming. This was a familiar routine. The buildup in the weather report, then the actual hit. It had shades of Winter Storm Knife in Buffalo back in 2014. That enormous sucker had stopped the city dead with seven feet of snow, quarter-mile visibility, and 40-MPH winds on the way to becoming the city’s new standard-bearing winter storm. Even people of older generations admitted that it may have been the blizzard which displaced Buffalo’s old standard of bad winter storms, the legendary Blizzard of ‘77. Now, this is Seattle, so it would be wrong to compare this winter storm to the monster that was Winter Storm Knife, but between the region’s topography, layout, and lack of winter preparation, it was time to settle in for it all the same. Thursday night, I decided I had better get my extra grocery shopping finished and went to Fred Meyer. The self-checkout line was backed up for a half hour, and a reporter from KIRO News was interviewing people for the 11 PM broadcast. I also let my Game Night friends know that I wasn’t likely to show barring a sudden thaw. They responded that they weren’t going to show up either, and out store would in fact be closing early.
Since work was also supposed to close early on Friday, I didn’t make any drastic preparations or changes. The basic plan was to get in and get out. But the thing about a huge storm setting in is that people all wait until the last minute to get serviced, and so, unusually for Friday, it was the busiest day of the week. We were still working for a couple of hours after the snow hit, although since I made the main leg of my journey to work by bus, I made sure I was in the first wave of dismissals. The snow started around noon. I was out by about 2. At about 8:30 that morning, I had gone to a Trader Joe’s across the street to buy a small meal for myself. That usually isn’t an issue. Trader Joe’s opens at 8, and it’s still usually sparse at 8:30. Friday, though, the place was already crowded. The lines stretched back through several of the aisles, and some shelves were already clear. All I was after was a damned wrap, and I must have looked absurd to the crowd there with full baskets. In any case, work continued as normal until workers started trickling out of other departments a little after 12. At 2, I was let out, and since it had only been two hours and there was only an inch of snow on the ground, I thought I might makes fairly decent time on my way home.
That would have to be my old Northeast/Northern Midwest mentality talking again. I’ve been living in Seattle for three years, and my mindset hasn’t quite shifted all the way to the Pacific Northwest setting. If it had, I wouldn’t have bothered going in. But the hard part of the day beckoned, and now I had to set out on my Hell-on-Earth-frozen-over journey back home. A consistent falling of packing snow is treacherous in Seattle, and every driver in the city reacts accordingly. The I-5 traffic was moving extra slow, EVERYONE was trying to get home at the same time, and when I made it to the bus stop, I ran into a long line. Now, I’m hard-pressed for how much of a failure Soundtransit was in the moment. On the one hand, it successfully increased its bus frequency in spite of the ongoing traffic. I saw seven of their busses roll by in the hour I spent at the bus stop; an hour usually means three busses at peak travel times. On the other, only two of those busses let anyone at my stop on at all, and only a couple of people got off. The busses that let riders off didn’t let anyone on. Every bus was so packed that I started trying to think of alternatives, and other people in line had the same idea. The line got shorter, alright. But that was because random wannabe passengers were getting fed up and dropping out. I had to wait, though, because I didn’t have any alternatives.
Seattle-area public transit is a mess of several agencies, all of which are terrible. The main agency that serves my area in Snohomish County is Community Transit, which can’t keep up with anything even when traffic is light and moving at a fast pace. They were supposed to be serving their full compliment of bus routes during this winter storm, and as usual, they were failing. I saw two of their busses roll by in an hour, and both were 860s, which didn’t take me to the stop I needed. People in line were so desperate that they were just getting on any random bus in order to get to a location where they could connect with a bus which could get them where they needed to go. But the driver on that second 860 had obviously overheard a few complaints, and he did something which will forever make him a Saint in my mind: He leaned off his bus, asked who was going to the very stop I needed to reach, and said he could make that place an extra stop without any problems.
I’ve owned my current sneakers for over a year, and they were soaked entirely through. I was cold and wet and getting worried. I quickly spoke up, got on the bus, and let myself feel crammed as the bus made its way north. I’m not much for crowds, especially when they’re tossed like sardines into a moving vehicle. But all things considered, I got home, and I got home in a fairly timely way. After I got off the bus, in fact, traffic on 99 in Snohomish County had let up to enough of an extent that I could make my final grocery stop on the way home, like I had originally planned.
So now there’s not much to do other than wait. Wait for the snow to subside enough for me to get back out, wait for signs of life to how back up in the neighborhood. And, perhaps most importantly, to curse myself for having the Rust Belt mentality of NEEDING to show, no matter the possible cost. My father, year ago, talked about possibly buying a trailer for his car to haul to work during winter storms. That doesn’t sound like such a bad idea now.