Seasonal Perversity in Chicago


(Photo: Winter, just around the bend. Credit: Looper.)

Or, It’s Just Weather, Dammit! Much as I like her column, there are two times of year I just can’t condone Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich: the beginning and end of Daylight Saving Time. And judging by the recent return of Standard Time last weekend, it was no surprise to read Schmich’s latest, by-now hackneyed rant on Chicago winter in the pages of the Trib (“Only time will deliver us from dark of winter“).

Maybe it’s because she grew up in Savannah and Phoenix, went to college in California. You know, sunnier climes. Or maybe after 20 years in temperately temperatured Chicago, global warming can’t come fast enough for her. But whatever the reason, twice a year Schmich readers get treated to a rant on Chicago weather. (And like clockwork: last November I complained in CARLESS about Schmich’s November 16, 2005, “The cold hell begins” column).

Now I’m certainly not going to claim that here in Chicago we have it easy between October and April. But we Hogtowners don’t have it that hard, either. Sure, moving here from New York City four years ago, Chicago taught me what cold was. When it’s 20 degrees in NYC, you stay indoors; when it’s 20 degrees in Chicago, you open your coat. But that’s nothing a wise visit to the L. L. Bean e-commerce site for a smart woolen hat, scarf, and gloves can’t remedy in a jiffy.

But what we don’t have, no matter the popular perception outside of Chicagoland, is three feet of snow every month ’til spring. This is not Buffalo, or Minneapolis, or even the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. When residents in those places are digging out from yet another avalanche of the white stuff, chances are we Chicagoans, altogether a hardier bunch anyway, are still out jogging and walking our dogs.

So I don’t understand why twice a year Mary Schmich seems fit to write a column pretending that we all live in some kind of darkened, frozen, blizzard-plagued, hopeless wasteland outside of summer hours. Regular readers know the drill: around about Memorial Day, Schmich fans are treated to the yearly lament on the “shortness” of a Chicago summer, in a column peppered with words like ephemeral, whirlwind, and pyrrhic. We’re given to understand that if we blink too slowly, our one chance for a fulfilling existence in the urban heart of Middle America will escape our grasp and leave us once again gasping for the merest hint of a warm breeze while we hunker down to nine remaining months in the Gulag.

Or consider from this month’s rant on approaching winter: now “the submarine has gone down” and we must learn “to live with darkness” through the approaching “depths of gray”. Those of us who actually enjoy the change of season–or are simply used to it because (horrors) we live here–are likened to “burrowers…with the souls of moles or Londoners”, who live to “coo about the comforts of hot tea”.

Mary, although you’re not from here, I appreciate just how native you’ve gone in the 20 years you’ve lived in Chicago scribing for the Trib (and that’s certainly nice work if you can get it). But speaking as a fellow interloper who lovingly adopted Hogtown as hometown, must you perennially persist in promoting what is, perhaps the most annoying of local customs? Granted, Chicagoans raise bitching about the weather to an art form. But I have yet to meet a Chicagoan who believes through and through all the badmouthing they may do about Second City winters.

That’s probably because the Chicagoans who really hate winter don’t live here anymore.

Now Mary, you’re brilliant, and celebrated, and with your rightly popular column you’ve got a hot thing going in this sometimes-frigid city. Believe me when I say, I respect your right to eschew fuzzy slippers, hot cocoa, and the comfort of a good pair of silk longjohns. But I worry about you, all the same. I mean, it can’t be easy to be inextricably linked to a place with weather from which you’d just as soon flee screaming, naked if need be and through six lanes of onrushing freeway traffic and a pack of rabid pit bulls.

I interpret your semi-annual weather laments as a desperate cry for help. Mary, I only have your best interests at heart, truly. Would I ever steer you wrong? Please, for your own sake, and the sake of those around you, get some help. A few hours on a leather couch with a wise counselor could work wonders for you.

Please, Mary. If you won’t do it for you, do it for Eric. What would it look like if he showed up alone for your annual holiday singalong because earlier that morning you had finally given in to the stress and fled to Miami, leaving your entire winter wardrobe behind but no forwarding address?

You can beat this thing, Mary. I know you can. A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. So I say, snap on those snow shoes, Mary, and start walking. Remember, small steps. Small steps.

In no time, you’ll be out there ice skating and building snowmen with the best of them. Just remember to dress in layers.

And wear a hat.

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