Mornings were a frenzy of sifting, mixing, baking and boxing goods; I filled the afternoons by running them to friends at the city’s four corners, where they’d cozied up or hunkered down at their homes; I thrived in the iciest, nastiest parts of the storm, without oops or incident, yet when it seemed spring sprung forth, the waxing sun clearing lawns and slopes and grass, and the temperatures rose, freeing sidewalks from the freeze, loosing ice from limbs, and flushing silt-clogged roads with melt, I nearly lost my life: this is a tale of how I spent my two-day snow-mer vacation.
Mother Nature and Old Man Winter conspired to twice ice over Atlanta this year, Jan. 28-30, and Feb. 11-13. They were periods of hushed streets and cabin fever. Schools, businesses, government offices were all closed, save the heartiest bars and eateries, yet citizens abounded, walking in numbers unheard of in our city, and ad hoc sledders and skiers took back the streets. Call it Snowpocalypse, Snowmageddon, the city-specific Hothlanta, whatever: excitement for bonus time off, and the finite opportunity to sled, was palpable.
We were sent home early Tuesday. I very soon began running a cabin fever, one I sought to self-medicate with heaps of cookies and food, and thereby stem off boredom. This is my weather; I was born and brought home in a blizzard, and would play outside in the cold until my fingers began turning purple, to my parents’ great concern. I was intent on immersing myself in this ice storm, letting it rouge my cheeks and showcase an alien landscape, but wanted to put further purpose to it: since I would not be run commuting, why not run to deliver those goodies to buddies? We entered this year vowing to not just run, but run to get somewhere. Josh did so to gather groceries, and I would follow suit by schlepping desserts.
Spinning the collected works of the High Strung and Speedy Ortiz, my kitchen became a mess of spilled flour and used parchment paper, resulting in cowgirl cookies, blackstrap ginger snaps, snickerdoodles, skillet cornbread, Jerusalem salad, and slow cooker pinto beans. Before layering up and shuffling through the city, I packaged goods for my neighbors, because charity begins at home, and it was a good stone with which to target the two birds of, “Thanks for being such great neighbors!” and, “Sorry for being so reclusive and also kind of a dick!”
Then I was into my tights and trail shoes, out the door, and on my way. Another neighbor, Jason, was clearing ruts in the driveway. He is so calm, philosophical, and said only, “This is a runner’s dream, isn’t it? Your element now: the streets are yours alone.” I would welcome any time possible a pre-race calm-down/pep-talk from Jason.
Twenty feet down my street, turn to a trail paralleling the train tracks, and silence. The ubiquitous tread of rubber on road was absent, and all one heard was snow crunch and bird song. Beyond the trail, an equally-leggy runner pulled abreast, pointed to my shoes and opined that I ought to get some crampons, like him. I responded that I’d grown up in the Great Lakes: “Ah, not your first rodeo!” he replied. He was out for 10 miles, he said. And me? “Just hoofing some cookies across town.”
Atlanta has a twice- or thrice-annual event, Atlanta Streets Alive, a ciclovia/open streets affair in which main thoroughfares are closed to motor vehicle traffic. It was ASA 50 times over. Despite the dread impending storms unleash on Atlantans, their arrival imbues all with a shared experience, yielding greetings and smiles and neighborly welcomes all over, around every corner, on each street. I saw two huskies finally in their natural scene, and all other dogs going nuts, pouncing on snow and growling at snowmen. Sledding was limited not to children. I watched a pack of pierced, tattooed, dyed 20-somethings hooting down a hill in a recycling bin.
Everyone seems like a friend in this scenario, bound together by squishing shoes and misting breath, and a fantasy of soon thawing fireside with a hot beverage. Yet I didn’t expect to encounter an actual friend, Corny, who was on his way home from work!
The sense of the snow-paralyzed city is similar to that at 5 a.m.: so little movement, such overwhelming silence. It’s peaceful. One can run through a city of several hundred thousand and be the only one about, the only sound, sole witness to whatever it chooses to reveal. Here, in snow, there is a further sense of stillness, without and within, something soothing, insulating against anxieties and granting solace for the legion of worries preying upon you.
Three miles in, I dropped cowgirl cookies and corn bread off with Callie and Tim, who live in the same building (I also gave Tim a package of hot dogs). It was so satisfying not to set out merely to make the office, or log a certain number of miles, but to assign purpose to my run. It made of it a mission. A brief visit, some warmth, then back into the ice and quiet, and the trek home. Some of those deliveries popped up on social media, to my surprise and delight, and elicited some friends’ requests for same.
So there was my plan for snow-mer vacation day two: package and deliver six more, a total of 14 miles, but not tell my friends. It’s good to give gifts, right? And follows with the theme of, “Thanks for being there for me! And I am also kind of a dick: whoops!”
I woke on day one to the clicking of ice on ice, that sound of pellets falling together, like gossips giggling. Day two, Thursday, it was in the trees, sounding older, aged. Ice coated the branches an eighth-inch thick, and the wind gave weary voice to their slow meeting. I watched from my porch as a stand of heavy-laden bamboo teetered one way, then back, a sonorous metronome for the morning.
By noon, the clouds had uncaged the sun, and water cascaded down the trees and roofs, swept the gutters, puddled everywhere it could. And dashed children’s hopes to once more sled, and brought doom to their golems.
I put six bundles in my pack and set out. The first thing I did was step in an ankle-deep puddle: an omen of that to follow. Now the world’s hush was drowned in snow melt and the wet tread of vehicles speeding along. The gentle morning wind took with it most caution. After all, southerners can plow through a good deal of bread, milk, and eggs in two days.
Through Candler Park and Little Five Points, to Poncey-Highland, and down Ponce to find Andy at work. I shot the breeze with him and Indra, another friend, for a few minutes, discussed our annual Seersucker Social bicycle soiree, rent, flax eggs, and sundry. Then I was off into Midtown to Mathilde’s; she declared, “I am in my pajamas, but I am actually working, so, thanks.” All business, she.
South on Argonne Avenue, with treats for Eliot and Ann, yet at their apartment building I realized: 1. I was barred egress, lacking a code; 2. I could not call them, lacking either’s number; and 3. no one responded to my plaintive cries of, “ELLLLIOTTTTT!” and “AAAAANNNNN!” and “STELLLLAAAAA!” Nuts to them, then, I have other rounds to make. Back the way I came. I’m just going to throw in a few photos for comparison to Wednesday’s subdued gloom.
A straight shot down a now-busy Moreland Avenue to East Atlanta, to my fifth stop, Amelia and Anton. I got a glass of refreshing water in exchange, and the offer of a walnut brownie. I’m pleased to say that I am one of few to correctly identify the painting over Amelia’s mantel as a walnut, not, as is apparently more often guessed, some earthy vagina. One more stop! Back in my own neighborhood.
I joined the occasional chorus of pedestrians bitching at honking motorists, laying into their horns at walkers forced streetside from the crud- and snow-clogged sidewalks. Around mile 13 of my trek, the world was much warmer, my vest long since shucked, my sleeves pushed up, and I paused on a paved plateau bridging a small park and a dead end street, to check something very important: whether Revolution Doughnuts, around the corner from Bobby’s and Lisa’s, would be open when I finished.
It would be. I had a tremendous snow-mer vacation not only being a good friend, doing something nice for my pals, but by doing so running. I felt for the first time in a while buoyant, hopeful; I felt accomplished. Everything was coming up roses.
But the day quickly turned.
Around mile 13 of my trek, the world was much warmer, my vest long since shucked, my sleeves pushed up, one drop remaining of six, and a glorious day all about. I paused on an asphalt plateau between Gilliam Park and Arizona Street’s dead end, to check when Revolution Doughnuts, around the corner from Bobby’s and Lisa’s, closed and to determine whether I’d time enough to get there (6 p.m.; yes). It was a quiet, peaceful moment.
Slicing through the thaw’s tranquility came the rapid Dopplering of a rotor, something spinning end over end in an increasingly urgent chung chung chung chung chung CHUNG then SMASH. A three-foot ice slab exploded into the ground a foot to my right with the violence of a bad report card, peppering my flank with shards. Panicked, shaken, I looked behind me; I looked ahead; then I followed the long rise of the 11Alive broadcast tower, up up up into the sky, where it waved not like the ponderous bamboo across my street, but menaceful purpose, tethered by tensioned wires.
We have all had close calls with bumpers and stun guns and hostile drivers; I have been hit several times while riding my bike; but this was the first time I knew with certainty that I would have died and was mere inches from it. Had the wind been slightly different, had I paused a step to the right: dust to dust. This was the closest call I have had, and no reflexes, no action, could have possibly saved me from being crushed to death.
So I ran away. I ran to Bobby’s and Lisa’s. I ran to the doughnut shop. I walked home with my coffee and dessert, thinking about that close call. Thinking it would have been a pretty high note on which to end: smashed to pieces after being good to friends, having run all around the city I loved. An hour later, I began grasping just what happened, started shivering in shock. Yet in the moment, I felt nothing. Just … numb. I stood there watching danger descend, and only a half-minute after thought that I should probably move. Honestly, a day later and I am still trying to process this.
But so as not to end on a low note in this whirlwind of ice and thaw, of baking and buddies, of living life and my nearest miss, I give you my friend Eli, whom I saw on my walk home, and who is running a mile for each Olympic medal America brings home. Gaze upon this magnificent bastard, ye mighty, and despair.