People Watching #5

Hyde Park is a disaster once the end of the quarter rolls around. This is what happens when you have students sleep-deprived and stressed out by their last round of finals, visiting families, and/or graduation. Signs of chaos include:

  • Students wheeling luggage, often upset when the humidity causes their shirts to stick to their skin
  • Students loading their belongings into the trunks of 5-passenger sedan, often upset by size constraints of said vehicles in addition to the humidity
  • Students hauling furniture across town, which is just about the most terrible part of moving that you can ever imagine
  • Son and father at the post office with a giant crate of books that probably weighs more than several small children–the father looks stoic as he tapes the box shut and thinks of the cost of international shipping
  • Local residents peering curiously into the overflowing dumpsters for interesting finds–one man looks on as Hannah and I deposit cardboard boxes into the dumpsters on 53rd and Greenwood and looks disappointed when we drive away without leaving behind anything worthwhile
  • Speaking of overflowing dumpsters, the local garbage collectors must hate us all

The lengths people go to move in and out into their apartments, while quite impressive, is never quite as fascinating at the people I see at the airport. As I’m writing this, my flight has been delayed by one hour due to some eastward bound thunderstorms, and the people around me deserve a brief mention. They include:

  • A pair of sisters with matching red-dyed hair and Duck Dynasty sweatshirts; one sister sports a giant tattoo of New Jersey on her left calf
  • Elderly Russian couple: the wife asks me to accompany her husband because we have the same boarding positions on our Southwest flight and offers to “save me a good seat” and a handful of mini-Oreos in return; husband nods politely and continues reading a translated version of an Isabel Allende novel while also eating mini-Oreos
  • Man and woman conversing next to me: Man is dressed in business suit while the woman, who has a book in her bag, seems ready for a vacation. But based on the number of times they have mentioned HIPPAA, FDA regulations, and physician assistants (apparently PA stands for more than Pennsylvania), they not only know each other, but also must work in something health related. The woman talks about her seventeen-year-old daughter who is dying her hair for the first time, and the plot twist: she has to pay for it herself!
  • Also, they are clearly sitting in the wrong gate. Health professional man and woman are soon replaced with family consisting of mother, father, and young daughter.
  • Daughter is well-behaved and quite happy with a pacifier in her myself and her mother’s tablet in her lap. The stroller carries the mother’s Michael Kors handbag, child-size juice box of apple juice, child-size container of McDonald’s French fries, empty container of milk with hot pink label that matches daughter’s backpack, and the most bizarre thing I’ve seen in a while: purified drinking water bottled in a soda can.
  • Mother on the phone, twice to two separate people: “This is like the worst trip to New York ever.”*
  • Snarky airplane captain comforts cranky passengers on the loudspeaker: “We apologize for the delay folks. Newark has been congested for the past ten years.” Truer words have never been spoken.

*Little did she know that in addition to being delayed for one hour, we would sit on the tarmac for another sixty minutes, and upon our arrival, we would sit in the plane for another forty-five minutes because of course, our gate is occupied.


Fighting Nature

The view outside my window shows that nor’easters might be overrated. There is a fine coating of fluffy snow on the ground. I live in a cul-de-sac, so the snow that has fallen so far remains pristine, almost delicate, like something with which you can knit lace. What the view outside my window doesn’t predict though is the fact that the unspoiled snow will soon be ruined by my mom’s car when she comes home with my brother in the next half hour. Nor does it know that most of the snow that will pummel the New York metropolitan area will not arrive when most of us are sound asleep, into the wee hours of this Thursday evening.

Judging from the doomsday reports I heard this afternoon on the television, the chances that I will make my Friday night flight back to Chicago tomorrow will be determined by natural forces beyond my control. I have four open tabs on my browser related to weather and flight tracking although at this point, it’s probably too early to tell whether my flight will be canceled or delayed. I place my faith in highway salt, efficient plow trucks, and New Jersey’s preparedness for natural disasters. This faith is potentially misguided but it is faith nonetheless. If anything, I will arrive to the airport prepared. I downloaded the latest issue of the New Yorker, made sure Crime and Punishment was on my Kindle app, and have plans to update my resume. That is, if my flight is not canceled altogether, which would be so inconvenient because there is likely a statistically-significant chance that I’ll have to fly instead at the dawn of Monday morning, miss the first day of classes, and arrive back in Chicago just in time to enjoy a large arctic air mass bringing a high temperature of -7 degrees Fahrenheit.

News outlets inform me that people everywhere are rushing to hardware stores and stocking up on shovels. The weather advisory I keep checking to see when the snow is supposed to stop advises people to stock up on water, food, and other emergency supplies in their car. I absorb this information with an air of incredulity. Yes, the airy snow combined with gusting winds will create blizzard-like conditions, and it’s probably not a great idea to go driving in these conditions, but at the end of the day, it’s just six to nine inches of snow.

I explain all this to my mother, who looks concerned. My flagrant disregard for nature’s destructive powers has that effect.

Perhaps it is because I have not experienced true hardship in the face of natural disasters that allows me to still view out-of-the-ordinary meteorological events as an event of novelty. It’s exciting when the power goes out, and you have the perfect opportunity to play board games in the dark. Watching the pine trees tilt sideways from hurricane-force winds can keep me occupied for a good fifteen minutes while the sound of a torrential, monsoon-like downpour falling on windowpanes and rooftops is just so, so soothing. While you won’t find me storm-chasing, I will run to catch a glimpse of an approaching tornado, just to see what it looks like, before fleeing in terror down into a windowless basement.

Natural disasters simultaneously captivate yet fail to impress me. But at the end of the day, I do not believe in letting weather derail my plans. Of course, the weather could not care less about what I do or don’t believe, so I am left sitting here, wondering what will happen when I wake up tomorrow morning. There’s a grandiosity to daring nature to do its worst or maybe it’s more foolishness because of course, at the end of the day, nature can easily win without much of a fight.

Yet I still roll my eyes when I read another headline about this raging storm while also crossing my fingers. I hope this combination of impertinence and reverence will let the air pressure systems work in my favor. Let the snow fall. Let it thrash wildly into windshields and faces, but also let it drift neatly into piles and let it collapse easily into shovels and melt compliantly into storm drains. Tomorrow morning, I want to see the snow crisp and untouched, but I also hope I can drag my suitcase across it. Think of it as an act of defiance.