Snow storms precipitate strange behavior


It's taken me nearly 43 years to learn how Baltimoreans occupy themselves during one of our fierce, 2-inch snow storms.

They visit their dentist.

Yes, instead of cleaning their sidewalks, they have their molars and bicuspids polished by their friendly dental professional.

"We actually get quite busy during a snow," said Dr. Thomas Ritter, DDS, whose office is in the 7800 block of York Road.

"I think people get leave time for a snowstorm and they take it. They get to thinking they need their teeth cleaned and looked at, so they call us and come in here," he said.

Amazing. All my life I've made a study of the curious habits of Baltimore when they under siege by the white stuff. I've learned never, never believe the excuses people will offer for not going to work or school or keeping appointments.

There is a secret life during a Baltimore snow. Dental visits are but one activity, one of many that Baltimoreans employ.

Shopping is another. People invade grocery stores when snow is forecast.

Jerry Gordon, owner of Eddie's Super Market in the 3100 block of St. Paul St., does not deny the traditional practice of buying bread, milk and toilet paper when snow is forecast; and he offers a few other items that Baltimoreans hoard under the threat of snow.

"Lunch meat. Did we sell lunch meat. And ice cream, too," Gordon said. "On Tuesday, we sold a lot of meat too, far more than we usually would on a Tuesday."

It is generally believed that the city's elderly hide behind closed doors when the streets and sidewalks ice up. False. No fear of broken hips in this town.

I observed an 81-year-old retired bartender take off in the snow on foot, balancing a cane in his right hand and a plastic bag of groceries in the left. He stocked up on prune juice, paper towels and Neapolitan ice cream.

I also observed a lady attired in full winter-weather gear -- a heavy coat, a big hat, gloves and boots. She won't admit it, but she's 87 and made her way down icy steps from her home to get to the pavement. Then the intrepid woman took off down the street.

Her mission? She mailed a letter. No matter that the postman would be calling at her home's front door in a few hours. The beckoning call of the mail box is one of the surest symptoms of cabin fever.

In Pikesville, at the Suburban House restaurant, customers called out forecasts (as it turned out, mostly wrong) from table to booth: "Four to eight!" "Light dusting, three to six!" Then they stopped long enough to order slices of chocolate mousse cheese cake and wedges of apple pie. Well provisioned, these December warriors could face the tundras of Baltimore County.

"People go bananas if it's a light snow," said Mark Horowitz, one of the owners of the Suburban House. "It's a whimsical kind of thing. They order things they wouldn't ordinarily, a lot of quick foods like hot dogs, matzo ball soup and rich desserts."

In truth, Baltimoreans delight in worrying about snow. They compare forecasts. They feign distress. And they secretly plan to take the day off, loaf and eat ice cream. It's called a snow emergency but everyone knows it's another excuse for an extra day off.

Part of the feigned anguish involves a certain knowledge of past performances. Baltimore Baby Boomers invariably compare big snowstorms -- 1958, 1966, 1979, 1983 and March 1993. They recall with regret a Christmas Day 1963 snowstorm as if it were yesterday. That day was a bitter experience because they couldn't get the day off because everything was already closed.

The truly devious have projects set aside for a snow day.

One man I know rounded up some paint and a furniture refinishing kit so that if the snowflakes came, he'd have at-home projects ready.

But, for the most part, Baltimoreans sit at home during a snowstorm, reaching for the white bread, the pressed olive loaf and the dental floss.

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