Baltimore and its suburbs looked 8 inches of snow in the eye yesterday and laughed. Their insouciance was dearly won. They had, after all, been tested by the worst last month when they met the Blizzard of '96, and prevailed.
"If it hadn't been for the blizzard," said Ed Johnston of Baltimore County, "this would be a paralyzing snow. Now, it's a piece of cake."
Mr. Johnston, a 54-year-old Social Security administrator, was shoveling out in front of his house on Stevenson Lane in Rodgers Forge. He was chuckling as he piled up snow that looked light as frosting.
"It's so powdery," he said. "This one you put the shovel in, and you go right down to the ground."
By midday, the main streets were clear and even side streets were passable. Mr. Johnston said local governments must have finally figured out how to handle snow. "They know where all the complainers come from," he said.
All along his neighborhood's graceful, winding streets, residents looked like they finally were getting the hang of winter, after practicing on snow that was 18 inches deep and drifting during the second week of January.
The snow had become as much community event as shoveling chore. "There's Bill Davidson," Mr. Johnston said. "I only see him about three times a year."
Mr. Davidson and Pete Bartel were having a fine chat a few houses away. "I expected a lot more," said Mr. Davidson, who has lived on Stevenson Lane for 45 years. "I'm planning to get out on the golf course any day now."
Mr. Bartel, who has only lived there 44 years, was predicting an early spring. "You should have been here 40 years ago," he said. Winter was really winter then, and the whole neighborhood went sledding in the middle of the road, he said.
Mr. Bartel, who calls himself a seasoned citizen, retired eight years ago as a Westinghouse attorney. Mr. Davidson retired in 1985 as director of security at Church Hospital. "I haven't been able to get to work in 10 years," he said in mock complaint, when asked whether he had to put anything off because of snow.
Over on Dumbarton Road, Tawnya and Mark Ireland were shoveling with untested enthusiasm. "We missed the blizzard," said Mr. Ireland, 29, an industrial hygienist at Fort Meade. "We were in Florida for two weeks."
Mrs. Ireland, 26, a Towson State University psychology student, said yesterday's snow made her feel she was catching up: "I felt we missed some of the fun."
But down the street, Lora Wong said she had enough snow growing up in Pittsburgh and didn't feel the need for more. "I wish I had moved farther south," said Mrs. Wong, who has lived here nine years and works for the American Heart Association.
"I don't have any of those charming around-the-fire stories," she said. February is Heart Month, and she was worried that $H yesterday's snow might bode more to come. "The Heart Ball is two weeks from now," she said, "and that's a major fund-raiser."
Of course, this being Baltimore, there was some snow panic, but it was more habitual than heartfelt. Numerous events were postponed yesterday, out of reflex rather than sheer snow terror. National Teacher Exams were postponed throughout the region, and some classes and events were canceled.
Snow forecasts earlier in the week meant stores were crowded Thursday night, with residents foraging for milk and bread. Even so, there were no signs of shortages yesterday.
"I think a lot of people still have bread in their freezer from the last time," said Keith Cowie, a Continental Baking sales representative. He was driving a Wonder Bread truck that can hold about 3,000 loaves, and the blizzard panic was fresh in his mind. Then, he had refilled and unloaded the truck three times a day.
"During that storm I was bringing a rack in with 200 loaves and it was empty before I could get it to the shelves," he said, unloading bread outside a store in the 6200 block of N. Charles St. as casually as if it were summer. "Any other time, you get 6 inches and there's panic. Now, it's nothing."
In Cockeysville, Cranbrook Hardware had stocked up with 300 shovels this week. Sore January muscles had created a big demand for the ergonomically correct, back-saver shovels that sell for around $20, said Dave Hall, a cashier. "We got shipments Tuesday and Friday," he said, "and everything was gone in two hours."
The season had provided Baltimore a rare commodity: experience. For kids, it was great. Tori Weitzel, 8, and her brother, Trey, 7, managed to do the impossible this year. They had started the sledding season on a hill behind the Cockeysville library. Yesterday, they graduated. Afternoon found them soaring, bumping and thumping down the long, magnificent hill in front of Greenwood, the Baltimore County Board of Education building.
"You should have seen me," Trey said triumphantly, "coming down on my green sled." Still unsatisfied after a spectacular crash that left him tumbling down the hill, flipping over as if in a car wreck, he was burying himself in the snow.
"I liked my saucer best," said Tori, whose cheeks were bright red.
Up and down the hill, children and adults slid and laughed.
Snowboarders practiced on a makeshift ramp. Cars drove along the road, just as if it were a regular day.
For once, it was winter in Baltimore, and it was no big deal.