Tuesday, January 22, 2008

There’s No Business Like SNOW Business

Temperature: -1C
Snow: Yeah, baby! We got snow!

Inclement weather, and how a population copes with it, is one way to characterize that population. I grew up in Central Ohio, for example, where a serious snowfall was a rare thing. Cleveland had the “lake effect,” but Columbus just didn’t get much snow. Even a small amount could result in school closings and general chaos on the roads. My mother, a Minnesotan, used to snort disdainfully at the Ohioans’ inability to cope with snow. Wimps.

In Miami, it was the rain that made life interesting. In the summer, every afternoon, the heat of the sun caused water to evaporate from the Atlantic Ocean on the east coast of Florida. The water droplets formed big, gorgeous clouds, and drifted west, until they hit cooler air or a similar cloud that had formed over the Gulf and drifted east. The point of contact was usually somewhere over my office by the Miami Airport. You could see the storms rolling in over the airport runways.

The other fascinating thing was that these storms were extremely contained. You could be driving south on the Sawgrass Expressway with the top down and not feel a drop of what was POURING onto the northbound lanes. But what amazed me, was although these downpours occurred EVERY day in the summer, Dade Country drivers still freaked out when the pavement got wet. You'd think they had never seen rain before.

So now I’m learning about weather in Moscow. (“She lived in both Miami and Moscow.” I’m sorry, but that sounds exotic, doesn’t it?) And this weekend we got some snow. As it happened, I did not go out until yesterday afternoon when the weather had warmed up some (just below freezing). The streets and parts of the sidewalks were a slushy mess. I say “parts” because Moscow is teeming with people, usually from one of the ‘Stans it seems (Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan . . .). These men and women have beautiful round, flat faces and Oriental eyes, wear day-glo orange jackets, and work like crazy to clean the public thoroughfares.

In the big park we walk through, they sweep off the benches. There is snow on the ground, yet you can sit on a nice, dry bench if you want. They shovel the sidewalks. They chop up the ice. They squeegee.

On a warmer day, the result is that the sidewalks get pretty clean, but the gutters are mountains of dirty snow and oceans of brown, watery slush. I misjudged a step and ended up ankle deep in icy water that seeped through the zipper on my boot.

Today Skittles and I saw a man with a snow shovel with a reeeeeally long handle, leaning over the roof of the KGB building and cleaning snow off the ledges. The sidewalk below him was blocked off, as are all sidewalks featuring excessive dripping, icicle crashing, or roof avalanches, with red and white plastic crime scene tape. Liability? No problem: you have marked the hazard with tape.

But aside from the manpower, there’s great Russian snow technology. Snow blowers? We don’t need no stinkin’ snow blowers. Okay, we got ‘em, but we have so much more.

There’s a brand new Metro stop (Trubnaya) at the end of the park. The entrance to this Metro is not only clean, but also dry. Yesterday afternoon I figured it out. Walking toward it with the sun in my face, I could see the steam rising off the pavers: it’s heated! The walkway into this Metro stop is heated, and since there are steps to go down, this means they will not be slippery and treacherous. How cool is that?

Then there are the Melting Machines. Trubnaya Plaza is a big intersection. It’s so big that people park in the center of one of the cross streets. It’s hard to describe, but think of parking in the grassy median of a boulevard.

Except there is no grass. Only pavement. And now there is no parking.

All the snow that got scraped up off the streets nearby has been deposited in mountains two stories high where the cars normally park. Portable barricades protect the mountains. Earthmovers have replaced the cars. Workers scoop up the snow with the earthmoving equipment and dump it into giant movable heating units. Melting machines. From Canada! It says so on them.

The machines, about the size of what is on the back of a cement mixing truck, steam, and melt the snow into a nasty Slurpee consistency, which then pours out of the heating unit and down into the storm sewer. As the day progresses, a lot of the slush misses its mark and runs down the street, making the gutters at this intersection particularly unpleasant.

That’s when cars flying by plow through the puddles spraying the intersection with grey Icee. Yuck. I'm learning to stand at the corner the way the Russians do: not too close.


Penny Lane said...

Hi and all the best for your first month of your new born russian blog!
It is slowly taking the shape of a novel: you have many colourful characters, your daughters, people from the street, nice corean lady and today, the nature and the snow.. Tolstoj would approve :)

Are you reading any russian novels by the way?

A big AHOJ from Bratislava :) We had sun and 14!!! degrees on sunday.. no sidewalks to mind here!

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