Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Commentary: Philly a good place to pretend it's not really winter

With Santa Claus behind us as well as the more readily observed winter solstice, it's time to stop pretending it's not really winter yet.

Winter in South Philly, where shoveled parking spots are protected with lawn chairs.
Winter in South Philly, where shoveled parking spots are protected with lawn chairs.Read moreDAVID MAIALETTI / Staff photographer

With Santa Claus behind us as well as the more readily observed winter solstice, it's time to stop pretending it's not really winter yet.

No more playing guitar on a bench in the park. Not many motorcycle rides for a while. No wearing of shorts and sandals.

But more of some things: Hikes in the woods with the dog roaming off-leash. Watching DVR movies at home starting at 5 p.m. because it's already dark. Hot chocolate.

You could pick worse places to ride out the winter than Philadelphia.

Minneapolis, where my outdoorsy niece just moved, is one - though she will probably love it there. She can deal with Vitamin D deficiency while shopping at the Mall of America and plug her car's engine block into an AC outlet to keep it from turning to solid granite. But I will pass.

Or Miami, for the opposite reasons. I spent two winters there and was underwhelmed by the lack of any visible change of seasons. Eventually the ocean gets too cold for anyone but Canadian tourists to go in, and there are cold snaps, but there has never been a single documented snowflake in Miami - aside from the kind of snow being peddled by Al Pacino in Scarface.

Philadelphia has a real winter with real snow, and it was so real in 1996 that we got 31 inches measured at the airport during a blizzard. But mass transit is decent so you might not have to drive in it.

Many of us here - I count myself guilty of this - try to fend off winter by simply pretending it's not here. You continue wearing a light jacket and sneakers when the high is in the 20s. You drive a sporty rear-wheel-drive car and refuse to use all-weather tires on it, rationalizing that "they do a great job of plowing around here." Which they do in the suburbs and Center City but not really in the more distant neighborhoods.

Then by about February you realize your hands and feet are always numb and you slipped and almost fell several times so you break out the boots and the heavy coat and all the other nonsense.

This is a good time to catch up on family visits. You feast on turkey and all the trimmings and fall asleep in front of the hearth - made woozy possibly, as it turns out, by being in the early stages of carbon monoxide poisoning from the smoke you're breathing.

Time to ease yourself into a good book, like a long, hot bath. My choice this time is the Icelandic saga Njal's Saga, which never addresses being cold all the time but features a lot of pre-Christian Icelanders with names like Uni the Unborn (meaning he was born by C section) splitting each other's heads open with axes.

I am reading it because my wife and I are planning a trip to Iceland and I want to learn about the historic culture.

A friend of mine was there with his non-famous band a few years ago and he said the doorman at Bjork's nightclub ushered them past the line, saying, "These guys are famous," which already sounds good. But he also said he was awoken every night at 4 a.m. by the sound of glass breaking in the street followed by fighting among drunks who had been kicked out of the bars.

So far, this place sounds a lot like Philadelphia.

But there are times of the year when the sun never appears and other times when it's light out around the clock. Which would be kind of like the change of seasons in Miami.

In contrast, here's what awaits us at wintertime in Philadelphia:

The Eagles never make it to the Super Bowl, or even close. People get their cars stuck in the snow and total strangers come swarming out of nowhere to give them a push. South Philly parking spaces are all either occupied or claimed with folding chairs as "savesies."

The governors of both Pennsylvania and New Jersey ban all nonessential workers from traveling on the roadways because there was a blizzard and yet your employer says you must use vacation days if you don't report to work (which has happened to me).

Then eventually something wonderful starts to happen.

The sooty snowpack shrinks. You can now see quite clearly where people have failed to clean up behind their dogs. The crews stop salting the roads so you feel OK riding your motorcycle around again.

The days get longer, and then the time changes and they get much longer.

And you realize you were right all along.

"We are not a snow city," as Mayor Ed Rendell once said in explaining the lack of plowing in the neighborhoods. You don't get a real winter here. You don't even need to own boots or a snow shovel.

Vindication, once again.

It happens once a year - like clockwork.

Robert M. Kelley is an Inquirer editor.