Sunday, 2006-02-12 | Classic Gin
The latent Anglophilia that will never entirely vanish from New England inspires many of its residents--both natives and those who have chosen to relocate here--to participate in a bizarre, nonsensical worldview that I never want tounderstand.
The minor snowstorm of yesterday and the day before confirms this: this is this atavistic tendency in New Englanders to regard themselves as provincial that, though it is but a vestigial bit of an obsolete worldview, causes them to make all manner of foolish decision. Most of them--including the ones responsible for the maintenance of New England's various municipalities--have it in their head that they're an outpost of civilization and that the disorder in which
their municipalities are mired is some kind of mark of distinction: they're wholly convinced that there is something sweet and fitting about having to wait for the snow to melt before life can return to normal.
There is a thing that New Yorkers--those born in the city and those who are natives of some other place but nevertheless favor that reeking dung-heap--despise about Chicago and can never put out of their exceedingly narrow, contentious little minds. That thing that they forever hold against the City of Big Shoulders is its reputation for industriousness and as a "city of industry." It has been pointed out to me by a certain, good friend that while New York is the
city that never sleeps because its denizens are out debauching themselves until all hours in a paradoxical attempt to demonstrate that they are somehow more artistically or culturally relevant than anyone else in the world by behaving like college kids, you can periodically catch Chicago with both eyes closed: people work in Chicago and it is a place that is very self-conscious about its work ethic and its status as a city.
These New Englanders--victimized by a more virulent strain of New York envy I've ever seen in Chicago's seediest hipster hot spots (places like Clark's, etc.)--participate in all manner of stupidity in order that they might not think of themselves as workers or pieces of a machine: they all want desperately to emulate New York's trademark sense of social primacy, i.e. to gaze haughtily down their noses at people whose work ethic is more refined and cultivated than their sense of self-importance, that they run their municipalities into the ground as a point of procedure.
Rather than making provisions to ensure that things like the rule of law and the subjugation of nature persist in spite of snow storms and blackouts, New Englanders prefer to romanticize things like chaos and precipitation in order to bolster and legitimate their own morbid senses of self-worth. Yesteryday and the day before, there was a minor storm. It dropped maybe a foot and a half of snow and left drifts up to two or two and a half feet high (in the worst parts). It happened over a weekend and took place mostly in the middle of the night on Saturday and the early afternoon on Sunday. In a city--that is in a place where the municipality is keenly aware of its responsibility to reinforce the wafer-thin membrane between order and chaos--that sort of thing doesn't amount to a hill of beans.
In New England, however, where uniqueness for its own sake is more important than anything else, this was cause for self-celebration. You could see it in the press reports: "Nor Easter causes white-out conditions on East Coast." You could see it on the network news: "A low pressure system is going to bury New England in up to 16 inches of snow this weekend." You could hear it in the idle talk (as if there were anything but idle talk from these people): "I don't know--I might not be able to do anything tomorrow because of the Nor Easter."
The facts of the matter, however, were not nearly as exciting. There was no white-out (i.e. the snowfall was not so severe that a substantial loss of visibility occurred). The so-called "Nor Easter" allegedly dumped more than 30 inches of snow on the distant backwaters of New Jersey and CT--New York made headlines when it reported a 26.9 inch total--and New Englanders everywhere congratulated themselves on having been immobilized by nothing less than a natural disaster.
Having spent most of my life in a city where the first flake of snow to hit the ground causes a fleet of trucks to blanket the entire Chicagoland area in an inch of rock salt, I perhaps am totally unequipped to glory in being crippled by a modest snow storm. To hear these people tell it, however, a minor snowfall that cripples your municipality is cause for celebration.
The fact of the matter is that the vainglorious, atavistic sense of self-importance that is so important to New Englanders is the primary cause for this kind of celebration. If 30 inches of snow fell on Chicago in one evening, the morning commute might be 30 or 40 minutes slower on the following day. And not because we're harder workers or more determined to holler for a dollar or anything like that.
No, the difference is that we're embarrassed when things like weather cause our meticulously cultivated systems to break down. It's this weird idiosyncrasy that some people have: they don't enjoy telling reporters and news crews that their civil engineering and city planning has been rendered ineffective by a minor meteorological disturbance. They actually consider that an admission of failure rather than a celebration of uniqueness.
But then again, we do live in the "second city" and we are nothing more than the witless rubes whose stubborn tendency to defend our backwater home is what gives us away in mixed company.