Spring came to Boston this week. Not spring as in, “The calendar says it’s spring,” or “I see a flower,” but rather, “My body feels warm for the first time since September.”
Two days before May finally arrived to parole us Bostonians, it was 43 degrees outside. People wore hats and scarves outdoors and shivered indoors. April is the worst month of winter here because it retches up winter's final dregs. If ever there was a winter Bostonians needed to be over already, it was the winter of 2015, the city’s snowiest on record. Nine feet of snow fell on Boston, most of it during a desperate, concentrated few weeks between late January and early March. We fought back in pyrrhic fashion, blasting the streets with 114,113 tons of salt and plowing 316,031 miles in the City of Boston alone. The snow mounds—as tall as people, spilling off sidewalks to narrow traffic by a half-lane on each side—looked by the end like dirt piles and were full of wet garbage.
The price for those original, shimmering urban snowscape photos during the blizzards? Blinding whiteout conditions. At least three people were killed by snowplows between February 2 and 22, when the most suffocating storms were blanketing us. And they weren’t sitting in their cars when the snowplows struck them. Two of the three had just finished their shifts at the grocery stores where they worked. They walked out of the stores to their deaths.
The snow laid bare every weakness a person had, in every area of life. Relying on hourly wages to make rent? Your shifts are canceled. Tough commute? Triple or quadruple it, with the added possibility that you will never actually arrive at your destination. Just found out that your spouse has been having an affair? You’re about to be snowed in together for days on end. Not content to trust the anecdotal horribleness, an MIT student developed a mathematical formula to quantitatively prove winter of 2015 was the city's worst ever.
Now, as the weather has eased and we can confirm that grass still exists, a special breed of Bostonian is emerging. These people are willing to admit something they’ve kept to themselves for the last four months: They loved the endless blizzard of 2015. They would have been happy to receive more snow.
Like Meg Barber, an administrative assistant at Children’s Hospital, who estimates that colleagues and friends castigated her twelve separate times for expressing her glee. “It’s not like I would bring it up,” said Barber, “but people would look at me, waiting for me to say something.” Bostonians love to talk about snow, and Barber was unable to lie. On snow days, she made snowmen and played board games with her fiancé. The weather increased, rather than obliterated, her happiness.
This kind of joy cut deep into New England's longstanding custom of dutifully savoring all possible misery.
Here is a brief but relevant lesson in Boston etiquette. When riding an elevator with strangers, there are only two acceptable topics of conversation: (1) weather and (2) the elevator itself. If you’re in an elevator in greater Boston in May and someone comments on the good weather, the proper response is: “We deserve it!” If you don’t respond with the words “deserve” or “earned,” you failed at that conversation.
How can spring be earned if winter wasn’t atrociously difficult work? In their admissions of joy, blizzard-lovers threatened the very social fabric of the city.
It’s not that they denied the horrors. They knew. The winter of 2015 was the most destructive in Boston's long and cold history. Thousands of roofs leaked or caved in. People waited hours for trains and buses that never came, standing in lines that wrapped street corners while it was snowing. Governor Charlie Baker and Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority manager Beverly Scott, the two most essential crisis managers in the state, set the tone when they engaged in a public battle over transit shutdowns, which included references to “50-year-old [train] cars” and “God Junior.”
By jeopardizing commutes, the snow thus threatened Boston’s favorite pastime: work.
I’m a case in point. One afternoon, late to a meeting for work, I rushed into a train station and slipped on the stairs. When I finally stood up, I was covered in subway filth and had snow-melting salt rocks lodged in my palm. I’d hit my ear so hard on the railing, it rang for the next two weeks.
At this point, one good option would have been to call a friend and share sympathy hot chocolates after a hot shower. Instead, I waited on the platform, shivering and dirty. The train never came. After 20 minutes, I learned the meeting was canceled. I walked 40 minutes home to my dark apartment, where the ceiling was caving in and the light fixtures were drooling smelly, rust-colored water. My ground-floor unit was completely encased by snow, rendering my door useless. The drifts at my windows were so high, I didn’t have to draw the curtains. This was my experience of the winter of 2015: pain, discoloration, and endless inconvenience.
Meanwhile, the other breed was quietly joyful. Claudia Paraschiv, for example, was walking along a freshly shoveled sidewalk path in Salem, Massachusetts, when she had a revelation: “Snow bank paths are the ultimate in mindfulness and walking meditation.” Shoveled paths are usually about two feet wide and treacherous. It’s easy to slip, and when you encounter another person, one of you has to volunteer to step into the waist-high snow bank. Paraschiv came to see this reality as a gift. She had to stay fully focused on the present to keep from falling. The confinement limited her choices. She was on the only path available, and she found she could love it.
Then there’s Cedric Douglas, Boston’s preeminent public artist. He was in his studio during the blizzard of 2013, reading angry Facebook statuses, when he had an idea: Snow monsters. He went out with his spray paint cans and made monster faces on snow banks.
Now, Bostonians become a little undone over graffiti. To be specific, the City of Boston keeps a small fleet of “Graffiti Buster” trucks, each marked with a picture of a spray paint can that’s been circled and crossed out.
Unfortunately for the Graffiti Busters, Boston hasn't outlawed the painting of snow banks. The winter of 2015 let Douglas take his snow monster project to the next level. He painted some 40 of them on snow mounds around Boston. The news and social media noticed. He was even hired to paint a snow monster for an event at The Lawn on D.
“I liked this winter because it was a chance to slow down the rat race of society,” Douglas said.
My neighbor, a psychologist, worked straight through the winter of 2015. She was overburdened with emergency appointments. She told me that her clients’ main complaint was workplace competitions over who could outdo the snow, and who could pull a 60-hour workweek in a blizzard. People snow-shamed folks the weather stymied. We’re not talking hourly workers here, or emergency room nurses. We’re talking salaried employees who could have called into meetings or cancelled them altogether. Boston, everyone.
I would have been one of those to scold Meg Barber for her board games and snowmen back in February. Now I sort of admire her and this odd club she and the others formed. Beyond some basic privileges—flexible jobs, good health, and stable housing—loving snow was mostly a matter of perspective for them.
At 14, Pope Carlos moved from the tropical Philippines to Minnesota, and on to Boston as an adult. He had a fantastic time this winter. His logic was simple: “In Minnesota, people take snow for what it is, so when it happens, you just enjoy it.”
I’ve never been to Minnesota, but it sounds very nice. There, nobody spoils your terrible time.