Chicago! What’s up with you??? OK, so the Polar Vortex has slipped from its usual location at the north pole and knocked on our door for an uninvited visit. So 187 million people have been affected by this deadly-cold air mass, leaving us crawling under layers of blankets, reaching for hot spiced wine, and pulling on our bunny-face slippers.
Now I don’t mean to minimize the effects of this deep-freeze we’re experiencing, but we know snow. We know ice. We know wind. We know shovels and snow blowers, and we are especially familiar with sore backs from shoveling multiple times a day to keep up with Mother Nature.
But the last few seasons of mild winters have made us Winter Weather Wimps. We’ve gone soft. We’re bawling like babies because our fingers and toes are cold. Or maybe we just can’t feel them anymore. So what?
Well, we’re entering the crest of this blast, and after tonight the temperatures will re-enter the positive range. So get your act together, Chicago. And while you do, let me tell you what you could be living through on a daily basis — 365 days a year, all year, if you weren’t here in the heart of the Midwest.
The grass is always greener on the other side. And in this case, well, it really is. You could be living in Miami. That’s right. You could be living in a place I lived for 5 flop-sweatty years. A place where the temperature hardly ever reaches below 90 degrees and the humidity level is always one bazillion trillion per cent. Every day is a bad hair day in Miami.
You must understand something about south Florida. Everything there is hotter, sweatier, thicker, larger, heavier, stickier, and much more dangerous to your health than any other area in the continental United States.
I offer a primer on all things Miami, and I want you to read carefully and remember these things the next time you want to start crying about a few flakes of snow.
Upon your arrival to Miami, as you disembark from the plane, you will feel that a giant wet blanket of humidity large enough to cover a football stadium has been draped over you. There is no escape from this blanket — no matter where you turn. There are no exits. You can check out, but you can never leave. It’s the Hotel California of cities.
If you do not live in an air-conditioned building or home, or drive an air-conditioned car, you are destined to be in a perpetual state of drippy, nose-crinkling, over-the-top-offensive sweatiness.
Pianos go out of tune within minutes of being tuned in Miami. Vacuum cleaners are useless on carpeting. Push and shove all you want — that baby’s going nowhere. Showers build up enough mildew on the walls to provide samples useful for a sixth grade biology class. Think you’re gonna be dry after toweling off post-shower? Fool! You never stopped sweating – don’t you understand?
Visit any local high school during outdoor gym class, and watch how the students attempt to run the track. Wait just a few minutes. You will soon observe them drop like flies, one by one, as they try to make it through the second lap.
You want to mow your lawn? Good luck. Just try pushing that lawn mower. You’re better off purchasing a tractor-size cutter if you want to make anything happen there. You say you want to prune your bushes? Well, go right ahead. But you might as well sleep outside, because the branches will have grown back by the time you stepped into your house.
And the animals. Oh, sweet Lord, the animals. The animals — from the tiniest insect to the noblest forest creatures — are mutant forms of their species.
You must be careful never to walk or mow over a nest of red ants. Their hills , subtly visible above ground, cleverly disguise their underground tunnels, which penetrate all the way to middle earth. And they operate in armadas, sending millions of their brethren to cover you from head to foot, stinging you repeatedly with their acid, until you drop in a heap, unconscious, on your front lawn.
Beetles in Miami are the length of an average forefinger. You could put a saddle on them. They are invincible. I crushed one flat with my foot in the kitchen many years ago, covered it with a paper towel, and stepped away for a moment. When I returned the beetle was gone.
Grasshoppers are multi-colored creatures the size of a human hand, and can jump from one side of the street to another. They can even jump over houses.
You know the adage that you probably swallow about 8 spiders over your lifetime, during sleep? Well, you probably swallow 2 or 3 geckos during your life time in Miami. They slip into your bedroom and cling to the ceiling, staring at you, unmoving, waiting for you to fall asleep. You better tape your mouth shut and have clear nasal passages if you want to slumber peacefully.
Have I mentioned the raccoons yet? Raccoons are the size of bear cubs. They are everywhere. We had them in our back yard all the time. My father built traps for them, leaving a piece of meat to attract them. They ate quite well. Another time, my mother sent my father outside to squirt them out of the tree with the garden hose. When he returned to the house and she asked what happened, he reported that they were “licking each other.” During a swim at Cape Florida, I actually watched two raccoons emerge from behind the trees, waddle out to the beach, and help themselves to the refreshments some unsuspecting swimmers had packed. They actually perused the samplings with surprising decorum, quietly exchanging sandwiches, fruit, and potato chips.
And do I even have to mention the sharks? I mean, c’mon. Many years ago the cover of the Miami Herald Sunday magazine showed an aerial shot of the beach at Cape Florida, with circles drawn around three sharks swimming within one hundred yards of the shore. So it’s a very, very dangerous — life-threatening — place.
Now back to Chicago. It’s a little cold here. Yes, the winters are long, dark, bleak, and unforgiving. But that’s the way they’re supposed to be.
And we’re tough. Because we have to be. We have to be tough, and we have to be nice, too, though. We want folks to visit us. We need their tourist dollars. And we want more movies filmed here.
Summer’s a mere six months away. Right now, deal with the snow and ice. Let’s adapt that other adage and say: Slip on the ice three times, get up four.
We are Chicago.
The Cool. The Proud. The Snowmanators.
P. S. Written with a wink to my brother Mike in Coconut Grove, FL