Winter’s the only topic of conversation

Don’t know about you, but I’ve had about as much winter as I can stand for one year.  Normally, I remain true to my Michigan roots and am a real trooper with anything the season throws my way.  Toss another blanket on the bed, wrap the scarf a little tighter around the neck, drive a little slower.  But this winter’s unending snow and sunless days are starting to take their toll.  While I’m not getting seasonal affective disorder (SAD), I am getting MAD.

I’m tired of stuffing kids into snow pants.  I’m tired of mitten disappearances.  I’m tired of shoveling off my car and wasting precious gas warming it up.  I’m tired of calling for fuel oil fill-ups and selling things to pay for them.  I’m tired of snow brooming the dog following potty breaks.  I’m tired of washing salt off my boots and carrying my shoes to work.  I’m tired of hat hair.  I’m tired of finding tracked-in snow with my stocking feet.  I’m tired of paying extra for childcare on snow days.  I’m tired of driving like a drunk to avoid the potholes I know about and then hitting the ones I don’t.

I sometimes think Michigan should be called the Dysfunctional State, because you’ve got to be pretty screwed up to live here and keep tolerating the ever-changing winter weather conditions.  Heck, we don’t just tolerate them, we embrace them.  Probably because they provide important fodder for our winter conversations.  Michiganders are never tongue-tied as long as we have winter as a discussion starter:

“I heard the temperature’s supposed to drop down another 30 degrees by nightfall.”

“Well, the windchill they’re talking about is gonna make it feel 30 below.”

Like a soprano warming up by singing scales, our banter is just a prelude to the real act.

‘You hear about Chet’s pipes freezing?  When Chet and Carol came back from their weekend at the casino their kitchen was completely flooded.”

“That’s nothing.  When my mom was in the hospital having surgery, we brought her home to eight inches of water in the basement and three squirrels in the attic.  Roof had caved in from an ice dam build-up.”

It’s important to note the use of numbers.  Michigan winter one-upmanship requires quantification.  Self-worth is directly proportionate to the level of hardship endured. And while it’s not necessary to actually get out and measure the size of the pothole while you’re waiting for the wrecker to arrive, you should at least come up with a good guesstimate for storytelling purposes.

Once the weather and winter disasters conversation veins are played out, the topic automatically switches to fuel.  Like a hypochondriac on top of his vital signs, native Michiganders can recite the total cost and per gallon price of their last vehicle and/or home heating fill-up.  Those who heat with wood can report with amazing accuracy how many cords they’ve cut and the number of trips they’ve made to fill the furnace.  Mysteriously, no one seems to register snowmobile fuel cost complaints. 

Send someone from Michigan to a more temperate climate and we have nothing to talk about.  Case in point: When I was in Georgia one sunny March attending a wedding reception, a local guest asked me how it was going.  Without winter as a focal point, I had no idea.  Politely excused myself to find a guest from Michigan to whom I could complain about Georgians not being able to drive on even slightly snowy roads.

This brings me to a longtime observation I’ve got about Michigan snowbirds:  Folks who wouldn’t give each other the time of day in Michigan become best buddies once they cross the state line.  They hang out together in the trailer parks of Florida and condos of Arizona, only to ignore one another upon return to Michigan.  Their bonding down south is because they have lost the ability to talk about anything other than winter from November through March. The southerners just don’t want to hear it.

As much as I’d like to keep complaining about winter, I’ve got to end here.  Oil guy is waiting for a check for my $3.479 per gallon fill-up.


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