By Katharine Fronk
Writing for this fine West Virginia publication from an urban Midwest landscape sometimes poses editorial difficulties. For instance, when it's suggested I write about Wild and Wonderful new bands, I'm in the dark. If the topic is strip-mining, I realize it's a huge, complex problem but know no intimate details. And if the prompt is "outdoor life," as it is this month, my most wild experiences take the shape of rats and pigeons, and the closest I've come to camping in the past decade was 2006 Bonnaroo.
Luckily I'm granted a generous amount of editorial interpretation, which I'll accept this month to pontificate on Chicagoans' love-hate relationship with the weather. Obviously, regardless of where you hail from, the daily forecast plays a pretty big role in your life. It doesn't take an expert outdoorsmen to know that pitching a tent in four feet of snow is less than desirable. But for Chicagoans the weather is more than just a force to face with umbrella or snow boots. For this hearty stock of people, the weather affects our daily routine, as well as our attitude, spirit, and ego.
The other day I overheard a late 20-something man from Miami surmise that Chicago was an "intense" city. To him, everyone seemed to throw themselves into something, like rollerblading in short shorts. I'm not sure that this Miamian accurately assessed our kind, as I find Chicago to be pretty laid back and lacking numerous shorts-wearing 'bladers. But I suspect he had encountered what I think is better described as Chicago's collective passion.
Most cities exhibit this trait - some factor that brings the community together. Most times, however, it's a Packer or Met or some other sports figure that imbues an artificial sense of brotherhood.
In Chicago, however, we have a collective passion about weather. And it's not feigned; it's very, very real. We don't board the bus to chat about the weather with our bus drivers or discuss the viability of this week's predictions with colleagues on the elevator because it's the best way to pass the time. If it was a matter of inconsequential small talk, we'd marvel how the Cubs lost yet again or wonder when the goddamn Stevenson construction will ever end. Or even, God forbid, argue about ketchup on our hot dogs.
Windy City dwellers hold a collective passion about weather because it's part of our person - it's variations no different than waking up with a stuffy nose or a mid-afternoon headache. And if this all-consuming, fixation sounds not unlike an abusive relationship, then you're absolutely right. We know that for the majority of the year we're living in awful conditions, and in a sick way we relish it. If we survive October, November, December, January, February, March, April, and sometimes even May - if we soldier on through four-foot snow drifts, 40 m.p.h. gusts off the lake, and sub-zero wind chills, then our cold lover's icy demeanor warms for a few days and never have we felt more wonderful.
For this reason Chicagoans may hate the weather, but we love the challenge, and we're absolutely obsessed with overcoming it to prove ourselves. Withstanding Chicago's four violent seasons of blizzards, tornadoes, 99% humidity, weeks-long stretches of gloomy gray is all justified when we gather (i.e. drink) and reminisce (i.e. brag) about the unforgettable snow storms of 1976, 1999, 2011, and 1979. These conversations enforce our fortitude, explain our toughness, and flaunt our indomitable spirits.
Why, during this insanely mild winter of 2012, has Tom Skilling predicted 2011-rivaling blizzards and Sasquatchuan screamers? Because without these blistering weather events, Chicagoans fear becoming weak-willed, faint-of-heart Floridians. We rely on our weather to prove to ourselves that we're tough. To prove we can survive, and to prove that we deserve summer.
We might not be able to light a camp fire with flint or repel down a mountain's face, but Chicagoans know outdoor life because it's intwined with our indoor life. We are the weather and the weather is us. And without the weather all we have are a few baseball teams, highway construction, and hot dogs.