Of Human Bonding

Waiting for the #18 in Lower Queen Anne

While I was able to resist the temptation last Sunday, I can’t turn away from considering our reaction as a city to last week’s snowfall.

Our responses ranged from legitimate (canceled bus routes on steep hills) to cautious (mid-week school closures) to hypochondriacal (refusing to leave one’s domicile at the first light dusting, convinced that doing so would immediately result in a broken hip and, potentially, the destruction of the universe.)

There were, of course, also the ranks of the jubilant.

Upon returning Sunday night from skiing at Whistler or boarding at Crystal, they delighted in wintry conditions all the way home. For them, last week was merely a pause in between lifts.

I could sense it in the way they wore their puffy Marmot jackets and pom-pommed hats, normally shelved in favor of sport coats and tweed newsboy caps during the week. Beneath their ultra fleece, their eyes and mouths grinned with the kind of frenzied happiness reserved for teams of sled dogs pulling in from a long, icy race.

King Street Station

Smith Tower

Then, there were the rest of us: a menagerie that included the savagely unprepared (bare goosefleshed legs and high heels? Really?), the grossly over-prepared (hand-held heaters and full-on ski outfits? It was 28 degrees, not 28 below) and those who felt a rush of excitement, strapping on the YakTrax and long underwear that they don once or twice a year… sometimes only when it snows in Seattle.

What was more extraordinary than our fashion choices, the ever-changing forecast, or the stillness that made it possible to hear a sled gliding down Queen Anne Avenue, was the brief season of gentility that overtook us. If only for a few days, we became a few shades kinder than before.

Sledders on Queen Anne Avenue

The prior week, I watched a Metro driver turn aside to ignore a passenger who requested the lift due to her injured foot. Upon boarding, she threw both of her crutches at him and yelled curses and lawsuit threats all the way down Third Avenue. This week, drivers made extra stops and waited until every passenger was seated before gently rolling forward, calling out wishes for our safety as we came and went.

Heart-warmed, I watched people offer their hands to elderly women and men gingerly stepping across snowbanks. They gave up seats on busses without hesitation or complaint, and commended drivers for their bravery and navigation skills. Strangers who would otherwise be tapping away at email or playing Angry Birds talked with each other while standing in line for coffee. Customers thanked shop owners and waitstaff for coming into work, glad to have places open for lunch.

Busses on Third Avenue

Even my normally quiet #18 bus found its voice when our driver lost momentum one morning after stopping for a rider on Denny between First and Second Avenue. We held a collective breath as the bus lurched impotently for several minutes—forward a few inches, then nothing, forward a few inches, then nothing—as the tires searched for traction on the slight incline.

The driver surprised us by swinging out wide onto Denny to turn early on Second Avenue rather than Third, realizing that he could use the grade for leverage. As his plan began to work, we cheered him on, chanting aloud, “Yes… yes… You can do it…” When we got going again, the bus exploded with applause and shouts of “Great job, driver!” where we would normally be silent, plugged into our iPods or reading the news, and otherwise generally ignoring each other.

When the driver of a #1 bus let a few of us flag her down several blocks from our stop—which we never would have made in time—I snuggled in between two down-clad passengers and actually enjoyed their proximity. We looked at each other and said good morning, something that rarely happens on any type of transit between total strangers who are accustomed to being (or appearing) busy.

That’s when I realized that, while the blanketing of Seattle might have made us a bit manic, it also made us more obvious to each other. Our routines forcibly wrested from us, we shed our self-described monikers of nice and shy for ones like helpful, friendly, and aware. We made eye contact, we felt jovial, we rolled with uncertain circumstances and made allowances for late arrivals—we were simply happy to have arrived at all.

We were more understanding. We didn’t turn away when someone struggled—we did something to help without being asked. I’d dare say we became a bit more human.

Counterbalance Park

Coming home

With Snowpacalypse 2012 behind us, I’m interested to see how we behave in the near future. The past week demonstrated that we’re all capable of dropping Seattle Freeze during Seattle snow. Yet, even as compressed piles of dirty slush still cling to curbs, it’s raining now—and we know how to deal with that.

After witnessing one act of kindness after another and lending a few helping hands myself, I felt proud to be part of the human race last week. Here’s to believing that our snowtime behavior can continue even into Rainmageddon.

It would be really cool if it did. Hopefully, I’ll remember to take a moment to look up now and then so I don’t miss it.


Sledding down Queen Anne Avenue

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