Portland’s Siberian Winter

img_1712Trump is POTUS, we shouldn’t be surprised that winter this year is reminiscent of Russia.

It’s been a very cold and severe – for Portland – winter in the Pacific Northwest.  Normally, we pride ourselves on the secret that the weather here is not what the rest of the country mentally conjures up when they think of my hometown.

It’s really, generally quite mild.

I think that – let’s just give a final nod to politics here before I get into what the last few weeks have been like for me surviving the Snowpocalypse of the ’16-17 winter – this is the worst PNW winter since 2008, a fact the Silver Fox reminded me of a few weeks back as we sat and chatted during our regular Friday morning coffee after Christmas.

“This is the worst it’s been since 2008!” he literally exclaimed.

I replied, “I think we’ll be saying that a lot over the next 4 years.”

img_1657It started off idyllically enough with a nice dusting of snow that began one night as I quietly sipped a nightcap alone at CC Slaughters in Old Town.

I came out to a peaceful and beautiful snowfall that is typical of snow in Portland, namely:  a fine dusting.  Less than an inch of accumulation that is generally gone within 24-36 hours.

Unless

We get freezing rain.

And wouldn’t you just know that in the days preceding Christmas, that’s exactly what happened?  Luckily, my Big Box and Department Store retail days are behind me.  Retail at PDX is different.  People are gonna fly, regardless.  Particularly during the holidays.  So, it was really just a matter of time and cobbling together staffing for my five stores out at the airport during this first hit of what was to be a long and repetitive winter.img_1665

Eventually, this lovely and temporary dusting of snow gave way to an evening of freezing rain and we started seeing icicles and hearing the crust of ice give way as we explored our frosty city.

But still, even the freezing rain was fairly mild.

For freezing rain standards in Portland.  I remember as a kid when we would get inches of freezing rain at a time.  Where we had to chip around our car doors before we could pry them open.

img_1633Not that we should have been driving anywhere!  There was the dreaded black ice to consider.  That shit didn’t fool around.  Coming across black ice while driving pretty much equalled disaster.

But what we got were these basic, tiny lil icicles.  Anyone in Portland, Maine would probably pat our heads and tell us how dear we are if we bothered to complain about it.

Instead, the city just quietly gave up and rode it out.

There was some commuter drama where people couldn’t safely get out of their neighborhoods, given Portland’s policy against salting the roadways.  Not much a snow plow could do against freezing rain, either – and I think Portland owns three snow plows, so anything we tried with a snow plow would be lacking.  Some bus lines were disrupted, at least until they got chains on the buses and then it was really just delays since the buses can’t drive over 55 MPH with chains.  I ride the Max redline out to the airport and didn’t have any problems getting to and from work.

img_1727Myrtle certainly was intrigued by the drifting snow.  But, in true cat fashion, after being let out to explore, was content to investigate from the relatively dry patio area just inside the snow line.

I think what’s pictured at the left is the second round of snow we got about ten days after the first.  Trust me, her curiosity didn’t change, nor did her willingness to trust this curious white stuff covering her summertime snack foliage.

I don’t think curiosity is gonna claim any of this cautious kitty’s lives anytime soon.

So, I guess that puts us into the second wave of snow and freezing rain for the season.  It was much more an exercise in the latter, unfortunately, which does make getting around harder and the city did pretty much come to a halt once again.

Y’know, I have to hand it to the local – and even the national – news services.  Hyperbole has nothing on these guys.  As a fairly unconcerned viewer – since I don’t have to drive in the inclement weather – my biggest concern is whether or not I can walk ten blocks to the Max without falling and potentially breaking myself.  Let’s face it:  I’m at that age where I’m looking at hip damage if I fall just right.  My secondary concern is how difficult it will be for my staff to get into the airport from their geographically scattered homes.  I am forced to face, each year, the reality of the actual weather versus the impact of news shows desperately trying to validate their advertising costs by exploiting each potential weather crisis.  Sadly, I think that most of the failures to get to work result in people hearing the dire forecasts and deciding to fail before they even consider trying to try.

Not that I want my team to risk life or limb.

My boss, after the challenges that the first round of inclement weather created at work, despite the hotel rooms that he arranged for the team, faced the staffing challenges of this second wave of freezing rain a bit more aggressively.  He offered to pick up one of our stranded associates, PLoop, on his way into work.  Being the gentleman that he is, instead of just pulling up and honking to alert PLoop to his arrival, he parks and goes to the door to get her.  He escorts her out to the passenger side of his truck, gets her settled in, closes the door and promptly disappears from sight…ending up under the truck after slipping as he turned to go to the driver’s side door.

Here’s a few cracked ribs for your chivalry, kind sir.

Way to be a dick, Mother Nature.

But does he miss a day of work?  Yeah, but it wasn’t that day.  He toughed it out, made sure business was on track and then left it in our hands to rest up for a couple of days.

But as we come out of snow and ice version two, that’s the worst to report.  We had a couple of cars stuck in their moment, later retrieved.  There was one team member that ended up in a ditch versus rear-ending someone that stopped short.  But all-in-all, we are surviving this as the natural inconvenience that it was.

And I’m not going to lie, around work, my attitude about the seven day forecasts was pretty jaded.  Outside of work, I really didn’t care a whit about the forecast since I can survive pretty well in my little neighborhood regardless of what the weathermen forecast.

So, I have to take credit for what happened next.img_1720

Those crazy weathermen alerted us to 1″-4″ inches of snowfall.

I scoffed.

After a couple of weeks of looming snow with no follow through, I was inured to their cries of any great white snowy wolf.

Rooms at a local airport hotel were, once again, made available by my boss.  I came home, Myrtle needed tending to, after all.

Oh, the hubris.

My carefree appreciation of the snow that finally started falling, hours late, on my way home was a delightful exercise in lonely romance as I walked from the Max stop in Old Town to my home in the North Park Blocks just ten blocks away.

Really, it was gorgeous.

A few hours later, Facebook is losing it’s collective shit as people post pictures about their local snowscapes.

I go to bed.

I wake up to the scene above.  I think I snapped that pic on the way into work the next morning as I headed back to my Old Town Max stop at 3:45 in the morning to catch the 4:04 redline into the airport.

It never came.

Nor did the 4:39.

I decide – along with a few other intrepid commuters – to head over to the Moda Center across the Steel Bridge after the 5:09 fails to show.  I haven’t seen a bus or a train pass by in the hour-plus that I’ve been standing in the snow.  The walk was like hiking the undiscovered country, wherever that might be…regardless, I know know that there is also 9″ of virgin snow there.

Yeah, the weather folk fucked it up again.  Twice the estimated worst case scenario is what I woke up to.  Do you think that this city that doesn’t salt it’s roads was prepared for that?

They weren’t.

So, there I am, hiking epically across Tom McCall Waterfront Park and the lower deck of the Steel Bridge, over to the stairs on the far side of the Willamette River’s Eastside Esplanade.  It’s about a half mile, maybe a little more.  We arrive – and thank god, I’m not carrying a suitcase along like one of our group was, who had travelled up the prior evening on a BoltBus from Eugene, Oregon – at the Moda Center Transit Center to…I dunno…chaos seems too generous a descriptor.  Chaos looks intentional compared to what Tri-Met was giving us this particular morning.

The good news?  There was a train there when we arrived.

The bad news?  It was heading west and I needed to go east to get to work, but…off it goes.

About ten minutes later, a second train pulls up from the same direction.  I look east and can see Max trains lined up at each stop backed up for god knows how far.  What I know about Max service is that there is a depot out in east county that the trains take off from each morning, heading west in a wagon train to begin their eastbound service at around 3:45 each morning.  These were those trains.  This was as much progress as they had made in the first two hours of their commuter service.

The next train pulls up and it’s 5:30-ish at this point.  I consider jumping on and heading west, jumping off at whichever stop in Old Town ends up being closest to my place – the red and blue lines run along First Street in Old Town and the yellow and green lined run along Fifth and Sixth, depending upon which direction they are traveling.  These trains are all blue or yellow.

I decide to wait and if any of the trains that have passed thus far haven’t returned heading east by the time the next train west comes by, I’ll text my boss and give him my apologies.  Two hours in the elements seems like a fair attempt, less than two seemed like I was giving up too easily.  Nonetheless, that next west bound train arrives and still nothing headed toward work.

I stomp across the tracks and sit down, happy to be back in something approaching warmth but a little sad that I’m going to let my team down for this day.

Imagine my conflicted feelings when the overhead speakers announce that this train will be reversing course and heading east toward Gateway Transit Center as a blue line, where anyone (me) wanting to go to the airport can get off and catch a redline to connect to PDX.

But, at least this was progress.

I get to Gateway and de-train.  I’m waiting for the redline to come by…but nothing is happening.  Across the tracks on the opposite platform, I see Tri-Met employees directing people to the blue and green line trains or the buses set up to get them where they want to go.  Nothing on the red line until finally, one pulls up and we all eagerly board after everyone on the train gets off.  For our courtesy – waiting for people to get off before getting on ourselves – we are rewarded with the driver leaving his compartment and getting off the train, stopping at the door before his final step and yelling over his shoulder that the redline was shut down due to weather.

Great.

Off we all get.

Angry.

Stomp across the tracks to the opposite platform, we all do.

We are told that there will be a bus to shuttle us to the airport shortly.  When?  No one knows, so shortly might be a bit of an over promise…

Meanwhile, blue line and green line trains continue to come and go for the next half hour.  A red line shuttle bus pulls up, kicks everyone off and shuts down.  Obviously, none of the Tri-Met employees know what that means.  They just keep telling us to stand in one of two bus shelters and they will let us know when a red line shuttle arrives.

That seems hard to manage.

Almost as hard as 75 people trying to cram into two bus shelters that are made to hold about a half dozen people each.  Maybe 14 people each if we pretend they are phone booths and that we are in college.

Let’s pretend it’s summer at the same time.

Finally, a bus pulls up and the driver yells out the door that she’s going to the airport and that she can take a couple of people.

A couple?!?

As I was not blessed with fitting into one of the shelters, I was first on the bus.  Well, as it turns out, first at this stop.  The bus is packed.  I realize once I board that my inability to see into the bus wasn’t that the cabin was dark, it’s that the windows are near maximum condensation from the dozens of people packed into the bus.  There was, literally, room for four people.

A half hour later, I was at work.  Two hours and forty five minutes after leaving my home.

Jinkies.

I work the day and monitor my commuting options as well as closely as the cancelled flights as the day wears on.  PDX has turned into a hotel.  People dropping their bags wherever and just collapsing in a hopeless heap on our world-famous carpet as their travel plans crumble before their eyes.

img_1724Ten hours later, I decide to give it a go and head home once I hear that Max is up and running again, albeit in a limited capacity.  I’m going to have to take a redline to Gateway TC and then transfer to either a blue or green line to get downtown.  Regardless, Tri-Met gets me to Old Town between the red and green lines in about 35 minutes.  Not much more than my normal commute.

I’ll take it.

Plus, the walk home is pretty easy since this is only snow, but definitely “the worst it’s been since 2008”.

If only everything so “bad” was as beautiful as Old Town was that evening.

img_1725

Things weren’t all unicorns and rainbows, though.  Or should I say reindeer and icicles, given the situation?

The North Park Block trees sustained a good deal of damage from the weight of the snow.  This damage may have been more of a cumulative effect, since a few days after the record breaking snow fall, we got…you guessed it:  more freezing rain.

A Max train derails, further complicating commutes.  Fortunately, Max derailments are a rather non-event, usually manifesting as the first set of wheels leaving the tracks and then stopping the train without fully derailing and toppling the other cars.  The overall impact is that it takes about six hours to jack the train up and guide it back onto the tracks.

This happens a couple more times over the next few days.

I hear reports that four homeless people have frozen to death.

Goddamnit.

It’s like we can’t catch a break, regardless of our socio-economic status, Nature is proving what a leveling device she can be.

Or, equally as likely, hell has frozen over and Trump’s America is hell in this scenario.

The two days after my successful Max ride back into the NPB were my days off.  I was happy to be home and just settle in for a couple days of rest.  I’m not too proud to admit that my aging feet and legs aren’t standing up to either the rigors of my job nor the added pressure of the extreme weather very well, so sitting on my couch and watching Netflix for a couple of days while the world around me thaws is a rather appealing notion.

I get back to work on Sunday and it’s two days of relatively normal business, I think I have one more whacky commute in there where it takes me two and an half hours to get into work, but I’m mobile and things are resuming a quasi-normal routine.  My Regional Director is due in that Tuesday, which is fine, while not “normal routine” it’s not a traumatic event, plus he’s a pretty good guy, so seeing him is actually a nice change of pace!

Except

Yeah, those good old weather people start telling us to brace for the worst yet.  A freezing rain storm coming west from the Columbia River Gorge that will likely bring an inch of ice with it.

Seriously?

Whyyyyyyy?!?!

We wait.  We brace.  We suspect that our RD will cancel.

He doesn’t.

Nothing really happens, anyway.  The temperature has been vacillating wildly all day.  One moment the forecasts are showing freezing rain for a few hours with temps well above freezing, even into the low 40s.  The next, it’s rain for the rest of the day.  Then it’s freezing temps with freezing rain.  While nothing is really happening, we still don’t know what to expect.

Then our RD lands and we decide to go to lunch at one of the airport restaurants with a view of the runways.  As we’re eating, it hits.

Luckily, he was planning to spend the night.

Also lucky, it looks like I’m still able to get home, since I’m monitoring Max traffic into and out of the airport pretty closely.  A couple more hours pass and we all decide to wrap it up and head home.  The weird thing is that in the two hours since lunch, it’s continued to drizzle while alternating between freezing rain and actual rain.

The roadways are clear.

Flights are flying, in and out.

I get on the train only to find out that the last train out has encountered iced over lines a couple stops away.  Until it clears, my train can’t leave.  I wait it out for a few minutes and then decide to grab an Uber.

Surge Pricing.  Naturally.  Sheesh.  Is it worth spending $48 to get home?

I decide to wait a little longer, just to see what happens.

Ten minutes later, I’m tired of listening to the train driver entertain us.  Or attempt to…he’s going on about how we should have built the Max to avoid this type of failure.

I get off the train and heel-toe it over toward the Arrivals island that Uber and hotel shuttles use, checking the app as I go.

Bonus!

The surge pricing is still in effect, but I can get an XL Uber – which is an SUV – for less than an UberX, so I snatch it.

Twenty minutes later, I’m home.

It begins raining later that evening and rains for 24 hours straight.  When I wake up the next morning at 3:00, expecting the worst and preparing to head in and help man the stores, I find perfectly clear streets in my neighborhood.  The warming temperatures and the rain doing their job to expedite the melt.

Praise Cheeses.

I walk to the Max in the drizzle and worry that my transit app is telling me to expect continued delays as there was an equipment failure on the Steel Bridge.  As the train’s 4:04 arrival time comes and goes, I decide to walk it.  This time, instead of going through the Waterfront Park, I just walk up the traffic ramp to the upper deck of the bridge.  I’m passing about 15 City of Portland trucks on my way up and thinking that this must be a fairly large repair.  A suspicion that is confirmed when I get to the lift section of the bridge and am turned around and told that there is no car, train or pedestrian traffic allowed until the repair is complete.

Ok, I know I’ve put on a little weight, but I don’t think it’s fair to lump me into the same weight class as a car or train.

I turn around and stomp down the bridge, thinking I’ll just head into the park and take the lower deck.

Closed.

Balls!

It’s getting onto 4:30 now and I’m frustrated that I won’t be at the airport before our 5:00 latest possible opening time, just in case anyone in the far reaches of the metro area didn’t luck out with the rainfall like I did.  I check Uber and am told that the closest car is 15 minutes away.  Plus, you guessed it…Surge Pricing.

I walk back to the Old Town TC and consider other bridges I can walk across to get to the Moda Center TC and catch a train from there.  The Broadway and Burnside Bridges are my most likely candidates, but they both would take in excess of 30 minutes to get to, traverse and then get back to the Moda Center.  I check Uber again…a car pops up 6 minutes from me.

Mine!

Surge Pricing puts the estimated fare at $46, but it’s totally worth it to ensure the stores all open without incident.

I get to the airport at 5:10, my Uber driver is awesome.  We chat all the way in and I’m sad to get out of her car, but duty calls.  My reward for the expense of a $46 ride into work is a good three hours of productivity before my RD rolls in from his hotel, he treats us to Blue Star Donuts for breakfast and I think everyone on the early team made it into work.

The best part?

It looks like it’s over…at least for now!

Portland’s Siberian Winter

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