John Kelly's Washington -- Surviving the Snowpocalypse

Feb 05, 2010

Post Metro columnist John Kelly was online every Friday to chat about the people and stories that don't make the front pages, plus his latest columns.

Plunging temperatures. Crippling snowstorm. Paralyzed infrastructure. Where have we seen this movie before? "The Day After Tomorrow"? No, a little over a month ago, during the last big, snowy weather system that chose to dump its load over Washington.

When I emerged from the Metro around 10:45, the flakes were already falling, very tiny flakes, as if the storm wants to conserve its energy. Since it's basically going to be snowing for the next 12 hours, at rates of up to two inches an hour, you can see why.

But we've had plenty of warning for this one. It's coming on a weekend. We've already had some practice. Shouldn't be a big deal, right? Right?

One creature who won't have to fret about the snow is Tai Shan, who got out while the getting was good. He's already over in China, presumably watching panda porn. Can you believe the nerve of the Chinese keeper who will be responsible for Tai Shan. "Americans are too emotional about Tai Shan," said Wu Daifu. Yeah, well you guys eat tiger penises.

Here's one way to stay warm this weekend: Engage in what the British call a little slap and tickle.  Sounds like it was more slapping than tickling going on in that Bethesda house, the site of BDSM--bondage, domination, sadism and masochism--parties. Paul Duggan's story is a hoot, though one of my favorite quotes was in the Examiner yesterday:

"Susan Wright, a spokeswoman for the coalition, said [the BDSM organizer]  is 'kicking himself' for making the events appear as though they were commercial enterprises, when they were intended to be parties among friends."

I'll bet he's kicking himself. And scratching himself. And whipping himself.

And if they're masochists, why don't they just try to drive on the Metro?

Let's get started. This is my first time using this nifty new chat software, so bear with me.


Oh, and I have to leave the chat a little early for my live Webcast from outside The Post HQ. I'll give you a link before the chat's over. Be sure to tune in at the top and bottom of the hour, starting at 1 p.m.

John, I'm bored. I can't leave for another half hour or so. Will you entertain me?

Sure. Right now I'm tap dancing while spinning plates and singing "O Sole Mio," which is pretty funny, since I don't know the words.

The idea of this chat is that we entertain each other. So: What's the stupidest thing you've ever done in the snow? Mine was slam on the brakes in my car because I was curious what a skid felt like. I came about a micron from wiping out some parked cars.

John, I'm sure you were as dismayed as I was to see the comment in today's paper from the heartless Chinese pandakeeper who said that Americans are too emotional about Tai Shan. Well! I know that pandas in China are as abundant as squirrels here, scampering adorably about and stealing your sandwiches when you're eating lunch in the park, so clearly the Chinese don't appreciate them properly. Seems to me that Mr Obama needs to wrap up business in Iraq and Afghanistan and mount a decisive campaign to liberate the pandas of China from their callous oppressors. Then we could set them up in a nice refuge in Fairfax County, preferably by booting out a bunch of Republicans.

Exactly! Between the trade policies and the Google snooping and getting bent out of shape over arms sales to Taiwan, why shouldn't we just have at the Chinese. This ends here. This ends now. (Of course, it could be the world that ends here and now.)

John, PLEASE let the tech folks know that their revolving photo sets revolve too quickly. I've taken speed-reading lessons, and I usually can't get through a caption and click the story link before it changes. (Let alone actually look at the photo.) I know I can go back, but the screen usually refreshes immediately afterward and I'm back where I started. And the general sense of flashing lights is just annoying.

Are you reading, tech folks? I feel the same way. At least there are those little FFWD and REVERSE buttons, which took me a while to find. There's probably some reason they cycle through quickly, having to do with maximizing clicks or something.

I thought I'd write early as by the time your actual chat rolls around I plan to be huddling in the cellar with my family and our bottled water, flashlights and extra batteries, first-aid kit and canned goods. The return of the pandas strikes me as strange. I understand that they've only been on loan, but it seems as though they've been here for as long as I can remember (which granted, covers a shorter period with each passing day). They've been to the National zoo what the Marlboro Man was to cigarettes or the original Sunkist Girl was to raisins, or Aunt Jemima is to pancakes. Now what will the Zoo promote as its main attraction? Zebras? Well I'd like to continue, but it's time to return to my citizens band radio for the latest updates on the weather... I look forward to reading your chats in the future, should there BE a future after this weekend's apocalypse!

I think soem deal will be struck to keep Mei Xiang and Tian Tian here. As you said, they've become a fixture. And as much as I'd like to see the naked mole rats become the face of the National Zoo, I don't think it's going to happen. There is a lot of funky Chinese stuff going down in the city, but Beijing would look awfully bad if they pulled the pandas in a fit of pique. 


Now, it would help if Mei Xiang would just get pregnant again....

Are we all overreacting?

About Tai Shan? Probably. Mike Ruane's story the other day about the lady obsessed with the pandas was probably an example of someone going a bit overboard. As were the people supposedly sobbing as Tai Shan was carted off. 


But I assume you're talking about the storm. Are we overreacting? We'll know by this time tomorrow. The weather people have expressed a degree of confidence about this storm that I've never seen before. They're saying things like "100 percent chance of snow." There would certainly be egg on their faces if they're wrong, but they said it would start snowing around now, and guess what, it's snowing.

I haven't heard much about storm preparations from BGE? Do they expect problems?

I think they do, at least according to the BGE Web page, which says:

BGE Urges Customers to Prepare for the Potential Winter Storm
Hundreds of BGE field and office personnel have been placed on standby should the snow storm forecasted for Central MD cause power outages in BGE’s service area. BGE strongly encourages customers to prepare for a severe winter storm.  In the event that roads are hazardous delaying crews arrival, customers may experience extended outages.

I am like a child waiting for Christmas with this snow storm. I can't wait for it to start. Even though my back already hurts and the shoveling won't make it any better, I still can't wait.

Hire a neighborhood kid. We've decided to do that with this storm, for the first time ever. Usually we do it ourselves. This time, it's worth it to us to spare our backs, knees and ankles.

I stocked up on oatmeal and spurtles.

Do I want to know what a spurtle is? It's not something I'd find at a kinky Bethesda BDSM party, is it?

Some see the big snow storms as evidence that "global warming" doesn't exist. But doesn't the more accurate term "climate change" include changes of all types? I have seen politically-motivated individuals opine on this, but not scientists. Of course, it can't be a coincidence that D.C. is being crippled by storms twice in one season since Obama took office.

Right. Climate is not the same thing as weather. Weather is the stuff that rains on you occasionally. Climate is the long-term atmospheric behavior of the planet. It seems pretty clear to me that humans have affected climate, which over time does affect weather. We can't say, "Oh, it's cold and it's snowed a lot this year, therefore global warming is bull."

John, By the time you read this I may already be snowed under. OK, probably not, it doesn't look like it's doing anything out there as of 10 a.m. Shopping at Safeway on King Street near Fairlington last night was actually kind of fun. People were being nice and joking with strangers. Plus they had plenty of milk and bread left as of 8 p.m. I'm told things were less cheery elsewhere -- with people running for the last loaf of bread,  etc. I think overall this storm will be memorable although I am not sure city shutdown at noon (fed govt) is warranted. Oh well I will enjoy my 4 hours off!

Did anyone try to go to the store last night? Or this morning? The Whole Foods on P Street NW supposedly looked like the fall of the US Embassy in Saigon last night. We didn't bother doing any stocking up. I mean, wouldn't you normally be able to get through--what?--two days without going to the store? Why should the snow make a difference?

Do you already have plans on how to spend Snowmaggedon? My friends at the Newseum tell me they'll be open Saturday and Sunday, no matter the accumulation. I went for the first time a few weeks ago. Yes, it's pricy, but it's very cool. And you may have the place to yourself.

Show off by standing up on my sled to surf down Big Hill. Worked great until the first bump.

And now you walk with a limp.


Okay, who out there stuck his tongue to a lamp post?

Hi John, After reading the story in today's paper on the BDSM party organizer who was busted for zoning violations, I wondered whether MoCo's finest will also be cracking down on Pampered Chef and Mary Kay parties. To my mind, those are even more disruptive and annoying. I would much rather get a "party invitation" from Paul Pickthorne than from the bored mommies in my neighborhood looking to make a quick buck off me.

Hah! Good point. But do people who go to Mary Kay or Pampered Chef (and now that's striking me as kinky: Care to let me whisk your eggs?) pay an admission fee? Or do they merely place orders for merchandise that is delivered later?

I am familiar with different Asian cultures through many in-laws and my boyfriend. The loved ones may express emotion to you or their silence may seem harsh. Different cultural expressions of emotion are fine although it is understandable to me why Americans might feel offended. I was offended often at first. I think the pandakeeper was more forward and stated something that many might think but not say in China.

And at least he was honest. I think a lot of people would have given some boring boiler plate answer.

In this case, ice...I was in third grade, and thought it would be a good idea to go on the monkey bars while wearing gloves. One broken arm later, realized not such a good idea.

I once returned home from a long, white-knuckle drive in the snow. The heat hadn't worked in my car and I was freezing, eager to get into my apartment. As I juggled my belongings I stuck my ignition key in my mouth to free up my hands. It burned like a red-hot poker and when I ripped it from my tongue I noticed it had left a perfect key-shaped scar. Luckily, the tastebuds grew back.

Cars don't even have keys anymore. We had a loaner Mini Cooper last week and it had some orb that you stuck in an orifice on the dashboard before pushing a button. Weird.

Where's your hat???!!! Please bring back the hat. State College, Pa.

Whaddya mean? Does the chat page have a different photo or something? I'm trying to decide which hat to wear in the snow. Maybe one of those Russky fur things.

I keep reminding myself it's going to be bad, but it's hard when it's been snowing well over an hour, and the snow isn't even sticking on my car (which hasn't been driven since last night, so it's not like it's warm).

You think it might be a bust? That's what they said about Hurricane Katrina--at first.

No admission fee...but you do pay for things you order there. It's delivered later.

Maybe that's the difference.

Why do people need to buy a ton of snow shovels at every sign of snow? I haven't bought one for years  -- the day will come when I need another one.  I expect a few people may need a new one since the last snow- - but the panic to buy 3 or 4? I just don't understand it. Unless it just makes for good TV during the continual "snowmageddon '10" coverage. But, how many shovels does a person need?

That sounds like a koan: How many shovels does one man need? And what is the sound of one hand shoveling?


Maybe all those people are newcomers to Washington, transplants who arrived from Jacksonville or San Diego. They're the ones you see scraping their car icy windows with a CD jewelbox.

John, great story about Tai Shan. . . thanks for sharing yesterday. Did he give you any insight of his time in Washington? About the weather, this weekend's weather forecast is partly cloudy, with temps in the mid - upper 60's. What is this "SNOW" you peeps are talking about? I also went shopping and was in/out of PUBLIX in less than 10 minutes.

To be honest, all Tai Shan wanted to talk about were his mating prospects. He knew he was going to be sitting next to that Georgia panda for the entire flight and he kept asking me, "Do I have any bamboo in my teeth?"

That the giant panda is the only bear not hunted for its gallbladder? This came up in a water cooler discussion about what Tai Shan tastes like.

The only bear not hunted for its gallbladder? What, they just throw it away? That sounds wasteful.

If it's not the CD case, it's the really little scrapers that do nothing, but get you cold and snowy.

That was one good thing about cassettes: Those cases worked pretty well. Just try scraping your windshield with an iPod. It always ends in tears.

Think about the reason China wants him in his ancestors' homeland. Tai Shan is a young man full of testosterone, leaving home for the first time to meet eligible women, and the Chinese jungle is essentially a singles bar for pandas. He might have spent the flight primping himself like the guys on "Jersey Shore." Imagine him cruising the jungle while sexy music plays in the background. "Hey baby, I'm new in town. How about you show me around? My Chinese is a little rusty - how about a little private tutoring?"

Exactly, though apparently he has a few years to wait. What would his nickname be? The Diplomatic Situation? The International Incident? Black and White and Sexy All Over?

You're stuck on a treadmill.. Sorry, that's that stupid commercial on TV. OK, here it is. You're stuck at home with 10 feet of snow (think Valdez, Alaska) dumping on the house in the last 36 hours. Which would you rather run out of instead of massive Shackleton expedition to the story (you know is closed).. 1. Butter 2. Coffee 3. Batteries for the remote 4. Bread 5. Eye liner 6. Cat food There is a secret psychobabble answer hidden in the above. See if you can spot it. Thanks much. HLB

I don't want to know why I'd need eyeliner in a snowstorm, so I'm happy to run out of it. That or cat food, since I don't have a cat.

I went to the Kensington Safeway this morning around 9:15. It was pretty crowded, but everyone was in a good mood. A woman in front of me in line told me that someone stole a loaf of bread from her cart at Costco last night, though!

I was at Union Station this morning, changing a train ticket to New York from tomorrow morning to this evening. Loooonnnng line. People were in pretty good spirits, but they kept announcing that trains were full: first all the trains till 2. Then all the trains till 4. You could see the crowd getting restless. A mob can turn in an instant.

I'm not sure what made for better reading this morning on the commuter bus - the article on the Brit throwing sex parties in Bethesda, or Jenny Sanford not recognized "jerk" traits when she saw them.

I tell you, that British guy, Paul Pickthorne, sounded delightful. Weird, twisted, but delightful. And can that be his real name? Perfect for a masochist. The only thing better might be "Pickaxe."


As the Everly Beothers would say, poor Jenny. I wonder if she felt she couldn't do any better.

Yes, different picture at the top of the chat. You're wearing an orange shirt. No hat. Please bring back the hat. State College, PA

The sad thing is, that photo looks like me.

My paper was a little late this morning (arrived 6:10am) but it included the weekend inserts & the tv guide. My compliments to the Post's Circulation Dept for thinking ahead!

Same for us. Smart, huh? I'm not sure many people will be reading the physical newspaper tomorrow. That's why we have a Web site!

Incidentially-Pampered Chef's Kitchen scraper is pretty good for getting ice of the car.

I hope that's all you use it for.

"the panda is the only bear not hunted for its gall bladder" Maybe because IT'S NOT A BEAR. It's more closely related to the raccoon. John, if anyone can start a movement to clear this up, you can. Obviously having Tai Shan around for all this time didn't set the record straight.

My editor sent me a great article by Alan Beattie in the Financial Times. It began: "More sinister than Opus Dei; more money than the US National Rifle Association; more lobbying power than French farmers. Every week, the worldwide panda industry strikes another blow for soft-headed sentiment over rational cost-benefit analysis."


His point was that pandas were overrated--and weird: "They are also famously bad at sex. Even in the wild pandas do not mate much, and those in zoos are often so uninterested they have to be shown panda pornography first. Sceptics can look this up on Google.

"Little wonder no respectable family of animals wants them. For a while zoologists reckoned they were distant relatives of raccoons. Now, no doubt after lavish "research grants" to laboratories from the panda industry, they think they are bears. Clearly, though, they have 'raccoon' written all over them: solitary, furry, black and white, superficially cute but fundamentally vermin."



The British are subtle, aren't they?

On the day of Super Bowl 1976, I was at a musket match in Winchester, Va., in the snow and cold (WaPo did an article about it in the Sports section). Then on President's Day 1978 (IIRC) we were going to do a Rev War reenactment at Fort Ward and had a bunch of folks staying at me apartment in Alexandria. That was the year of the Great President's Day Blizzard and we ran out of beer. I trekked up to the local Try 'N' Save. They only had a few employees show up, and were only letting people in one at a time. And they were oout of beer!

There are few things sadder than a man with a musket, but no beer.

Snow-mageddon? Is there a storm naming contest going on somewhere. I vaguely remember reading about one somewhere. What would you pick?

I like SnowMG, or SnowMyGod. Though if it fizzles, maybe SnowTF might be more appropriate.

Oh, you're not married? And if so, what did you do with your wife's cat? Dump it outside in the snow?

Cut it open and climbed inside to stay warm. Desperate times require desperate measures.

Hey John,the Ford Administration form 1975 called...they want their wardrobe back! Did you dress in the dark before this photo was taken? Woof!

I'll have you know that that is a bespoke suit made by a Hong Kong tailor and I challenge you to find another like it in Washington. As for the shirt, I think it was Halloween.

The kids in my neighborhood don't seem to be very enterprising. In 15 years of living in my Ellicott City condo I have only had kids ask once to shovel and then they had to borrow my shovel and when I finally got it back, it was not my shovel. It looked like mine but was smaller and I never got my real shovel back.

Must have been elves. They're always doing things like shrinking peoples' shovels.

I've found a new item to add to the bread, milk and TP list: frozen pizza. I just came from a trip to the grocery store (not a pretty scene, BTW) where predictably the TP isle was ravaged. But, also the frozen pizza section looked like it was hit by a busload of college kids at 2am. Snowpocalypse rules!

Just pray your power doesn't go out. Hard to cook a pizza on a barbecue.

I have a 4WD vehicle and managed to dig myself out the Monday after the Dec. 19 storm. An elderly neighbor, whom I did not know well, saw this, called and said she "desperately" needed to go to the grocery store. I agreed to take her, even though I did not need anything myself. The store was mobbed so the trip took over 2 hours. Bottom line, all she bought was a carton of cigarettes! Am I wrong to feel, shall we say, a bit put out by this? I said, I would not have brought you if it was only to buy cigarettes; but I figure all this did was insure she will also buy eggs and milk, too, if she finds herself in a similar situation. If this happens next week,, do you think I am justified in refusing to help her? I realize she has the right to kill herself, but resent her making me an unwilling accomplice under such difficult circumstances.

In future are you going to ask what she wants to get?

Once I went out with my dogs in West Hyattsville to the park on a very snowy, freezing cold morning. My dog went across the frozen creek but coming back over it the ice cracked and he fell in. I crouched and tried to reach him on the ice and fell in too. I was up to my eyes in dirty creek water!! I didn't panic, grabbed him and swam over to the snowy dry land. We now had to run a mile to the car. Yes, I was soaked in winter coat, hat and  gloves, boots and all. Imagine getting out of my car and walking into the house like that. Funny, but I did not have a second thought of going in to rescue him. Am I crazy?

Yikes! Could've ended very badly.

Unfortunately, Safeway was out of melons.

And on that note, I think I need to end this chat and head out into the maw of the storm. Remember, starting at 1 I'll be popping up every half hour on In fact, if you walk by, I might stick a microphone in your face.


Thanks for stopping by and be careful out there.

Stay tuned.....

In This Chat
John Kelly
John Kelly's column "John Kelly's Washington" appears Sunday through Thursday online and in The Post. He blogs at "John Kelly's Commons." He started at The Post in 1989 as the deputy editor of the Weekend section. Since then he's edited Weekend, founded KidsPost and been a general assignment reporter in Metro. He drives an old sports car and plays the drums -- though not at the same time. He lives in Silver Spring, where he has one wife and two daughters
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