It’s snowing, a condition that terrifies most of us in the central Puget Sound region because snow falls so infrequently. We like looking at it, but prefer that it stay in our mountains where it belongs.
Now retired, I can finally smile when I see the snow. For years, one of my job responsibilities was to try to wake up when the phone rang at four a.m. with the news that school was closed for the day or starting late. I then recorded, remotely, in the comfort of my pajamas, a message for the “Snow Line.” A colleague, an early riser, later saved me from the four o’clock wake-up call by volunteering to record the message.
After this welcome reduction in responsibilities, my snow day job consisted solely of answering calls and emails from the fifty percent who were unhappy with whatever decision — close schools, keep schools open, start late — the superintendent had made. Making a call that pleased everyone was virtually impossible, which is why on snow days I found correspondence in the department email inbox such as, “What are you people smoking there? You are complete idiots. That was the dumbest decision I’ve ever heard.” It turns out that people who leave messages like this don’t expect them to be read and certainly don’t anticipate a reply. I wrote a polite response and later enjoyed reading the writer’s attempts to backpedal: “I didn’t realize my email was going to a real person. I didn’t expect a response. I didn’t mean to sound so nasty. Thanks for getting back to me and clarifying the situation.”
Another time a man called and asked to speak to the a…hole who made the decision. We transferred his call to the assistant superintendent whose decision it had been. He picked up his phone and said, “You’re talking to the a…hole who made the decision.” I suspect the caller was as taken aback with the response as my emailer seemed to be.
One year the local television stations put everyone in tailspin for at least a week by predicting a coming massive snowstorm and then announcing it would arrive in the middle of the next morning’s commute, painting a picture of gridlock and terror on the highways. Based on these end-of-the-world scenarios, the superintendent announced school would be closed the following day. Of course the massive snowstorm arrived twenty-four hours late and we had egg on our faces. The same reporters who had been hyping the storm for days, called to ask me why we had closed schools. I had to bite my tongue not to say, “Because you have been warning us for at least a week that the storm of the century would deliver devastation today.”
I remember assuming the role of weather forecaster the year we experienced a week of weather-related closures. The last week in March forecasters predicted snow. One near-hysterical parent called to say that if we closed schools one more day, he was moving his child to a private school that never closed for snow. I was certain he was wrong about the private school, but in an effort to keep our enrollment numbers up, I told him that the forecasters were wrong, the predicted snow was not coming and schools would be open the next day. Luckily, my prediction was more accurate than the experts’.
PTA parents released their frustration on the superintendent one year by creating a spinner to help him make closure decisions. This consisted of a piece of cardboard cut into a circle with different options written around the edges. They told him this would take the guesswork out of school closure decisions. He should spin the metal arrow in the center and wherever it landed he would find a prescription for what to do in the event of snow. No doubt this technique would have worked as well as any other.