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So, yah, maybe those Chicago winters aren’t so bad

Today’s Wisch List column from the Kankakee Daily Journal …

So, yah, maybe those Chicago winters aren’t so bad

The WISCH LIST

Feb. 20, 2010

I’m an Illinois boy, born and raised.

So, when it comes to surviving – and, heck, even thriving – in wintry weather conditions, I consider myself to be a pretty hardy soul.

I’ve shoveled my car out from my fair share of blizzards (including last week’s). I’ve stood atop “L” platforms in Chicago and stared down the howling winds off Lake Michigan with nary a flinch. And I’ve even frozen myself stiff in the grandstands at Wrigley Field.

In late June.

During this past month, for business purposes, I’ve covered more of the map than Rand McNally. And my travels have given me the opportunity to witness both the yin of winter in North Carolina, where a 35-degree day prompted a local to correct me, “Chili is something you put on a hot dog. This is cold.”

And the yang – or would that be the “Yah?” – of it in North Dakota, where I discovered this week that winter isn’t just a season.

It’s a lifestyle.

“Ya know, Fargo wouldn’t be so bad,” Blair Halvorson, a lifelong resident of the city famous for its accents, frigid temps and cinematic wood chippers told me this week as we pondered the piles of snow outside our hotel. “If we had a summer.”

Summers, of course, are what make living in Chicago from, say, November through March (or later) bearable.

I’ve always believed – or, perhaps, rationalized – that the wicked winters the Windy City experiences actually serve an important purpose for its citizens: They make Chicagoans appreciate summertime more than people in other towns.
But then I met the folks of Fargo, whose appetite for summer is perhaps rivaled only by their appetite for steak.

I learned from locals with names like Fridfinnson, Vandenberghe and MacGillvray that in North Dakota six-foot snowbanks can sometimes still be found standing in May – and are known to rise up again as early as September.

“It can get up to 100 degrees in between, though,” explained Lynn Kadlec, a native of the 39th State. “But then you get the mosquitoes.”

I can assure you, there were no triple digits (or mosquitoes) popping up in Fargo this week, something I was reminded of as I stood in line for security at O’Hare prior to my departure Monday morning.

“There are only two cities colder than Chicago, and you’re going to one of them,” the TSA employee said to the girl ahead of me in line, ribbing her about her trip to Minneapolis.

“Well, then, I must be going to the other one,” I said with a laugh, as I informed him I was bound for Hector International Airport in Fargo.

“Yes,” the TSA worker replied with a smirk. “I think that would be it.”

Apparently, the rumor got around quick. My United Express flight was delayed for an hour at O’Hare as the airline had to “recruit a flight attendant” for the trip up to the Great White North.

The original one was probably hiding beneath her bed, wrapped in quilts.

Upon arrival in Fargo, I found it to be about what you’d imagine with sharp winds whipping across barren, snow-packed plains. The rental car counter even had a sign warning: “It’s Freezing Out There!”

On Tuesday, it was Mardi Gras. I didn’t make it out on the town, as I was fighting a cold (imagine that). But I figure it was probably a pretty PG-rated affair, as any flashing in Fargo likely would have involved pulling up two sweaters … to reveal the third sweater underneath.

In some ways, I’m actually a fan of cold weather. I find it fascinating. On my iPhone, I often check the temperature in Barrow, Alaska, located 320 miles north of the Arctic Circle. When it’s minus-33 up there, I find 33 above in Chicago to feel much warmer.

On Wednesday morning, however, when I awoke I learned it was minus-6 degrees in Fargo.

And 5 above in Barrow.

Chilling … literally.

In spite of the long, harsh winters, North Dakotans love their state. Last week, a new Gallup poll showed that its residents lead the nation in satisfaction with their standard of living, with 82.3 percent of them saying they’re happy with “all the things you can buy and do.”

Gallup forgot to add “with mittens.”

(Illinois, for the record, was right in the middle of the poll at 25, with 73.9 percent of residents satisfied.)

That doesn’t mean things are peachy for everyone in Fargo, though. The local newspaper this week featured a front-page story with the headline “PEEK-A-BOO STREETS” that detailed how towering snowbanks are severely hampering driver visibility at intersections in town.

So much so that area resident Rodger Whitford told the paper that he planned to put his winter defensive driving skills on ice and flee south.

“I’m heading to Arkansas at the end of the week because I’ve had enough,” Whitford said, adding,” “I don’t know if I’ll be back.”

I actually liked North Dakota, so I very well might be.

Although, if I do, it’ll be in July.

And I’ll still bring a scarf.