It snowed in the South. And it was terrible.
Highways in Atlanta were jammed for so long that people eventually abandoned their cars, making the trek to nearby hotels, convenience stores, supermarkets, and strangers’ houses to keep warm for the night. Schoolchildren were trapped overnight at schools after buses and parents in cars were unable to either make it to the school or make it home. According to The Weather Channel, at least a dozen deaths were a result of the snow and ice.
None of this is funny. None of this is funny at all.
So why are many Northerners poking fun at Southerners for falling apart in the snow? Same reason we poke fun at friends and family for mispronouncing a word. Same reason we laugh while helping our comrade up when they’ve tripped. Same reason we recount humorous memories of the departed at a funeral. Same reason I use self-deprecation to cope with the guilt I feel being a working mother and the horror of my son having had a stroke in utero that left him with hemiparesis and cerebral palsy.
Because humor alleviates pain. It lightens a stressful mood. And it reminds us of what we as Northerners deal with on a daily basis during the winter months.
Brian Barrett, in his post titled Why the South Fell Apart in the Snow, calls Northerners poking fun at Southerners “wrong” and “assholes”, carefully clarifying that it’s not the Northerners who are genuinely confused about how the South could possibly not have been able to handle some ice and a couple inches snow who are wrong assholes, but rather those making light of the situation to “reinforce [their] view of the South and the people in it as full of backwards blubberers”.
Fair enough. But what about those of us who don’t believe the South is full of “backwards blubberers”? What about those of us who are two parts confused and one part just kidding around? Are we also wrong assholes? Maybe just unsure bumholes. That’s the same anatomically, but as far as insults go, is bumhole better than asshole?
I think bumhole is better than asshole.
Brian Barrett justifies his name-calling by characterizing Northern winters as veritable walks in the park:
When it snows [in the North], the salt and the snowplows are out on the streets before you even wake up. When [Northerners] talk about six inches of snow in [their] city, [they] are almost definitely talking about six inches of snow on the median strip and shoulder, and highways that are slick, but clear.
By January 6 of this year alone, at least 16 people were killed in winter conditions across the Midwest and North (who knows how many since November?). During the holidays, thousands of Michiganders (and even more in other states) were without power for TWO WEEKS in freezing temperatures. Just two days ago, I drove my two kids to school and daycare on snow covered ice sheets. I nearly ran into two other vehicles (that I know of) and slid through at least 3 stop signs. I passed dozens of motorists stranded in the highway medians and stuck in the middle of roads — in the damn middle! — because even if their tires “caught” the snow, the ice beneath it wouldn’t permit mobility. What’s more, just a week or two before that, my husband and I both got our cars stuck at the bottom of our driveway — our own driveway — because my husband couldn’t break up the icy sheets of packed snow enough to clear a decent path out. When I was finally able to get my car going again after stopping for a fellow motorist, I also passed no fewer than 3 major accidents and another dozen or so slide-offs on my half hour drive to work, some of the victims of which drove four-wheel drive trucks and had snow tires with chains. And those are just two days out of the damn near 6 months of wintry conditions we Northerners drive in per year.
Because we’ve been dumped on this winter and it’s really fucking cold here. Salt doesn’t work on the roads when it’s -30 with wind chill, nor can snow plows keep up with clearing streets for motorists. So no, Brian Barrett, the salt and snow plows are not finished with their work by the time we get up. No, I’m not talking about 6 inches of snow in just the median. And no, your misinformed trivialization of our winter driving experiences does not justify calling us wrong assholes.
But I digress.
What does this have to do with Northerners poking fun at Southerners? Well, for starters, it’s not just the South we poke fun at. We poke fun at ourselves, too. Case in point: The other day, I made fun of myself for wearing sweatpants sans undies out of the house to drive my kids to school. I didn’t make fun of myself because I looked like a slob, but rather because I almost got in two accidents on the way and wasn’t prepared for a trip to the ER. Accidents are not funny. Neither is rushing adrenaline and panic flashes of what I’d do to make sure my kids were OK in the event that I did slam into a car in the oncoming lane going 40. And having to go to the ER certainly is not. But objecting to an accident, not because it’s dangerous, but because I had greasy hair and was wearing pajamas without draws is humorous because I’m making light of a stressful situation. I’m choosing humor to heal what could have been great harm (and is great harm to Northerners Every.Single.Day.)
We’re not teasing Southerners because we think they’re stupid (at least most of us aren’t). We’re not laughing at the motorists who went without food and water for 12 hours or the young schoolchildren who spent their first night away from their parents in a gym or a cafeteria. We’re certainly not making light of death. WE DON’T MEAN TO BE WRONG ASSHOLES. Honestly. That’s not (most of) our intent.
We’re poking fun in a way that grandpas do when they razz their grandchildren, telling tales about walking 10 miles to school, uphill both ways. We’re reflecting on just how strong we Northerners are when we take on conditions comparable to and worse than those in the South (and especially so when it’s too cold for our salt and plows to work properly). We’re playfully teasing to assuage the fear that try as we might, we didn’t bundle our kids up enough to thwart the onset of frost bite at the bus stop or recess. We’re making spirited quips about something that doesn’t happen to us once every 20 years, but rather every damn day for 3-6 months, not because we’re glad Southerners are dealing with this, but because we’ve been there. We know what it’s like.
We’re poking fun, Brian Barrett, because sometimes humor is the best medicine and we thought you could handle some lighthearted banter. We were definitely wrong about something.
ADDENDUM: I lived in the South for 4 years. You should have seen me react to incoming hurricanes. It certainly was a sight. And I fully expected/welcomed a razzing. I wasn’t used to them, and my irrational panic made that obvious. I truly thought I was going to die in my third floor apartment, screaming incoherent obscenities at my uncle into the phone whilst I hid beneath the mattress I had dragged into the hallway. I still make fun of myself to this day.
ADDENDUM-ADDENDUM: I don’t think I mentioned that Northerners are also thinking about and praying for Southerners’ safe returns home. All joking aside, we are. We really are. And we’re sorry if our jabs hit hard. Please know you are in our hearts.