An Emergency in the Snow
Pete Dexter | Philadelphia Daily News | February 1983
I was sitting at the window Friday afternoon, watching the blizzard freeze the wood off the woodpeckers in the back yard, when it suddenly hit me that I had to have a package of pinwheel cookies.
“Everything is closing,” my wife said, “and the roads are getting worse by the minute.” She was just coming out of the shower.
“I know, I know,” I said. They listen to KYW radio 15 minutes, they think they understand everything. I put on my coat and my boots and walked outside to the car. There was a coat of snow around it a foot thick, and inside it was dark and quiet. The engine turned over and started and I turned on the radio.
It said the roads were getting worse by the minute.
But when I need a package of pinwheel cookies, I need a package of pinwheel cookies.
There are, of course, two schools of thought on driving in a blizzard. One school holds that you ought to scrape the foot of snow off the windows so you can see what’s coming, and the other school is it doesn’t matter if you can see it or not—when it’s your turn, it’s your turn.
And the wind will blow most of it off anyway.
I put the car in reverse and backed out of the driveway. My wife was watching from the front door, and as soon as I was in the street she came running out of the house in boots and a blanket, flashing a little leg as the snow blew up under the blanket. She pounded on my window.
I couldn’t see much of her face, but I could tell she wanted to talk to me. It’s uncanny sometimes, the way that woman and I communicate. I rolled down the window a couple of inches and she shouted to me, over the wind. “You backed over the mailbox,” she said.
I shouted back, “Were you expecting something important? ”
And then she was running back through the snow toward the house, and the wind was blowing up the blanket, and covering her footprints in the snow as soon as she got through making them. Her legs were already a little blue.
If I am ever lonely and stuck in the trenches over in France, fighting another world war against Germany, that is what I will remember. Blue legs against the snow. I dropped the car into a forward gear and started up the road, looking for pinwheel cookies.
I don’t know if you’ve ever had a pinwheel cookie. They’re chocolate with marshmallow inside, but the thing that separates them from regular cookies is the feel. They have a solid, precise quality that is only found on these particular cookies and on the dials to combination safes.
You can control a pinwheel cookie.
I drove out to the highway, thinking of pinwheel cookies and blue legs. ”If you do not have to be out on the roads,” the radio said, “then for goodness sake stay off them. It’s serious out there now.”
The nearest store to my house is six miles away, unless you count the hardware store, which I don’t. I got there just as the manager was locking the door. I recognized him from the pictures they hang inside the store. There must be a dozen of them. Produce manager, business manager, meat manager, assistant produce manager. They go down the list of jobs until they have included the pictures of somebody black and somebody female, and I guess if you don’t have a leg up on them, you never get to see your picture on the wall.
“I know this is going to sound funny,” I said, “but I need some pinwheel cookies. ”
The manager finished locking the door. “That doesn’t sound funny at all,” he said.
I got back in the car and headed farther up the road. There were accidents every two miles, the most impressive of which involved a truck and two cars on the North-South Freeway, coming into Philly. By that time I had tried three more stores, and all of them were just closing. I had that feeling like not being able to find a motel.
Then the truck jackknifed, the car in back of it stopped, the next car didn’t. Everybody got out and looked at their back ends and front ends and shook their heads, blaming the weather. The woman driving the car that caused the accident said, “It’s their own fault, they can’t keep the snow off the highway.”
She had been grocery shopping, I could see the packages in the front seat. I said, “You wouldn’t happen to have any pinwheel cookies in there…”
The next accident I have to report occurred on Vine Street in the city. A car was coming out of a gas station, another car wasn’t going to let it in. They came together at maybe two miles an hour, looking right at each other, and then they bumped fenders.
I didn’t stop for it—nobody had any groceries—but I figured out something then that I’ve wondered about since the day I showed up in this city. Thirty inches of snow can fall on Vermillion, South Dakota, and people get around. Six inches stops everything in Philadelphia or New York. The reason isn’t that Vermillion has more snow plows or less cars.
The reason is that in Vermillion, South Dakota, people live different. They give each other a little room.
That doesn’t make South Dakota a better place than Philadelphia, of course.
What makes South Dakota better than Philadelphia is that hell or high water, at 5 o’clock Friday afternoon, you can find pinwheel cookies.
Writer bio: Pete Dexter, winner of the National Book Award for his novel “Paris Trout,” is also generally considered one of the best writers in city newspaper history. He wrote for the Daily News, mostly as a columnist, for 12 years.