Saturday, January 30, 2010

Welcome To Fantasy Island

It snowed yesterday in Washington, DC. Lots of snow. Outside my apartment windows, snow piled up on rooftops and windowsills. Cars crept cautiously down slick streets. But this snowstorm was nothing.

Last year's December 19th epic snowfall? Now that was something.

Unfortunately, I missed some of the hype because I was vacationing in a remote, dreamy place where reality is unaffected by physical and natural forces. A place called ... Fantasy Island.

Maybe you’ve been there.

Sick for my husband’s November birthday, I decide to surprise him with an outdoor December party. The location, Rock Creek Park, is near my apartment. Coveted Lot #1, with a fire pit, shelter and bathrooms, to be precise.

I'm quickly enamored with the idea. I'll make all my husband's favorite foods. There'll be a roaring fire. Snowball fights. Spiked apple cider. (In retrospect, I am recreating parties of my high school days. Not necessarily a bad thing.) I grow a bit nervous that another party may claim dibs on Lot #1. During winter it’s first come first served. (Retrospectively, again, this is quite silly.)

Fun! Why not throw a party outside?

One big Why Not is a winter storm brewing in the Gulf preparing to slam itself into the East Coast. But so what. It’s winter. It’s supposed to snow. Snow adds ambiance. We Islanders are all about ambience.

"All visitors to Fantasy Island may disembark now."

Wed, Dec 16

With both feet planted firmly on Isle de Fantastica, I send the email inviting people to Lot #1 on Saturday, December 19, at noon. I ask them to bring something to burn. It's a Belated Surprise Birthday Party for Chuck, I write, and he loves to burn things. I tie the Winter Solstice into the theme which makes me feel earthy. Cosmically aware.

All that jazz.

The send button is still warm when I hear in the background a weather update. Something about several conditions potentially colliding to create a major winter storm. I suck my teeth. Whatever. People are always over-reacting to the weather around here.

I skip to the kitchen to make a pumpkin pie, Chuck's favorite, for the party.

Thur, Dec 17

Today The Weather Channel confirms that DC is going to get many, many inches of snow.

Perfect. A party outdoors with a burning fire and softly falling snow? How fun is that. But as the day progresses the snowstorm morphs into a big news event involving special graphics and super doplar radar. My husband, a weather geek, is following the snowstorm closely on several websites. “This is going to be a big one,” he says happily.

“Hm?” I respond hunched over my computer reserving a Zip car. He still has no idea about the party and can't understand why I'm renting a car with a blizzard coming.

“You do know that we’re not covered if you hit someone, right?” he reminds me.

I review Zip Car's insurance policies.

Usually my husband is so easy to surprise. For his 40th surprise party, I hid all the food and cake in the refrigerator behind a single defensive line of condiments. He didn’t see a thing. But renting a car during what some are now calling a major blizzard, is proving difficult to hide. So I come clean. He seems happy about the party. Cautiously happy.

By late afternoon on Thursday, the Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang is calling for 6 – 12 inches. They've named the storm Snowpocolypse and Snomegeddon. By now you'd think these reports would have made their way onto The Island. But our reception is really bad.

I make Rice Krispie squares.

I also gather firewood. Pulling my son’s Red Flyer wagon down the hill into the woods, the federal woods, I collect sticks and small logs for the fire. I dump the firewood at a neighbor's house and then use the wagon for a beer run. In a neighborhood convenience store, an older man gets nostalgic over the Red Flyer wagon. I tell him I just used it to collect some firewood from the park woods.

“Ooo. I wouldn’t do that, child,” he warns leaning close to me. “That’s government property.”

“And I’m going to burn it, Jack,” I say leaning closer, reading the name on his work uniform.

He smiles. I begin to wonder exactly how many federal crimes I’ve committed since moving to D.C.

Fri, Dec 18, 8:30 pm

Snow starts falling.

Snow keeps falling.

Sat, Dec 19

The day of the party, I awake to a white out. It is breathtaking. What a day for a party!

I retrieve the firewood which I've covered with an old shower curtain. A stroke of genius. It's buried in snow but bone dry. Carrying it across the street is tough. Not only is it 40 pounds of loose sticks and logs, but all this deep snow covering the street makes walking really difficult.

A dark, dank cold encroaches the shores of Fantasy Island.

I'd better send another email.

Sat, Dec 19, 10:04 am

Party Update: Slight Adjustment

Just in case, Chuck, Felix and I will be at Rock Creek party site (Lot #1) at around 12:30 pm. (not noon). Anticipating Zip car issues.

Zip car issues. If ever there was an understatement, this is it.

My rented Zip car, located right around the corner from my place, isn’t there. I call Zip car. “I have a party to throw! I have a fire to start! People will be arriving soon! Where is my car?!” The representative assures me that the other driver is a minute away. So I wait. On the sidewalk in very heavily falling snow. With a pumpkin pie, bags of food. Booze. Firewood.

The driver finally shows up visibly shaken. “I am so sorry. The roads are really bad.” What is he blathering about? A ledge of snow falls in my face from the rim of my cowboy hat. Just give me the car.

My husband and son join me. My son shovels out a Jeep with his toy shovel. I load the groceries while my husband takes care of the federally offensive firewood. Now my only focus is to drive a mile down a very steep, snow-covered hill, to get to the park. People will be arriving soon and I have a fire to start.

As I hit the gas and careen sideways, my trip on Fantasy Island ends abruptly in a 10 inch snowdrift. Tires spin. Husband yells instructions. Something about not turning the wheel. Bouncing in his car seat, my son is laughing, “Do it again, Mommy! Play that game again!”

It hits me. I am not driving down the hill. I am not starting a fire. I am, in fact, stuck sideways in the middle of the road.

I call people to break the news that the party is cancelled. “Yeah. That’s okay. Thanks anyway,” they politely respond. “Don't worry. I had no intention of driving through 10 inches of snow down a steep hill to burn things in the woods,” is the subtext.

My husband has a blast stunt driving the car back into its curbside parking space. I schlep everything back inside.

What in the hell was I thinking? Where was my head??

I feel like an ass for about five minutes. Then I plate up the food, clear toys from the floor and invite a few people over for a modified Snowpocolypse Party. We denizens of Fantasy Island are nothing if not flexible.

The heartiest of the bunch, two couples dressed like arctic explorers, trudge several miles to our apartment. The neighbors who aided and abetted the firewood join the party. The apple cider, properly mulled and spiked, takes the chill off and gives everyone a rosy glow. The children are red-cheeked from playing in the snow. Not from the spiked cider.

The best part is that my husband has a hoot at the party. And he thanks me for setting the scene for one of his favorite activities on this terrestrial world – shoveling snow in the company of Wild Turkey, beer and tunes – which he did for hours.

All for the low, low price of one roundtrip ticket to Fantasy Island.