How to move a bookcase in a snowstorm.

Christina and I spent part of Saturday moving a bookcase from Alexandria to Arlington in a snowstorm. It was not our plan to move a 6′-×-6′-and-heavy piece of furniture in such weather, but due to some misinterpreted communication with the bookcase’s previous owner, we found ourselves with a truck reservation and a free afternoon. While we spent that afternoon actually moving a bookcase, I’ve been responding to the question of what I did during the snowstorm as learning to move a bookcase in a snowstorm.

The sight of cars spinning their wheels on moderate but icy hills was not uncommon – both Christina’s car and the rented truck were subject to acceleration without movement. Once moving, the pedal that would usually stop a moving car sometimes did not – in these moments, I reached for the parking brake. On the 395, passing maneuvers were rare, the use of hazard lights was frequent, and the flow of traffic on a four-lane freeway stayed consistently below 35 mph with all possible civility.

That civility was hardly limited to paved surfaces. While moving the bookcase into the truck, a neighbor of the seller offered a shovel to clear the bed of snow. The seller himself hoisted the piece into place for the road. We considered taping cut-up garbage bags over it and then decided not to – the air was sufficiently cold that the snow would not turn to water (and the bookcase wouldn’t soak it up) while we were driving.

And so, we made our way to Arlington and (with the better traction attendant to carrying a heavy piece of furniture on the back of a rear-wheel-drive truck) up the hill on Daniel Street to the front of Christina’s building. As we haltingly shoved the bookcase from truck bed to snowbank, one of her neighbors (en route to a party) offered a hand and very quickly the unwieldy piece of furniture was in her bedroom and closely matching the woodgrain of her folding bench seats. He took a beer in thanks and welcomed her to the neighborhood.

On that day when snow covered the lane markers and signposts and other artifacts of traffic law, we were treated to a climatized manifestation of the illustration of a street intersection in England from Jonathan Zittrain’s TED talk on random acts of kindness on the internet. His illustration was to support a point that in the absence of directives and laws, civility prevails (and therefore, Wikipedia maintains a reasonable standard of information quality).

Philosophy and human nature aside, civility indeed prevailed on that afternoon. And however you may disdain precipitation and bitterly cold weather, that civility may not have revealed itself – and we may not have had need of it and therefore a venue to appreciate it – otherwise. It’s part of the reason I love living in a place with a bit of a winter.

And in this weather, I learned how to use a parking brake and hazard lights as part of a driving routine, that wood furniture is better transported in snow than rain, and that strangers can be immeasurably helpful and civil and a default position of ‘scared shitless’ towards unknown persons is sometimes untenable.

And on Sunday, I learned to never never walk barefoot in the snow.

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