As a very young child my parents took me to Lake Mountain for a day trip. The quickest way for a city dweller to experience the snow, Lake Mountain is about 2 hours out of Melbourne and used primarily by uncommitted, recreational cross-country skiers and day-trippers like ourselves, it has an elevation of not very high and receives an annual average snowfall of not very much.
Having seen the snow on television, through which I developed much of my understanding of the world at-large, it was fluffy and white, manipulatable into snowmen, snowballs and fell from the sky in floating crystals that made the world beautiful. That was snow and that was what I expected.
My response, when I finally encountered the hard icy ground at Lake Mountain, was that of being significantly unimpressed.
"You thought it was cold and wet and you didn't like it," my mother reminded me when I called her to tell tales of New York's snow storms.
On Thursday morning when we opened the curtains in our hotel room, snow fell in giant floating flakes that looked like a foam factory exploded somewhere. Looking out of the sixth story window onto 23rd street, there was no evidence snow on the surface. I'd experienced this before.
New York City has a tendency to experience snow without the "stick," much to my disappointment. This means that it melts as soon as it hits the pavement and evaporates into nothing rather than piling up and creating fun mounds of nature's frozen play-doh.
In the elevator on the way down to get some breakfast bagels I remarked to a woman that these were the largest snow-flakes I'd ever seen. She said, "Yes, but it's not sticking," with a smile that I interpreted as a reflection of my own hope for sticking snow. Later I thought that maybe she meant "at least it's not sticking" because here's the thing: Snow can be romantic, fluffy and fun but most of the time it's just cold and wet.
When it did start sticking, the snow made the footpath slippery for walking. Pedestrians were torn between walking quickly to get to shelter and stepping tenderly to avoid prematurely breaking a hip.
(As a side note, I asked some lawyer friends about the litigious possibilities of slipping on the snow outside somebody's building. According to them, it is the building owner's responsibility to clean the footpath outside any particular building. Despite that being the case, if somebody slips and decides to sue, they will sue everyone from the building owners to the city to the firm that designed the building and possibly even the band Snow Patrol just for the hell of it.)
The second day after the snow started sticking presented a nightmarish vision of the future. It was a Friday and just happened to coincide with the preview of the Macy's One Day Sale.
Gum boots were 25% off and in high demand. While the rest of the department store was relatively quiet, the women's boots section was reminiscent of the scrambling for lifeboats on the Titanic. Confusion caused people to just shout colours, patterns and sizes to anyone who would listen in the hope that a shop attendant would hear and return with the exact shoe required. Relief sales troops arrived from other departments only to hide for a few minutes in the shoe storage area to escape the horror. To paraphrase Martin Sheen's famous line: "Macy's. Shit."
A walk through the city gave further signs of the snowpocalypse. Hot-dog and pretzel vendors were notably absent. I never would have imagined that in an emergency situation, street meat would be the first to go. This also meant that hot-dog vendors who had braved the ice-filled wind could charge a premium. They had area-based monopoly and they would use it to their advantage. Customers didn't complain about the high prices. They just accepted that at the end of times, the remaining hot-dog man is king. Three bucks for a game of salmonella roulette? Whatever you say, your majesty.
Soon enough, but still too late for the man killed by a falling branch weighed down with snow in Central Park, the snow eased up and people came out to play. Parents and nannies on the Upper East Side took children our into the park in their little sleds and pushed them around, calling "Wheeeeeeeeee", trying to convince the children it was fun. The children, for their part, were nonplussed at best.
By that evening, snow was piled up on the sides of roads and snow ploughs scraped up ice to create a filthy black mush that even New York City dogs were wary of.
Making our way from the excellent Barbuto restaurant in the West village, I saw a young man line his girlfriend up with a snowball. It looked, for all I could tell, like he was about to hurl the soft missile at her and she was going to give him a free shot.
"Don't just stand there and take it," I said.
Lyndal took the opposite tact, encouraging the boyfriend with "Do it. Do it."
Troy stood still, probably wondering why we weren't just crossing the street.
Both of them looked at us with amusement. Our Roman circus-style audience participation pleased these rugged up gladiators. But it also pleased someone else. From behind we heard laughter. Then the young man's eyes widened and his smile changed to one with a cunning plan.
"You're right," he said to me and within nanoseconds my head was covered in icy crystals.
The gauntlet hit the floor and I picked it up instantly. I dived for the nearest snow pile, gathered some in my hands and began hurling.
The fight was three against four but we held our ground until a lady in the opposing team tripped over a tiny railing around a tree stump, landing arse-first in some untouched powder.
A ceasefire was called and the fight declared a tie.
Survivors of the snowpocalypse, we were all victors. New York City threw some of its worst behaviour at us and we came out stronger than before.