As Winter Begins

Bright red and woolen socks climb up my calves to fall just short of over my knee, pulled so tightly that they fill the space between my toes and you can almost see the nail glinting through. Tuck t-shirt into jeans, add another long sleeve shirt and zip up the hoodie tight and nicely. Wearing a scarf is an artform…aside from the fact that it takes a certain personality to pull it off and not look like you’ve pulled yourself fresh out of the closet (here’s a hint: imagine you’re a 1940’s style bomber pilot), you’ve got to know how to wrap it around you for maximum effect. Thickish beanie and full modicum of gloves and fingerless overgloves later and you’ve got a full package.

But preparing for the Winter seldom prepares you for the Winter, and tonight is fully and surely the first true attempt this season has made at living up to its name. We’ve been all too blessed with weekly temperature excursions into the 50’s and 60’s, blessed global warming shining on us in its early grandeur, truly making the end game all the more deceptive. Night has fallen somberly over the city and the population of herding cars has slimmed out to a frail fraction of the usual traffic you’d see flowing through these Sunday evening streets. The parking lot between me and the Whole Foods grocery store, my target, is desolation frozen: the wind picks up and kicks up a small tornado’s worth of icy crystals and snowy dust, the air is frozen as it enters your nostrils and icicles back up and out through your throat, streetlights shine a golden hue through the starch blue of a black night and the emptiness of it all has me half believing I’m closer to some Siberian tundra than the middle of bustling Pittsburgh.

All biting wicked cold and loneliness though, this place is not. I can see a rare few others mingling in shops, sipping coffees and reading books and using ATMs; the grocery store is humming with people desperate for some tomorrow morning milk or those of us who can appreciate the experience of the emptiness of a trip to stock up at a time like this.

Indeed, as the doors to Whole Foods part before me in a fashion that has Moses and his Red Sea jealous, I slowly unravel the scarves and gloves and iPod earbuds that kept me 3 or 4 inches separated from environmental conditions before and immediately feel the haven of this place. For anyone who’s never experienced a Whole Foods, its about as close to a fresh roadside farm as you can get, or perhaps more akin to a 1950’s European Farmer’s Market or even a tiny little slice of what’s left of Eden’s gardens. The fruit shines rainbowic all around, the vegetables look so crispy my contacts stiffen up and the smiling faces belong to both the customers and the employees. You know a place is authentically something special when even the employees – and keep in mind these are baggers, check out girls and stock boys; not rock stars and actors – look like they enjoy being there. The next hour or so persists of me running down a list, reading boxes, involving myself in the ingredient set between Product A or Product B, all with names like “Mrs. Mable’s Organic Maple Sugar” or “Sky Blue Organic Trail Mix”.

Life is a series of processes, from shaving your face to learning to swim, from wiping your ass to falling in love. Every little trip to the grocery store or morning commute to work can be another tasking doldrum or a chance to really experience the alive. And that, I suppose, is the best aspect of the human condition and what, in many ways, sets us apart from the rest of animalkind.

Up Next: Pittsburgh Hiring Bicycle / Pedestrian Coordinator