Welcome to Chicago!
I understand that if I was in Los Angeles right now, there would be no snow on the ground and I could walk around in my shirtsleeves or, at most, a hoodie. Friends and family living in various places around the country see every winter as a chance to poke fun at me for living in Chicago, as if it wouldn't be worse in, say, Buffalo, or Minneapolis, or Montreal, or Toronto, or Anchorage. I explain every year that winter is worth it, for the amazing spring and fall we get (and the hot-but-it-could-be-worse summer), and besides, it's not that bad. That's when people start laughing at me.
The thing is, it's really not that bad, once I get the hang of it. It takes a while every year to get my brain recalibrated, the same way that it takes a while each January to force myself to write the new year instead of the old, but once I get the hang of things, it's not that bad. Chicago folk are tough and practical by nature, and I think that's mostly our winters at work: winter survival is not cool by any stretch of the imagination, so there are several months every year where even the rich people wear puffy coats (some still go for fur coats but they are still puffy) and funny-looking hats, where even the flakey guy down the hall will have earnest things to say about making sure there's kitty litter tucked in the trunk of his car, where even the fashionistas in Lincoln Park will adjust to the need for long-johns and layers and waterproof boots. There's a marvelous leveling effect there. It's even a time of great civic... well, not exactly pride, more like identity: we are bonded together as a city by the common need to bitch about street-plowing (it's lightning-fast and efficient by most standards but we are a demanding folk) and The Way People Drive In This Shit (more cautiously than you'd think) and Why The Damn Train Is Taking So Long To Get Here (still generally a fast and well-organized service, for all the bullshit involved). I take it back, actually, there is civic pride proper, which can be boiled down to a single concept: We Are So Bad-Assed That This Fucking Weather Ain't Got NOTHING On Us. When the weather first dipped down into the single-digits this past weekend, nothing slowed down. Everyone joked about hiding inside until Monday with a stock of DVDs and frozen pizzas, but we all knew that if the Bears had made it to the playoffs half the city would have been swarming the stadium. And when it came down to it, it wasn't that bad, you know? Add another layer of socks and an extra t-shirt underneath, break out the down coat and the fleece-lined boots, put a hat on underneath the hood, get a big scarf on the top: problem solved. The city keeps moving, even if the population finds it rather difficult to lower their arms due to the many layers. We Are That Bad-Assed.
Not only that, but there's awesome stuff to make up for it. When we look out at the lake, not only do we get the huge flood of steam coming off it every time the temperature drops, but on certain gray and mildly-cloudy days the sky so exactly matches the lake that it's almost impossible to figure out where the horizon is, and that's a trippy experience you can't get without the big lake and freezing temperatures.
It's a season of unlimited snuggling on the couch because that'll never make you too warm. It's a season of cats wanting lap time instead of draping themselves along the windowsill. It's a season of hot drinks and soup and fresh-baked bread. It's a season of crazy knit or fleece hats, with pom-poms or surprising colors or goofy decorations. It's a season of having something to do in that awkward moment when you've just come in someone's front door, having an instant conversation topic in the questin of where to put coats and whether or not to leave shoes or boots by the door. It's a season of fireplaces and heated discussions about the football post-season games and wondering whether we'll get a good crop of Superbowl commercials this year. It's a season of bulky sweaters and squabbles over the thermostat. Oh, Chicago. Never change.