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January 16, 1998

This Will Stand

Dear Neighbors:

Ah, the (non)life of a freelance writer. Since no one would pay for the following story, you get to read it for free. Jeffrey

This WILL Stand

On Friday, January 12, 1996-five days after the first wave of snow-Metro was able to muster only 65 percent of its passenger cars. Merely one of the main lifelines for returning the city to operation, clearly more than passengers were falling through the cracks. Yet, in our gentile Southern city, not one city leader has raised a peep criticizing Metro's futility. It must be more than southern reticence, however, that keeps our leaders from speaking out. After all, even South Carolina's Senator Ernest Hollings called FEMA employees in the wake of Hurricane Hugo, "The sorriest bunch of jackasses I have ever seen." Now that no-longer-sorry bunch of jackasses is all that is keeps District area residents from waiting for summer warmth to return us to work.

George Bush's defining moment as president occurred when he stared down Iraqi aggression with the words, "This won't stand." One can only imagine city leaders discussing our snow crisis with a different level of intensity. "Yup, this will stand," accompanied by reflexive shoulder shrugs. Where once Marion Barry promised to focus on the city's budget like a laser beam, it's obvious that the batteries need recharging.

Consider, however, if the city council attended to public safety as energetically as, say, Al D'Amato dogged (some might say Rotweiller) pursuit of Whitewater.

City Council Chair (CCC): I would like to thank the Metro Director for his testimony on last week's response to the Blizzard of 1996. Why did you let the city down so badly?

Metro Director (MD): Our staff performed admirably under very trying conditions. All of our employees should be commended for their efforts.

CCC: The Metro staff worked very hard, but you did not answer my question. Why didn't you get all the trains running on time? Or running at all?

MD: We did the best we could under extraordinary circumstances.

CCC: And what extraordinary circumstances are you referring too? It snowed. This is winter. It's been known to snow before. Did you have a plan for dealing with snow?

MD: Given our tight budget and...

CCC: Let's try to stay focused here. You run a subway system, right? When it snows, people need Metro to get to work. Otherwise, we close down the city, lose all sorts of productivity and revenues, and get laughed at by people in Australia. You must have had some sort of plan for getting the system back to normal after a couple of feet of snow.

MD:...six-foot snowdrifts...

CCC: You knew for days that this snowfall was coming. Why didn't you prepare adequately? I visited your storage yards. Shovels are a good start, but have you heard of snow blowers, backhoes, and tow trucks? was really cold...

CCC: Let's turn our attention to Thursday, the day we all tried to go back to work. Metro had been digging out cars for four days and still had not freed up much of its fleet. When did it occur to you that you might need some help? Given the pace that your employees were shoveling-and I do commend you for ordering Teflon-coated shovels--why didn't you ask for help on Monday? Weather-god Bob Ryan was forecasting more snow, wasn't he? What's a few snow plows among government agencies?

MD:...and windy...

CCC: So what I am hearing here is that your basic plan was to hope that the forecast was wrong and that we wouldn't receive any more snow. But if it did snow, you hoped that it would snow enough so that the public would stay home and not need the Metro.

MD:...Jimmy was stuck at Disneyland and couldn't catch a flight back...

CCC: Now...and correct me if I am wrong-if we didn't receive any more snow, your plan was to hope that the temperature would be warm enough to melt the snow. Or, failing that, you would shovel as fast as you could and hope that no one would notice that Metro was operating at almost half speed. Was this your entire strategy for dealing with the blizzard?

MD: The District always warms up after a blizzard...

CCC: Thank you for your enlightening testimony. You are fired. Next witness, please.

Jeffrey Itell Founder, The Northwest Side Story

Jeffrey Itell Publisher: dc.story Tel: 202.244.4163 P.O. Box 11260 Fax: 202.362.1501 Washington, D.C. 20008-0460 "For People Who Live Inside the Beltway... But Outside the Loop."

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