When Did Emergency Become Snow’s Last Name?

January 26, 2016

I returned early from a conference in California to which I had committed myself. I did that because Bread Furst was robbed.

Two men invaded our space and beat Jesse McCormick with a pistol.


It was in the middle of the day and brazen. It was awful. I wanted to be here and left San Francisco the moment my obligations ended there. I arrived 13 hours before the snowstorm.

Our staff met that morning to talk about the storm even before I arrived. By that time Metro had peremptorily announced it would close for three days.   A three-day closing even before the first snowflake fell? Our public transporation, our bus and subway system closing because streets above would be snowy?


I understand closing pieces of the city when closing is made necessary by the weather. But I don’t understand what we, the city of Washington now do: Close virtually everything in anticipation of difficult weather.

“This is not a storm that anyone should take lightly, and I would urge all residents to plan to get to a safe place before the storm arrives Friday afternoon,” said Metro General Manager/CEO Paul J. Wiedefeld.

I don’t believe that anyone was taking the storm lightly and I realize that Mr. Wiedefeld is new to his job. But surely he knows that our busses and subway are not a discretionary service.   The people who make the city run depend on busses and the subway. Those who work in stores and restaurants and hospitals commute by bus and train. Shutting down public transportation shuts down our city.

Our general manager, Eun Yim, anticipating the snow and the city’s shut-down, rented rooms at the Day’s Inn down the block and she offered them to staff who wanted to stay. Four did.

Others of the staff who live within a mile or so walked to work.

Thus we were able to stay open during the storm; and because we paid incredible sums for Uber rides we opened on Monday fully staffed.


            When I was a child my family lived on West North Avenue in Baltimore across the street from Gwynns Falls Park. Our elementary school was a mile away.


During winter snow days we hoped our school would close.  It rarely did and so we would dress up, put on galoshes, wool hats, and mittens and go to the corner to wait for the streetcar. In general snow was fun for kids.

For grown-ups too life went on during snowstorms. People were often late to work but they went to work. Businesses opened. People drove.

It is true that cars were heavier then; perhaps they had better traction than cars do now. And during snowstorms people put chains on their tires. Chains were a lot of trouble and got replaced by snow tires with deep treads and metal studs.


We had two sets of tires, summer and winter then. Now many of us have lighter cars and snow tires have given way to all-weather tires that are a compromise between summer and winter.

In addition, of course, people live far afield and travel long distances to work.   Children don’t walk to school any longer.

But still Washington seems unusually timid to me. Cities more northern that ours cope better with snowfall.   I know they have larger snow removal budgets and more equipment but I think they cope better because for them snow remains part of life.


Not here. In Washington we traumatize ourselves. Last winter the simple forecast of snow was enough to get schools canceled and the Federal government closed. The threat was sufficient.  I found that particularly outrageous. I was offended when weather forecasters forgave themselves when the storms they puffed up abruptly deflated by explaining how difficult it is to forecast here.

At least this time the snow came. But look at what we did in anticipation!

We shut down the city. We closed even the federal government.   Is the federal government a non-essential service?

No postal delivery – well, we privatized that. But that can’t be the reason. Chipotle was open and it’s private.

The DC government was closed but gas stations were open.

Is Grover Norquist right?

I am pretty certain that the Pentagon and National Security Agency went on working during the storm. But the rest of us conspired to make a winter storm a danger nearly as terrifying as ISIS.

We are doing this to ourselves.   When storms begin to form we are told minute-by-minute about their rising threat.   We follow the forecasts obsessively as television and the Internet burn with news. As a storm approaches we are pulled into near-frenzy. We predict closings and then impose them. We cancel thousands of airline flights.


We are redefining what constitutes an emergency. Before the storm hit the city Washington’s mayor declared a disaster; so did the Commonwealth of Virginia. And Maryland’s governor warned people to stock up in preparation for a week of isolation.

(He must have been brought up on the prairie.)

We were not shut down by the storm. We shut ourselves down in anticipation of it. We left only the duration of the shutdown to be determined by how much snow actually fell.

We are simply accepting a redefinition of emergency. If emergencies are now awful things that might happen, are we now going to live in a perpetual state of emergency?

I know I am an old-timer, a fogey, but it wasn’t like this before.

“The actions we are taking today are all in the interest of our customers’ and employees’ safety, and will help us return to service once the storm passes and the snow is cleared,” Mr. Wiedefeld said.

No, that’s not so.   Metro trains were not sheltered during the storm as he promised; and even two days after it ended only fractions of service were restored.   Two days after the storm ended even the few busses that ran were given a 5 pm curfew.

Mr. Wiedefeld explained that Metro has consistently promised more than it was able to deliver and he wants to change that culture.  He did not want to make promises he couldn’t keep.

But of course if you promise nothing, that is a promise you will always be able to keep.

The timorous response of Metro contrasted sharply with the transportation systems of other eastern cities and with Amtrak that continued its service through the storm.

New York schools opened on Monday. Washington schools did not and Arlington County announced that its schools will be closed until Thursday, five days after the snow ended.

Why not open the schools and require students who miss days to make up work?

Jesse was pistol-whipped a week ago and has 18 stitches in his head. He lives in Alexandria where the Metro wasn’t running; but with a concussion and drugs for it he returned to work yesterday.


As for the return of our public services, we’ll just have to wait and see.





  1. Marjorie Share says:

    You weren’t kidding when you said you were posting a photo of Jesse! So good to see him back.

    A thought on the storm as I read your new entry:

    I grew up in Upstate New York where days like Saturday were an average day in May. Well, almost.

    Regardless of bravado and honed skill at driving or moving about in heavy snow, I began to realize that the storm did indeed create dangerous conditions. Emergency vehicles, for example, who were on the streets dealing with real emergency situations could not make out people whose only route was to walk on the street. Individuals who didn’t know better, who were out just to be out, were getting injured–and it made it more difficult for those who absolutely needed to be out to be able to move around. It was a complete white out during certain hours, especially in parts of the City.

    This took me a while to get and absorb, because I saw the storm as no big deal, unless the big winds or ice were to descend. But, for those who grew up elsewhere or aren’t as aware of their surroundings as you or I, don’t think clearly or know what to do. Some lack the common sense or courtesy.

    Still, why the federal government is still shut down and schools closed makes no sense.

    • Lewis says:

      I as well grew up in upstate New York. As you are probably aware of a small dusting of snow and people are driving with their flashers on. I agree with you about the government in schools being closed. I went to the library today it was closed hello. People from Maryland don’t want to hear it they can’t drive I’ve lived in many states and Maryland drivers are among the worst.

  2. I am so sorry you were robbed and an employee was so badly hurt. Cheers for these hardworking folk who come to work despite their inconvenience and pain.

  3. Paul Boudreau says:

    I hope Mr. McCormick completely recovers and the creep who did that to him is caught.

    As far as “weather events” around here go, officials will always be blamed for under- or over-reacting by different groups of people. Has everyone ever agreed that everything was done “just right?” There’s also the fact that big snow is an occasional thing around here, unlike in cities like Boston and Chicago. They simply have more practice and so can be expected to be better at it.

  4. steven jenkins says:

    mark, i am so, so sorry about the incident. cruel, vicious, unforgivable. we all love you.
    what a world….

  5. marybrigid says:

    Is your poor employee all right? I’m more concerned about his welfare and the safety of your employees and customers than I am about the idiotic reaction of this city to snow!

  6. sbf1025 says:

    Julien Shapiro told me of the terrible attack on the bakery and Jesse. I’m so, so sorry, and also so glad it wasn’t worse.

    … And I agree wholly on the snow rant!

  7. Marion Nestle says:

    Never mind the snow. Your place was held up at gunpoint? That’s really frightening. I’m so sorry. That really is an emergency.

    Greetings from Sydney. I tote my Bread Furst bag to work every day so think of you often.

    *From:* Bread Furst [mailto:comment-reply@wordpress.com] *Sent:* Wednesday, January 27, 2016 3:28 AM *To:* marion.nestle@nyu.edu *Subject:* [New post] When Did Emergency Become Snow’s Last Name?

    Mark Furstenberg posted: “I returned early from a conference in California to which I had committed myself. I did that because Bread Furst was robbed. Two men invaded our space and beat Jesse McCormick with a pistol. It was in the middle of the day and brazen. It was awful. I “

  8. Lewis says:

    Posting your employee picture is tacky! No one likes to here about someone injury. But you have gone to far. I’m not grossed out but the picture, digging for sorrow overload?, prove a point? Whatever man, WE GET IT CHEF! You got robbed and and a employee got assaulted and you flew home from the Bay Area you are a nice man…..so …You are acting as a news real. Many people get robbed beat KILLED RAPED everyday. Do we need you to add to the graphic unsettled pictures to the world absoulty not. If you want to post it keep it in to business. If your employee got shot would you post a picture of him in a body bag for sure sarcasm but I think you get the point keep to yourself and in the walls of your business!

  9. I thought a lot about including the photo and finally decided that this is the face of crime most of us don’t ever see.

    • Lewis says:

      What the hell do you live under a rock? What do you think terrorism is. We see crime everyday why do feel inclined to think WE SHOULD SEE YOUR CRIME! WHAT THE HELL MAKES YOU THINK yours is so special. Obviously that is a rhetorical question. Crime happens everyday on the streets people stand on corner most of them are crack head’s and need medication that’s another type of crime bureaucracy. What about a young girl raped do we see that everyday do we take a look at the girl when she’s home curled up in a ball in her bedroom sorry dude but your stuff in the grand scheme of things the small time potatoes if that sounds insensitive it’s really not it’s a fact! And you will even prove that point by saying your employee came back to work the next day. People in a real crisis can’t even bounce back.
      Look at Mark what a hero he rushes back from the Bay Area he takes a close up Christ you’re sick. Your decision sucked. Think like a chef not a newsreel keep it in your walls as I said before. You have been gifted and successful you’re talented but you have fallen off your rocker get back on it make bread what good can possibly come by looking at your employees smashed up face sorry dude none at all you just feel vindicated. I wish I could give you the benefit of the doubt but I just can’t oh wait I can you had jet lag. Food driven business showing smash the faces very appetizing can’t wait to have a sandwich at your place as well sarcastic I’d like to sit down at the table look at his face and enjoy one of your delicious baguettes with a cup of coffee in some nice brie cheese. But I can fly to France and do that too right and I worry about getting shot. Get a clue!

  10. S says:

    Perhaps if Mark Furstenberg spent half the time securing the workplace and making it a safe place for his employees and customers, as he did complaining about the snow, the business wouldn’t have been robbed twice in 30 days.

  11. Stefan says:

    Perhaps if Mark Furstenberg spent half the time securing the workplace and making it a safe place for his employees and customers, as he did complaining about the snow, the business wouldn’t have been robbed twice in 30 days.

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