It’s 1:15AM, I’m wide awake and, uncharacteristically, writing this on paper. It feels odd, blogging with a pen, but then it’s been an odd day. I’m stranded in a downtown hotel for the night, thanks to an unexpected snowstorm.

There wasn’t much doing in the week between Christmas and New Years, so my friend Sara suggested a trip to Portland Art to see the Raphael (Woman with a Veil, here until just after New Years). We got there at 2:00, saw the painting, then spent a merry hour speculating about 17th century paintings.

Why, for example, did painters depict all distressed women with one breast uncovered while the men kept their clothes on? Why were all babies and cherubs naked but the angels overdressed yet barefoot?  (and how do they get all those clothes on over their wings, anyway? And who would want to fly around heaven wearing six layers of sleeve?) We started to visit the contemporary wing but stopped: Without warning, it was snowing. Hard.

Portland is not a snow town. It’s steeply hilled and, as a friend says, “The city council never bought the other snowplow.” Normally at the first sign of snow I pull up the drawbridge at home and settle in happily until it melts–even cars with chains have trouble on my hill when it ices up.

But today the weathermen had said, “Light rain and warming,” so I’m downtown. Serves me right for trusting a PDX weatherman.

“Don’t worry, it’s not snow, it’s just performance art. The weatherman says so,” a patron assured us, grinning, “Isn’t it great how they get it to look like real snow?”

Yet, sliding down the hill to my car, the snow is all too real. No gloves, no hat, light coat and the wrong shoes. By the time I clear the snow from Max-the-car I’m crunchy with it, wet, cold and fuming. Me, with all kinds of errands that need running before I can go home. I wonder if I can get them all done before it gets really bad.

Ninety minutes later and only a mile from where I started, I’ve forgotten the errands; it’s already really bad. Despite years of eastern winter driving, I slither like any novice on these hills. I count three city buses blocking Pearl District side streets–one slip and they’re wedged between curbside cars–and it’s taking me at least six green lights to get across a single intersection.

Lovejoy Street is the fastest way home, but halfway up its first hill Max slides sideways, his little yellow SLIP light blinking furiously. I shift and steer gently, like I’ve been taught, trying to slow momentum and push the weight of the car through the snow to the road beneath. Doesn’t work; Max does a leisurely 350 turn and wedges against a bumper. I gently gun the gas, shift back and forth. Nothing.

I have 200 pounds of fine frit in the trunk, recycled glass that needs a good home. It hasn’t helped much to weight down the car (obviously), but I’m thinking I might throw it under the wheels for traction…then someone taps on the window. “Need a push?”

It’s a bright-faced woman, about 45, dressed in psychedelic ski suit and a wide grin. I roll down the passenger window and shake my head. “Don’t try it,” I warn, “If you go under these tires you could die.”

The grin gets even wider. “Then I’ll meet my lord even sooner, won’t I? Put it in reverse and I’ll push from the side,” and she heaves against my stuck bumper. At one point she slips and goes down, and I scream, but she gets up, and the two of us finally get Max off the bumper. He slides downhill to bare roadway, then I get things back under control and creep back onto level ground, defeated.

(Mom later notes that our all-girl rescue team is a typical non-southern phenomenon. “If you lived in the South, all those men standing around watching would have been helping.”)

If I can get to Highway 26, I can inch home on fairly level ground, but my friend Tami calls. “Don’t try the onramps for 26, they’re too steep and cars are crashing off right and left. And there’s a 30-mile back up on I5 with all the accidents. Besides, you can’t get that car up your hill…”

So that’s that: I’m not getting home tonight. The Hotel Lucia about six blocks away has a room; it takes me another 90 minutes to reach it. I don’t want to waste Gigi’s battery reading or gaming or onlining–iPhones aren’t the longest-lived phones–so I walk down the block and browse the Rite-Aid’s scanty selection for a book.

There’s a beggar sitting in the slush outside; I’m impressed with his fortitude if nothing else. “Aren’t you cold?” I ask, rummaging for a dollar. “Yeah,” he smiles, “but on nights like this I really clean up. That’s a great coat, BTW.”

“Thanks. My mom made it.” He grabs the hem, feels the fabric. “Nice, I love that color. Hey, Frank! Her mom made this coat!” he calls.

Across the street another panhandler looks up, scowls. “The hell do I care?” he grumbles, and my beggar grimaces. “Sorry about that.”

I leave him for hot soup and a warm room. Turns out the book was a horrid choice. It’s Fern Michaels’ “Razor Sharp” and may possibly be the worst-written, dumbest book I’ve ever read. By page 100 I not only don’t like Michaels’ characters, I’m actively wishing for a live volcano to drop them in.

Bored and restless, I gaze out my ninth-floor window and watch as, in rapid succession, three cars lose control on the hill and bang into each other. I’d been toying with the idea of venturing back out in Max, trying to get home again, but….naah. I’ve already paid for the room, I’m tired, and I’ve got paper and pen. So I start writing.



Addendum: Woke up about 7 this morning to the rumbles of trucks and the calls of pedestrians–if you want quiet in the Hotel Lucia ask for a room in the BACK of the hotel, away from Broadway–and looked out. The snow was mostly gone, so I slipped on last night’s clothes and headed downstairs.

About half of the hotel’s guests last night were stranded Portlanders, the desk clerk says, so at least someone made a success of our mini-blizzard. The bellman hands me into my car. “Great coat!” he says, “I love that color.”

This coat is becoming a celebrity. “Thanks, my mom made it,” and I can’t resist adding, “From an old blanket.”

“REALLY?” he exclaims, “Wow! I’m going to buy some old blankets for my mom.”

The car slides up Burnside a bit, but the driving’s much better and I make it home without incident. The roadside is littered with cars that didn’t, so I’m glad I chose the hotel option. It turned a free afternoon at the museum into a $150 pain in the neck, but at least I’m not in a ditch.

Nice to be home.


Addendum to the addendum: In response to the private and public clamor to see THE COAT, I’m posting a couple of pics. My mother also requests, sternly, that I stop telling people she made it from an old blanket. When she first gave it to me, I thought that’s what she said, but she corrected me. It’s made of pure mohair fabric that she fell in love with.

When I’m in a puckish mood, as when I’ve spent a snowy night in a hotel with a bad book, I stick with the blanket story.

Anyway, THE COAT is mohair in my favorite colors, with a blue silk lining. She’s particularly proud of how she matched all the lines and squares across the entire coat. It does look cool when you’re squishing down a snowy street.

BTW, the real colors are richer and more saturated than these photos–Gigi-the-iPhone is falling down on the job. No buttons, nubbly and cuddly, it’s long enough to cover the dusters and long jackets I tend to favor.

Besides, my mom made it. From an old blanket. 😉



  1. cynthia January 21, 2010 at 2:39 am - Reply

    Wow, Sandy. What a wonderful thing to say. I keep thinking that some day I’ll do a book, just can’t decide about what. 😉

  2. Sandy Nowack January 2, 2010 at 9:02 am - Reply

    Please do a book. You–with your clever wit, rich language choices and fabulous art–are so inspiring. Some days I think I head to my workshop with your voice in my head narrating. Thank you, thank you for sharing so much of yourself.

  3. cynthia December 31, 2009 at 4:59 pm - Reply

    OK, folks. Posted pics of the coat, above. It looks kinda faded on the screen. Think saffron, mango, gold and sapphire and you have it.

    And, Julia, one of these days I’ll have to tell that fish story…

  4. Linda Dean December 31, 2009 at 3:59 pm - Reply

    Cynthia, we really need to see this coat. Also maybe an interview with your mom about her art?

  5. Karen Ehart December 31, 2009 at 2:25 pm - Reply

    Wow, what an experience! I remember the huge ice storm in Portland in ’79. Got snowed in and power was out but my apartment had a fireplace and I had lots of wood so we cooked in it and stayed very cozy, sleeping in the living room. What a strange sight Portland is when it comes to a standstill!!! There were powerlines down everywhere covered in ice and all the buses and cars stranded. So weird because it is over so soon.

  6. Sally Ishikawa December 31, 2009 at 2:20 pm - Reply

    Nena and I were in Bullseye when the snow started to fall. We all worked like in oiled motor to get us out and onto I-5…….just in time to watch the 30 mile North-bound blockade begin. We were certainly heading in the right direction, as we were able to finally get home. It was a very exciting day! Glad you made it to your home in one piece!

  7. Julia December 31, 2009 at 10:56 am - Reply

    At least this drive throught severe weather did not include any fish!

  8. Ellen Abbott December 31, 2009 at 8:23 am - Reply

    re the angels…I’ve determined that those aren’t clothes, just extensions of their body.

    And where’s the picture of the coat?

  9. Kathleen Krucoff December 31, 2009 at 8:02 am - Reply

    That is quite the snowbound story Cynthia! I’m glad you decided to play it safe, although I am one who would prefer to be home in those situations too.

    I would love to see the coat! Can you post of picture of it. Sounds beautiful.

    Happy New Year.

  10. cynthia December 30, 2009 at 7:56 pm - Reply

    Hey, Linda–if I’d known you could have shared my room, and it wouldn’t have been so booooooring. First time I’ve been in a hotel room without electronics (i.e., laptop and iPhone) or a decent book in a very long time. Thank heavens there was enough stationery for writing or I would have gone nuts.

    Sara, yes…and all the religious portraits look evil. That one cardinal was probably a serial killer. Brrrr.

  11. Sara December 30, 2009 at 4:30 pm - Reply

    Oh don’t forget how all the babies in 17th century art look like middled-aged men!

  12. Linda Steider December 30, 2009 at 4:11 pm - Reply

    ohhhh Cynthia, glad you stayed in town! I sat on 217 for 2 hrs, moving forward inch by slowwww inch; then sat on 26 for 2 hrs; finally made it to 84 & a 2 hr drive home from there! Cars literally abandoned in the center lane, & both sides of the fwy. I considered finding a surface street alternate route, but figured it might be worse. Plus I’d get lost, as I always manage to do in Portland!!

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