Each year, as the end of winter approaches, New England weather goes through its March ritual of behaving like a complete punk. After months of punishment, cruel and unusual punishment in the case of this frigid winter, Mother Nature senses our desperation, and that’s when she starts playing games: Haven’t felt warm sun in months? Here’s a couple of hours in the 50s. Feel good? I’ll bet it does. Now back to snow and ice.
And this March, which has been bad even by our miserable standards, we look to the 10-day forecast not for information, but for inspiration, for hope, for the belief that better days must be ahead.
On the North Shore, the March reopening of the five Captain Dusty’s Ice Cream shops is seen as a great milestone that spring is finally coming. This year, when co-owner John Bartlett arrived to open the shop in Beverly Farms for the season, he found four kids on bicycles waiting. Two of them were in shorts. The temperature was in the low 30s.
It’s not necessarily the time of year when people want to eat ice cream, Bartlett said. It is the time of year when people want to want to eat ice cream.
In Boston, the opening of Sullivan’s at Castle Island is another of those milestones people look to for hope. But on Thursday, two weeks after they opened, the cashier at Sullivan’s looked bored. In most any weather, the line is famously long at the beloved burger-and-hot-dog shack. Yet with temps in the teens and the wind whipping off the water, just a few dozen people came through the doors during lunchtime.
“We are done with this weather,” Janice Vieira of South Boston said as she and her son, Kyle, 3, waited for their order. Her kids keep asking when it will be warm enough for them to return to the playground.
She checks the forecast every day. She doesn’t have a good answer for them. So Thursday they went to Sullivan’s instead.
Angela Errico of Dorchester had the same idea and brought her son, Ian, 4. “His dad’s from Puerto Rico,” Errico said, looking at Ian. “He’s been here six years, and he’s done with it. He can’t stand the weather. He says, ‘These feet are made for sandals and sand, not boots.’ ”
He is not alone in this thinking. For it is in late winter that many people begin to wonder why, exactly, they choose to live in this climate.
Ronald Reagan once allegedly said that “if the Pilgrims had landed in California, the East Coast would still be a wilderness.” Other versions of the quotation have it ending with “we would have never found the rest of the country.” Whether Reagan said it or not, the reason it’s oft-repeated is clear: There are other places that don’t suffer like we do.
And they love to remind us of this. Any Facebook rant about the horrid weather always brings out that guy — you know the guy — who wants to tell you the temperature where he lives. The real trolls include a photo of their balmy forecast, just to rub it in. It stings, because it’s hard to argue with. Maybe the reason so many retirees move to warmer climates is because they have grown smarter with age?
And so it’s the time of year that many dream of moving, or at least removing themselves temporarily, from this place where simply being outside for too long can kill you.
“A cruise in the Caribbean would be nice right now,” Chris Lane, one of the managers at Sullivan’s, said as he stared out the window at the grayness of March. “Or Aruba. Or anywhere warm. I’m just sick of it. I enjoy my winters, but once you get that first warm day, you want them all to be warm.”
On Monday, we got one of those warm days, relatively speaking. Temperatures toyed with 60 degrees. There were lines at the car wash. People wore T-shirts and drove with the windows down. Vitamin D entered the body. Shoulders un-hunched. Crocuses were spotted. And you could feel forgiveness setting in, even understanding. It wouldn’t feel this good, the thinking goes, if it hadn’t been so bad.
But just as suddenly as the hint of warmth arrived, it disappeared again, replaced by bracing cold, blowing snow, and the reminder that New England weather is a complete and total punk.Billy Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @billy_baker.