Having spent large chunks of the past few winters in the Midwest, I've started to question the season's usefulness. On the vast and barren plains of the country's midsection, snow, ice, and cold temperatures only make everything more miserable than usual.
Were I prone to indulging in lame extended metaphors - which I am - I might say that life in the Midwest is like getting an endless root canal. During the spring, summer, and fall, the warm weather serves as a kind of face-numbing dose of Novocain. You understand that an evil cosmic dentist is drilling holes in your mouth with the glee of a hyena tearing the entrails from a gazelle, but you barely feel it.
During the winter, though, the cold weather brings your nerve-endings to life, and you feel whatever kind of unspeakable pain root canals entail. I've never actually undergone a root canal - if I'm good at anything, it's maintaining a pristine set of chompers - so I probably shouldn't have constructed this particular comparison. But what's done is done - and anyway, an anesthesia-free root canal can't possibly hurt worse than winters in the flatlands.
And therein lies my primary complaint against winters in the flatlands: they take place in the flatlands. Sure, the Midwest has a few "hills" - three, according to the World Book Encyclopedia - but when it comes to mountains, you're out of luck, Buck.
Indeed, merely mentioning the concept of "mountains" to native Midwesterners confuses and frightens them. The poor saps dismiss mountains as either the stuff of myth (the most superstitious old codgers call 'em "devil's humps") or the invention of amoral Hollywood bigwigs who don't care what kind of outrageous ideas their movies put in young people's heads, as long as they pull in huge wads of cash. For instance, Midwestern viewers regard the film Cliffhanger as a piece of fantastical and implausible fiction, when in reality it's a nonfiction documentary about Sylvester Stallone and John Lithgow's doomed 1993 attempt to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.
Anyway, semantics aside, the crux of my complaint isn't simply the Midwest's lack of mountains. The crux of my complaint is the Midwest's inexcusable lack of downhill skiing, a pastime that's been part of my life since the age of two, when my parents bundled me up in an adorably puffy one-piece snowsuit, strapped wooden blocks to my feet, and dropped me onto the slopes of Mt. Pisgah from a helicopter.
After seven years of intensive psychotherapy (including countless hours on the shock-treatment table), I was ready to hit the trails again. Admittedly, I started out shaky. For instance, I remember taking the connector trail from Excelsior to Lower Cloudspin with my dad during one of our early trips to Whiteface.
As we stood at the lip of Cloudspin's drop - which, to a nine-year-old coward, was as intimidating as peering over the edge of Niagara Falls - I eyed the dune-like moguls that had formed over the course of the day and imagined crashing into one of them at high velocity. In my mind, I watched myself launch out of my skis, hurtle through the air, and - inexplicably - burst into flames, all in super slow motion.
I voiced my concerns to my father, who said that he shared them - the launching-out-of-my-skis-and-hurtling-through-the-air part, at least - and we hiked back up the connector trail to Excelsior (a humiliating enterprise that took the better part of 30 minutes).
Despite early setbacks like the Lower Cloudspin incident, I eventually became a decent skier - thanks primarily to joining NYSEF, or the New York Ski Educational Foundation - and learned to thrive on the endorphin rush that accompanies rocketing down expert-only trails at speeds in excessive of 800 miles per hour.
In fact, I became addicted to that endorphin rush, which is why now - living in the flatter-than-a-warm-glass-of-beer Midwest - I've started to question winter's value. Whereas I used to spend the season in a euphoric haze that blinded me to the truth, I now suspect that winter is really a cold, bleak snooze-fest.
At this point, I'd even welcome a root canal - not for the excruciating pain, but for the cool caress of Novocain. Because while a shot of Novocain to the jaw might not provide a sense of euphoria, at least it would make me talk funny for a few hours, and that strikes me as better than nothing.
Dan Leonidas makes shallow observations. He can be reached at email@example.com or myspace.com/lastminuteconcerns.