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The Legend of milk, bread and snow storms

And so another year of my love/hate relationship with snow begins.

I do love the first snow of the season, especially when it happens overnight. You wake up to a world of beauty; everything white and sparkling and quiet. There's something about snow that hushes the world up. All you can hear is the soft sound of the swirling flakes on the window.

Unless, of course, the snow is mixed with ice. Like today. Then it's a whole other world. The sparkling that looks so pretty when it's from powdery flakes now looks like shards of glass have covered your lawn. You hear the organ music of horror movies in your head, bursting out a staccato, ominous tune. You hold your hands to your face Macaulay style and scream. AAAUUUGHHH!

Well, that's what I did today. Because I know my fellow Long Islanders well enough to know what I'm in for this morning, traffic wise.

I'm sure their panic went into full attack mode yesterday afternoon, when it was announced that - hold onto your hats, now - we would get one to two inches of snow! Gather the children! Man your posts! DEFCON ONE! And, like a sea of panicky lemmings, they drive en masse to their local delis and supermarkets and Dairy Barns, stocking up on milk and bread. Yes, milk and bread. It's an interesting phenomenon and I'm not sure if it's indegenous to Long Island, but it's been around for as long as I can remember.There must be some forgotten urban legend that wove its way around the Island decades ago. A suburban family wakes one morning to find that it has snowed. The patriarch of the family cautiously goes into the kitchen only to find that there is only a half quart of milk and two slices of bread left! The horror! The family screams in unison, the children start crying, the mother frantically tries to pump milk out of her breasts even though she weaned the youngest eight years ago. And oh, irony of ironies, the deli just two blocks away has one gallon of fresh, whole milk left and one loaf of white bread on the shelf. If only there were some way to get two blocks away with having to trudge through the monster snow storm that dumped two inches of the white stuff all over town!

That would explain the way people head out in droves to the store when a storm warning hits. Innate fear, left over from the telling and retelling of the fate of the poor Levittown family who had to eat each other's flesh and drink each other's blood to stay alive during the great snow dusting of 1931.

I'm not trying to disparage those who feel the need to prepare for a snow storm. If the weather channel says we're going to get eight inches of the white stuff, it's a good idea to have the things you need in the house. It's just the whole milk and bread thing that's perplexing. I worked at my uncle's deli for about seven years and every winter, it was the same thing. Snow alert equals run on milk and bread. No one bought anything to go with the items. No cheese or ham for the bread. No boxes of hot chocolate or cereal to go with the milk. No one bought toilet paper or soda or cans of soup. Just milk and bread. It would get to the point where a line would snake around the deli and I'd be ringing the customers up as fast as I could, to get them in and out before a fight broke out over the last loaf of Wonder bread. He's buying a gallon of milk and he lives by himself! Lynch him, that selfish pig! Flaming torches and pitchforks ensue.

As I look up and down my street, I notice that every house has at least one SUV parked in the driveway. Here are all these people with four wheel drive on their behemoth mountain vehicles (disclaimer, I have an Explorer), yet they are afraid to go out the door as soon as the first flake hits the street. And those who eventually do venture out fall into two categories; the overly safe driver, who clutches the steering wheel in a death grip and takes each turn as if she were navigating Mt. Washington, and the No Fear guy, who does 90 on an icy road just to prove he's a man. Meanwhile, all the other people are ensconced in their homes, rationing out the milk and bread. They eye each other suspiciously and the oldest sibling, who has been designated family captain by the father, has to escort each family member to the bathroom, making sure that no one is trying to make a break for the kitchen try and steal someone else's ration.

Never mind that there's six pounds of chicken in the freezer, two dozen eggs in the fridge and a Poland Springs cooler that offers hot or cold water in the kitchen. We're talking milk and bread here. No one wants to end up like that long ago family, turning into cannibals and then possibly zombies because they were unprepared for the storm at hand.

Two inches, baby. A little ice, a little snow, which will all disappear by noon today. Still, I'll stop at 7-11 on my way to work, as I do every Monday, to get a quart of milk and a can of coffee. There will be no milk. And then I will have to inch my way to work as a thousand drivers in their Navigators and Expeditions make the treacherous drive through some dirty slush, everyone riding their brakes and fighting off panic attacks as the sprinkling of leftover snow hits their windshields.

Go ahead and laugh at us, Buffalo and Syracuse. Smirk at us, Montana and Minnesota. We deserve it.


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference The Legend of milk, bread and snow storms:

» Apparently it's not just in Alabama from scrawlville.com
They freak out about snow in Long Island of all places. Man the riggin(s)! It's a full scale bread and milk alert!... [Read More]

» Nobody Stay Calm! Just Panic! from Yippee-Ki-Yay!

It snowed here today. Quite a bit, actually, though the ground is still too warm for it to stick. What we got was extended showers of "popcorn" snow that made a lot of noise on my hat when I was out in it. I don't know what the mechan...

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» http://www.cockedandlocked.net/archives/2004/12/aaaah_the_therm.html from Cocked and Locked
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» Snow? OH MY GOD CALL THE NATIONAL GUARD from Right Thoughts
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» 2" of snow - OMG! Call in the Red Cross!!! from IgwanaRob
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Ya gots nothin, there, M.

There's maybe about a quarter inch on the ground outside here in Southeastern Va, and they're in full blown snow emergency mode...Schools and Gov offices shut down, breathless exhortations from the 'weather' heads on the tube, probably about to activate the National Guard to round up poor stray lost kittens. I'm expecting the Governor - that pencil necked chicken little geek that looks like he just got over having acne outbreaks about a week ago, Warner, to make a 'remain calm' announcement from Richmond momentarily.

HA HA Ha. I thought this only happened in Alabama!

Well, from someone smack dab in the middle of the great white north, I'd just as soon see everyone STAY AT HOME. Get off my road, thank you very much. Up here in Syracuse this morning it was -7 degrees with an inch or so of snow on the roads. But if I can see pavement, I'm moving. We get snow just about every day. Life's too short to be driving 30 mph in an inch of snow EVERY DAY.

So yeah, I'll be passing you doing about double your speed in the snow. Just try not to drive off the road when I do it.

Oh and the big snow driving tip of the day - NEVER touch the brakes is you start to slip. Your brake pedal ought to have a sign on it - "Quick Trip Into the Median - Press HERE"

Ha. I thought it was only in places that rarely get snow, like NC. StormWatch 2004 for one flurry that didn't stick. I love it!

HA! If we have a dusting, we look at the sky and say "well???? where's the rest of it?" We had 9" of fresh snow yesterday -- on top of the foot and a half from last week.


That is not me smirking (50 miles south of Syracuse), it is my teeth chattering. Who left the Artic door open?

LOL I thought it was just a Virginia quirk until we moved to North Carolina 2 years ago - they do the same thing here. Unbelievable how folks would panic and run out to get their bread and milk. Wind Rider your comment brought back so many memories of my beloved Virginia - oh the horrors we used to have with that quarter of an inch of snow...might as well shut down for the rest of the week!

Milk & bread

and toilet paper.

Yeah, I have to agree with Catharine.

In Alabama it becomes a full scale holocaust. People in sandwich boards begin roaming the streets saying that the 'Monster is coming' and ringing bells.

And that's for the threat of snow. If you want actual doomsday prophecy come to pass, wait for it to stick. You will then be unable to find the following items in a grocery store all the way to Mobile:

1. Milk
2. Water - Never understood this one. Snow is frozen water.
3. Bread of any type. - I've been in the store on one of these days and seen people frantically buying hotdog buns because sliced was no longer available.
4. Duralog/Firewood - I've had people shove me out of the way to get at a HUGE stack of duralogs.

The worst snow we ever had was over a dozen years ago and, at the time, we were living in a VERY remote and rural area. We, on the outskirts of the very most outskirts, were only without power for two days.

I think the bread and milk thing is our form of supernatural ritual to stave off ill forces and natural phenomenon. Although I'd say it beats sacrificing the first born.

Erie PA here and I say: smirk

Around here, it's always been milk, bread and EGGS. My family's theory is that everybody is making French Toast.

We had 2" to 4" of snow in the foreacst last night. I ran right out to stock up on canned goods.

Good thing Guinness comes in cans now.

Hey Sexy,

It ain't da' snow that brings people out to buy bread, it's just that Wonder and I have this deal going where I release some of my old hot butter porn collection every once in a while and they're the exclusive distributors. You know, free porn in every package of WonderBread? Well, I can't help it if every fricking time we release a new collection it snows! Stupid, crazy weather. Always messing with my schedule.

On the upside, who knew there were so many closeted hot butter porno freaks out there?

Um...I was born in LA, raised and live in the So Cal area. We hold snow in awe because it rarely comes down except in the surrounding mountains. In November we experienced an unusually cold storm that out in the eastern reaches (Inland Empire) 6-15" of snow fell right down into towns at the base of the mountains and even closed a couple of freeways. I took this picture from my office of the mountains north of me. My daughter Jennifer called me, absolutely giddy about putting chains on her ambulance and going out in the parking lot to practice driving on ice.

Those of us that don't have to live in it treat these unusual snow conditions like a holiday.

I've seen the milk and bread thing in Pennsylvania, Virginia and Kentucky now, so I guess it's universal. I've lived through several monster blizzards, including a 40-incher in Pennsylvania in 1996 (tip: don't plow all the snow into the river, where it will form huge ice floes and knock out bridges downstream), and the only thing I ever ran out of and wished I had stocked up on was cat food. Now we don't have a cat, so I don't even need that. Snow panic is great entertainment for those with a bit of common sense.

Yup, here in Brooklyn it's Milk, Bread and, lately I've noticed, Bottled Water (water???).

This makes even less sense in Brooklyn than it does in Long Island (or virtually anywhere else). Because in Brooklyn there is a bodega on every other corner - and they're open 24 hours a day, by the way. Even during a blizzard, unless you're very elderly or very sick, you can walk a block or two to pick up whatever you need if you get that desperate. AND you can pick up Chinese food (or pizza) while you're at it.

My two cents to Darleen's post:

We in Southern California save the panic for when it rains. Its flat out comical the way all of the news reports go on "Storm Watch".

At the risk of sounding like Grandpa ("when I was a boy......") I went to college in Oswego, NY. During some of the snowiest winters on record (4 feet overnight, 20 foot drifts). They never once closed schools. Not once in the four years I spent there.....

And being it was college and all, when they predicted yet another storm, we'd stock up on canned goods. Cases and cases of it........

The "milk, bread, toilet paper" triumverate rules the Washington area. And it's often not just "buy a gallon of milk," it's a hording mentality! "Buy ten gallons of milk! Fifteen loaves of bread! As much toilet paper as you can carry!" As if expecting some do-over of some mythical Great Blizzard of 1822 that dumped 28 feet of snow over the countryside, and people couldn't get out until 1825, when the Army Corps of Engineers was formed for that purpose.

In Atlanta, there was a particular intersection that I used to love. The thing was situated in such a way that every approach to it was downhill: the intersection was at the bottom.

I used to ride my Harley over there to sit around and watch 'em crash. In 4WD's, no less.

Endless laughs.

(Eight below zero this morning in Daisy Hollow, with four inches of new snow.)

I live in Orlando.

What's snow?

I'm giggling in delight. As an ex-Minnesota boy here in Pennsyltucky, I see the same behavior you are describing. I still hold on to my strange rural pastimes of hording food and fluids so to see people panicing at the 11th hour makes me feel vindicated. I got a case of beer in the basement and a pound of smoke-house almonds in the pantry. Bring. it. On.

Same thing happens in here in central Indiana.

French toast! Priceless.

One caveat: the further south you go, the less "driveable" the snow becomes. It's mostly ice. Not the dry, driveable ice some of you smirkers are used to. We're talking freshly zambonied hockey ice. I don't care what you say, the snow snobs are the first to wreck on this ice because they drive too fast to show us how superior they are at "snow driving", being from up north and all.

That being said, the hoarding of french toast ingredients is a VERY strange phenomena. After all, in the South, the snow will be gone in 2-3 days tops.

I was in Orlando the day after Charlie came through. It made SENSE that the bread, milk and ice were gone. Kind of puts perspective on things. So I join all of you in giggling at this strange behavior. However, I will NOT participate in berating southern drivers. I know better.

"I don't care what you say,..."

Oh, yeah? Even if someone states facts?

Guess what: I grew up in The Finger Lakes, driving in every imaginable species of ice you can possibly imagine, and probably a couple that you can't imagine. (And I drove for a living: 175 rock shows a year, in clubs all over the northeast.) Then, I lived in Atlanta for fifteen years. I never once even skidded on anything down there unless I did it on purpose (to which exercise there really is a point), far less crash, as in "the first", like you said.

You wanna revise and extend, or what?

Dude, chill. I don't think you were supposed to take that personally.

The Milk And Bread Fetish is not particular to New York. Atlanta goes into a complete shelf-clearing M&B frenzy anytime the s-word appears in a weather forecast (which ain't terribly often, of course--although it did slush a little bit here yesterday).

I blame it on Sherman.

The thing that really irks me is when I actually do need milk, bread, or toilet paper, on a day that just happens to be "Snow Panic Day." I want to tell everybody "Look, I'm not panicking, OK? I always buy a half-gallon of milk on my weekly shopping run, which happens to fall on this day!"

Hey, Slartibatfast, I live in Tennessee and am a Southern native, & I will berate them for you. We cannot drive in snow or even rain for that matter. :)
As for the milk/bread thing, I think every person living above a certain latitude does that.. the only problem I have is that when we do get hit, we get hit HARD (9in of snow in one storm last year, schools shut down for 3days straight) & we have lots & lots of hills !! which are really fun to slide down, NOT !

Snow? What's that?

Interesting. I never really noticed that pheomenon up here in New England until after the Blizzard of '78. Before then it was alot like the folks from Syracuse and Buffalo have noted- it's the north, it snows. Deal with it.

After 78, when many folks found themselves stranded without food, water or power for a week or so in February, things started to get wierd. Now it's the old "There will never be milk or bread again!" routine.

Shameful, really :)

I'm in North Dakota. I promise I'm not smirking.. not even a little bit.. I'm actually jealous!! We have NO snow. its 5 days before Christmas and there is not even a dusting of snow on the ground sniff I imagine this is how it looks like in Florida at Christmas.

My family in NJ does exactly the same thing when they are getting a snowstorm of "2 inches". Milk, bread and water are what everyone rushes to stock up on.

P.S. People drive like morons in the snow here too. Its just worse doing it here because they should know better.

People would buy bottled water? They do know what snow is made of, don't they?

I come from farming families, so the idea of having too much food in the pantry comes naturally to me. I grew up with a huge freezer in the basement, next to the extra refrigerator, near the pantry and all the boxed and canned stuff. We were ready for Armageddon, blizzards, and zombies, though not at the same time.

We don't do the milk/bread thing up here; can't really explain why, but it doesn't happen.

The drivers, however... Road conditions can actually get pretty bad; I've seen the roads turn into more or less solid ice sheets. And there's black ice, okay. But that doesn't explain why the moment a solitary flake drifts out of the sky, everyone turns into Stan McNormalguy.

It's not unique to Long Island... in fact, I thought it was a New England thing.

since RI got caught in the Blizzard of '78, no self-respecting RhodeIslanda would ever be without milk & bread in the event of snow.

Yellowknife here @ -37 C (-34.5 F) as we speak. The milk and bread rational is the same here only its our ferry / ice road, just a hint that one or the other will go out will cause a run on all the milk and bread. Even though they fly it in and at most the shelfs will be barren of these two staples (due to the run) for maybe a day or two. Happens every year, you should see the first snow fall when all the new folks from down south have moved in and have to drive. It is too hilarious. js

OMG...Yellowknife! Game, set, match in the winter one-upmanship championships. I spent a year in Fortuna, ND on the Sask-ND border and got my weather forecasts from Regina. I just love town names up there: Medicine Hat, Moose Jaw, et al. But I'll NEVER forget the winter of '77-'78 in Fortuna. It was flipping PAINFUL.

Big Brother & Laurence Simon: Snow is like hail, only less crunchy.

Billy Beck, we had an intersection just like that right outside work and you'd see all of us lined up in folding chairs watching all the wrecks. That was big fun.......! Once you got one, then it was like a chain reaction thing, everyone else would start hitting their brakes and sliding into each other. Popcorn and hot chocolate were good accompaniments for wreckage. (Just in case, you know, you might want to ever watch a bunch of wrecks.)

I'll never understand it.

70-80 years ago our grandparents had less in their kitchens in good times and everyone survived. Of course, they weren't addicted to takeout food. Nowadays, an empty fridge and more than an hour wait on delivery seems to constitute famine on an Ethiopian scale.

Being a native Chicagoan, I've endured my share of nasty weather.

Just a few years ago, I was in New York for a conference, and the day I was to fly out, a quarter inch of snow fell. La Guardia was shut down. The city became practically a ghost town. I was staying at a hotel in Times Square, had been there for a week, and couldn't remember a time when there weren't pedestrians shoulder-to-shoulder on the sidewalks, except for this snowfall.

I had to stay an extra day because the city became paralyzed by a quarter inch of snow.

A few years later, the Chicagoland area got hit by 15 inches of snow. I was expected to show up for work. I had to call in, as I lived in an unincorporated area, and our streets hadn't been plowed out yet.

You are correct that TN drivers are the worst in the USA. Compounding that fact is we have this undeniable urge to turn every inch of road in the state into a construction zone. There are hardly any shoulders, and concrete bariers in the middle of EVERY interstate. I really do not mean to defend TN drivers. I take my life into my own hands every time I hit the road.

There is a columnist in the Tennesean (Tim Chavez) who moved here from elsewhere. He had a condescending attitude about our reaction to snow here when he first arrived. After a couple of years, he changed his tune. People who claim they can drive on ANY ice do not understand the terrain of TN. In the eastern and middle sections, there is hardly any flat ground. Mountains in the east, and rolling hills as far as the eye can see to the west. Because of the hills and the many rivers and streams, our roads are quite curvy.

My formula?


Hell, I thought if it was only 2 inches of snow, you guys could still find a golf ball. Had no idea folks in Long Island freaked out like we do here in central Texas over a couple inches of white stuff.

Except we don't stock up on milk and bread. Mostly Jack Daniels and Fritos.

NY drivers are the frelling worst whenever someone so much as spits on the street. Any moisture at all and they turn into the stupidest people on earth and insist on diving like there's a sheet of ice on the road. God forbid they actually accelerate when getting on the highway - because going into full speed traffic at 30 mph and nearly causing a 25 car pile up is so much more safe. I can stand driving here in the rain. Frelling dolts.

On the other hand, I love driving in the snow late at night when nobody else is around - there's just something calming about the serenity as well as the ability to randomly spin the car around a few times on an empty street (don't try this when cars are around, trust me).

On a side note, Dairy Barns seem to be a very local thing - local to Long Island. Even people I know from upstate are amazed at them. It's funny how much we take for granted a simple drive through convenience store (painted to look like a barn complete with a silo), yet most places don't have anything like it. My friend moved to Florida and aside from good pizza and real Chinese food, he misses Dairy Barns more than most things we have.

I know it's hard for some folks to figure out, but half the drivers on the road are below average even under the best road conditions.

Of course, that's none of us.

[chuckle] Yep, gotta second that notion here as well. Grew up on Long Island (Center Moriches) and learned to drive in the snow at an early age...I can still hear my father "If the plow can make it down Lake Ave, then so can the bus. Get your ass on it. Now."

Here in VA, I was amazed - they shut down entire COUNTIES (school/work/Gov't) for what is basically flurries. Of course, to me, "flurries" is anything under 6 inches of snow! LOL

P.S. If memory serves, the Dairy Barn is still there on the corner of Lake & Main.