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The shot heard round the world (of Mary El's head)

Dec 29, 2009

If you live in DC – and chances are if you don’t – you probably heard the story about the snowball fight gone awry during the recent blizzard, aka Snowpocalypse 2009. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, you may read the story HERE. (Other coverage showed up in the Washington Post, the New York Post, and even BBC News – that’s right, we went international!)

And now, for my version.

If you follow me on Twitter, you know I wasn’t all that thrilled about the snow. I had planned a lingerie shower for Megan on the very day the heavens dumped 16 inches of the most beautiful, powdery snow I’ve ever seen on the city. At first I was pouting, but then I realized everyone’s weekend plans were kaput. Margaret had a friend who was supposed to come visit that day, but her flight was cancelled. And countless other friends, including Ashmi, missed their flights home for Christmas. When my Aunt Lucia (one of my mom’s oldest and best friends and an avid reader of this blog – she deserves a shoutout! Woot woot!) wrote me and told me to get over it, everyone would be outside and I would have memorable fun, I did just that.

One of the great things about having a roommate is you have a friend on days like Snowmageddon. While others were cooped up in their apartments with no one to talk to, Margaret and I began scheming how we would spend the day. Because I went skiing last January I had snow gear, and that is the only reason, because we don’t get snow worth mentioning in Georgia, and I never imagined I would see snow like this. Let me say as an aside that I have never been happier to have my genuine gray full-length Uggs. Not until the end of the day did my toes even begin to feel less than warm.

We first got a hot breakfast downstairs in a little cafe and observed all the people who were braving the blizzard. The people watching was terrific! Everyone’s funny hats and homemade scarves were on display. Two men, who obviously didn’t know each other but were both smoking cigars, had a passer-by take their picture then parted ways. The snow had piled up around parked cars, and two guys attempted to get their BMW out. After about an hour, help from at least three other people on the street, a broom from the cafe we were sitting in, and a friendly tow truck, they were able to get out. Whether they made it to their destination I’ll never know, but we all cheered when they finally drove away at approximately 3 mph.

There was an atmosphere of excitement, togetherness, and fun. When we ventured out, we thought we’d make a snowman. But as we walked toward 14th St we noticed a large crowd and realized they were having a snowball fight! About 200 of our neighbors had gathered on either side of 14th St, and we arrived right as the fight began. (This included Hot Trash Breath Guy, who I saw hiding behind a trashcan, thus perpetuating the image of hot trash odor coming out of his mouth.) Some people were prepared with bags of pre-made snowballs. Mine were just kind of flat and fell apart by the time I threw them, but no one was targeting me (probably because I looked so, er, special with my giant pink ski jacket, big purple gloves, and weak throwing arm…and it didn’t help that I was laughing like Goofy the entire time).

A cop drove by and I got nervous, but then I noticed he was smiling at us and taking pictures with his phone. Another cop turned down 14th St and got stuck, and some guys halted the snowball fight and pushed his car out of the snow drift. A local news van was taping the whole thing, and I felt so happy that such good, clean fun would be broadcast to show what an upstanding, happy community we young DC professionals are.

When the fight commenced I moved to the outskirts because I’m a huge wimp, and also I wanted to be on TV. Right as I reached the edge, someone yelled, “Hummer!” Sure enough, a maroon Hummer was pulling toward the intersection. Then the chant started. “Hum-MER! Hum-MER!” And then snowballs started hurtling toward my head. My side of the street had turned to face the Hummer, and suddenly I was on the front lines! Thankfully -- and to my utter horror-- it didn’t take many hits until the man in the Hummer got out. He looked CRAZY mad. And he was walking right toward me. He yelled, “Throw another one, see what happens!” And some idiot threw another one – right in his face!!! (Geez, guys have skillz! If I had tried to taunt Hummer Guy I guarantee the snowball would have disintegrated in the air and I would have slipped and fallen and then cried in hopes he wouldn’t be too mad at me.)

The next part is a little fuzzy. All I remember is Margaret (where did she come from?) speaking in a very low voice into my ear, “He has a gun.”

My eyes darted to his left hand. At first I didn’t believe my eyes, but there it was. The world around me froze. He. Has. A. Gun. (Much less many guns that would necessitate an entire gun rack! Okay never mind.) And there was nothing but pretty little snowflakes between me and the gun. A GUN. A gun. A gun! My mouth dropped open and my feet would not move. You’re going to get shot, MOVE! I told myself. But I couldn’t move. And he was walking closer. And more people were throwing snowballs at him. And I was going to die on snOMG Day.

As I stared at death down the barrel of a gun, I somehow willed my legs to work, and I turned and ran for the hills. Unfortunately DC has no hills, so I hid behind a lamppost instead, which shielded about half of my arm. I shut my eyes and waited for the gunshots to ring out. I swear I felt my chest bleeding, but I checked it every few seconds and I was miraculously okay. Well, it felt miraculous in the moment. I guess it’s no real miracle that I didn’t get shot when he never shot the gun.

A few minutes later the cops showed up, and when they saw Hummer Guy they all looked exasperated. And I’m sure you all know the kicker here -- Hummer Guy was an off-duty cop, Detective Baylor, and told us, “You bet I pulled out my gun, they were throwing snowballs at me!” Um, ooooookay.

After four attempted arrests, Detective Baylor finally retreated to his Hummer and the cops told us we could get back to the snowball fight. Most people were leaving, though, but many migrated to Dupont Circle to start another fight. Margaret and I decided we’d had enough run-ins with the law for one year and walked back to the cafe where the snow had piled up nicely on the sidewalk. There we made Glenda the Snowwoman, because, as one male passer-by said, “There are too many men in DC.” (News to me!) With prune eyes, a carrot nose, and a pretty purple cashmere scarf, Glenda was a perfect mascot for our street. We predicted the scarf would be stolen within the hour. The next day everything was still there…except the eyes. You can draw your own conclusions.

When we decided we’d had enough, we fell back onto the sidewalk and made snow angels then ran inside to get warm. Two men in the lobby were filling in the concierge on the day’s events. When we walked in, one looked at me and started laughing.

“You were there! Oh man, you should have seen your face when that guy pulled out the gun! I’ve never seen someone look so scared and run so fast!”

Really? That's not how I remember it, I thought as I visualized the gun inching closer and closer to my face and my feet cemented to the ground.

That night we watched the news coverage on TV and online. Aaaaaaand I guess I wasn’t as close as I thought, because I didn’t get in any of the videos. Oh well, it was worth a shot. (HA!)


  1. You're a mess. I love it! I tried to make a snow man, but couldn't figure out how to get a ball started.

  2. Wow, what a story!
    Sounds like you and your neighbors enjoyed the snow much more than I did. We hardly left the house. I was all for snow angels but my hubby wanted to stay glued to the HD TV screen. I was a bit jealous of all the 9-year-olds sledding down the hill. Sigh. Maybe next time.

  3. My close-quarters Anti-terrorist defense training instructor calls this condition being "galvanized". Fear causes a type of paralysis. I have experienced this in a frightening situation as well. Like you, I found my mind was very active, but my body couldn't move. When I finally did move I did something lame, like hide behind a lamp post. I'm not convinced we all have the "fight or flight" instinct. But I do see reality in the horror movies that feature a doofus who won't run away but just cowers and quakes.
    Other than the moments of sheer terror it sounds like a great time of memorable fun!