A True Account of Getting to the Eleventh Annual Computers, Freedom and Privacy Conference in Cambridge, MA.

By Cedar Pruitt
03/06/01 12:16 PM
To: Cedar@criticalmedia.net
From: szg@law.harvard.edu
Subject: snow day!

Hi Cedar,

Hope you’re enjoying some indoor time. It’s not helping me with the whole cabin fever problem but it’s kinda nice knowing that it’s just a sit at home and do nothing day for everyone.

Did you have fun at the Middle East the other night?


March 6, 2001.
So, I walk through the falling snow at about forty minutes past noon on a Tuesday. All the schools are closed, which means all the kids are outside playing mean together, and the state of emergency isn’t threatening anyone. Yet.
On the train, I look at people, wonder what they would be like if they were in a movie I was watching. This is my customary game lately, and I find it amusing, though it does make me stare at people. At Park Street, I switch from the Red Line to the Green Line. I haven’t had gloves in months.
The Green Line moves above ground; pulls itself onto a snowy street and we rumble down the middle of six lanes on worn iron tracks. This is the B Line. Near my stop, I stand up near the driver, an African-American man in his mid-forties wearing a ballcap. “Is this Boston University Central?” I ask him. “Yes, it is,” he replies. I get off. Say “thank you” to him. He responds, which is my favored reaction among public transport drivers. Sometimes they say nothing, which is exactly what I’d do, and I hate them for one minute for being so indulgent of their anti-social desires, which is precisely as I am. All of us are no good.

Wind is screaming outside. I need to get out of the middle of the street. Man with a duffle bag slung over his shoulder looks at me as I crunch my feet into the snow, clearly with definite plans to balance on the ice until I’m over this small mountain, across four lanes, down the sidewalk, over the river, and at the hotel where the conference is taking place.

“I wouldn’t do that on a day like today,” he growls. I ignore him, prove him wrong, finally off the small ice mountain, and he shrugs and follows me. With no gloves, I wipe snow off laminated BU maps until a student asks if he can help me. I tell him: Hyatt. He shakes his head incredulously: “that’s over the river!” I know, I say.

I am crossing a bridge in a whiteout. The man with the duffle bag trudges ahead of me, having gained ground when I stopped to talk to the student. He is wearing a scarf over his face and he also has gloves, while I have managed to have only a black hood that won’t stay on my head in a storm. I am determined to beat him, despite his many advantages. All I can see is breaking ice below and through trees on the opposite bank, the white glow of a bulldozer’s headlight. I stop on the bridge and look down at the railroad bridge crossing underneath. There are fresh footprints across the tracks, two sets.

No handrails and I can’t see how they got to the bridge. Damn it! I’m jealous.

Almost over the ice water now, I see movement against the white and a splash on the bank with the bulldozer. Swans are in the water, first two, then eight. I get closer. There are ten on the land, maybe more. Through brown branches and geese, I can see the swans, I can hear them in the water. My hands are freezing in my pockets.

Land finally, and I still can’t make out the buildings for all the snow, but I managed to pass Duffel Bag man on the bridge. He had it coming. I even managed to pause and gaze out over the field couched by highway, where dozens of ducks and still more swans played in the snow. Snow day!

No Hyatt in sight, time passes, the wind is unbearable. Four boys trump towards me, red-cheeked with sleds. Where are they going? We are surrounded by highway, I take refuge in an underpass. “Do any of you know where the Hyatt is?” I ask, though they are not yet pubescent and must be unnerved by the site of my frozen hair and mascara-smudged eyes. They are unnerved. The bravest one speaks up. “Down that road,” he points.
I thank him and decide to take a short cut through some parking lots. Duffel Bag passes me as I leave the sidewalk, and I never see him again. Twenty-five minutes later, I emerge in the exact same spot, from a sea of deserted parking lots, with one chain-link exit onto a side street. The Hyatt loomed over me the whole time, fenced away and out of my reach, safely out of my cold hands.

I see the boys again, returning from sledding. Nothing could be this bad. I am beginning to think I am going to die in this storm. They look at me, surprised, concerned. The bravest one approaches me.

I don’t want him to be concerned. “I think I have it figured out now,” I say reassuringly. I try to look warm and dry. I am good at this; it works, and he smiles. “Okay,” he says. They turn home for hot chocolate and Sega. Myself, I turn and walk towards the highway. Cars are screaming past me, my face whipped, and I think my hands are simply gone. It is 2:00; I have been trying to get here for almost an hour and a half. I am on some other bridge; I see the Hyatt again. There’s no fence this time, but there is a circular driveway I must navigate, several doors that don’t open, a fake palm tree. I think about crying.

By 2:10, I am at the registration desk. A mirror in the lobby shows me that there is no mascara on my face anymore. There is no color at all, in fact. The front desk attendants look at me with mouths agape. One of them calls me by my full name. “Cedar Pruitt!” I look at him blankly. “I’m Andy…” he says. “I used to use the same photocopier as you when you worked at the Kennedy School. I cut my hair.”

I really don’t recognize him. I am shaking. I touch my own hands. They are red, and I can feel them, but I can’t seem to use them to pull the icicles off my hair. An attractive man in a knotty sweater materializes from nowhere, beside me. Later that night, over drinks, he would tell me I looked fascinating: “You looked bizarre, but not in a bad way. I’d never seen anything like that.” He touches the nametags laid out on the table, lightly, with his fingertips.

The girl behind the table says, “Bad out there?” “Yes,” I say. This is the first thing I have said since walking through the door. There is an awkward pause.

I need a nametag. Andy says I’m not on the list, but not to worry. I must write my own. I must also write a ‘V’ on it if I am a vegetarian, and I say that I am. I am still shaking, but I manage to write my name down clumsily with a black Sharpie. I write my affiliation underneath. Then I write a V.

The girl asks if she can ask me a dumb question. The snow is now melting, flooding through my beautiful coat, I’m sure soaking my silk blouse. Ice drips down my neck. There are no dumb questions. “Of course,” I tell her. “What’s the difference between a vegan and a vegetarian?” “A vegan does not eat dairy products, while a vegetarian just does not eat meat.” “Oh,” she says. “Which one are you?” “I am a vegetarian,” I say. “And eggs count as animals?” she asks. “No,” I say. “Eggs aren’t animals. I just don’t eat meat, you know, things that are alive.” She looks at me blankly. “Things that have lives, and feelings,” I say. “Things that feel pain.” Andy laughs. She giggles nervously. I’m losing it. Attractive man in knotty sweater moves subtly behind me. Someone taps me on one shoulder and then hops to the other side of me, tricking me as I drip ice on the floor. It is my infuriating co-editor. He begins to talk, then slows as he looks at my face. “Hello. I’m cold,” I tell him. “Yes…” he says. He smiles. I am not smiling, and yet everyone else is smiling at me. “So, I need you to cover the last session of the day,” he says. I begin to unzip my coat. I can use the zipper; this is good news for my hands. “Okay,” I say. I must move away from him at all costs. I ask Andy and the girl where the press room is. “We don’t know,” they say, with no apology or shame. “Oh,” I say.

I begin to back away from them, from Andy, the girl, from the insane, horrible co-editor, from the attractive man in the knotty sweater, who is now lurking behind a column. “I think that the further people get from this table, the better it is for them,” says Andy, suddenly strangely prescient. I step inside a glass elevator.