Here in the South we’re known for naming things in ways that sugarcoat the bad news a bit and help preserve an overall sense of gentility. The prime example being the “Recent Unpleasantness,” a popular Reconstruction era euphemism for the Civil War that was intended to keep the womenfolk and other delicate types from coming down with the vapors right there on the veranda.
Well, get ready to do mass triage on the veranda, Atlanta. Because after last week’s bad news weather event on steroids — aka “Winter Storm Leon,” cough, cough! — we can kiss any pretense of language gentility goodbye.
Thousands of motorists were still trapped on highways and Al Roker hadn’t yet appointed himself our long-distance scolding nanny when tout metro Atlanta was already trying to come up with a better, more tell-it-like-it-is name for this storm.
“I’m calling it the ‘Traffic Torturer,’” Laura Davidson, 25, said a trifle wearily on Wednesday, a day after surviving a 3-1/2 hour drive in her car (she traveled a quarter-mile), followed by giving up and hiking to the North Springs MARTA station.
“Snowzilla,” suggested Kennesaw’s Tina Faye (no relation to the actress). “A monster took over the city.” Faye was near Piedmont Park during Tuesday’s storm and had to overnight it in her Miata in a Midtown parking garage.
“I’d call it ‘The Walking Dead,’” said Adaobi Nwaneli, describing the pervasive air of zombie-esque doom that seemed to hang over the unmoving gridlockees during nonstop TV news coverage. “No, ‘The Parking Dead.’”
What absolutely nobody was calling it, I can assure you, was “Leon.” This despite the very best efforts of The Weather Channel, which for some reason last year decided it should “proactively name winter storms.” For this year’s list it had some added help: Students in a Bozeman, Mont., high school Latin class came up with storm names drawn primarily from the pages of mythology.
“That’s weak,” chuckled Greg Costello when informed that the storm I’d begun referring to as “Aparkalypse 2014” and “Snowpeless” officially answered to “Leon.”
Looking around the eerily empty LA Fitness gym in Ansley Mall where he was manning the front desk on Wednesday morning, the Georgia State junior seemed to speak for an entire mocked-and-gridlocked city of people when he boldly declared: “We can do better.”
Yes, we can. And we should. Put aside the “Suuh, you have offended our honnuh!” blow that comes from what probably amounts to a handful of teen nerds in Montana presuming to speak for us.
Giving our own names to things fosters an important and increasingly rare feeling that we’re all in this together in this one very, uh, special place.
Think, “Freaknik” and “Spaghetti Junction.” Think the slim-to-none chance anyone named “Bubba” or “Meemaw” will ever turn up on an organized crime wiretap in New Jersey.
More important, if we don’t do this ourselves, outsiders will come in and do it for us. It’s already happening, as “Snowpocalypse” and “Carmageddon” quickly became the go-to names dumped on us by the national press and far-flung social media users last week. There’s just one problem: Those names have become increasingly commonplace these days, lazily attached to pretty much any generally awful weather or traffic situation that crops up anywhere in the country.
But … we’re Atlanta. We’re uniquely awful. We deserve a uniquely awful name for our storm.
“This one was worse because we knew what did happen,” Nwaneli said, referring to the brutal ice storm that shut down the area for a full week three Januarys ago. “And what could happen.”
And so of course, it did happen here. Again. As tempting as it may be to dub last week’s storm “Dejavucalypse” (especially since “Repeatknuckleheadageddon” is too long to fit on the commemorative T-shirts), that ignores the real, it-pretty-much-could-only-happen-in-metro-Atlanta reason that too many people ended up trapped in their vehicles.
Too many people were in their vehicles to begin with.
As a result, nothing but a storm name that’s a scary mix of things driving-related and, well, scary will do here. “Stallmate,” “CARnage,” or “Implowsion 2014” all work nicely (so does “Implowsion 2014-2015, depending on how long the roads remain clogged). A clever AJC editor, Jim Denery, came up with “Gridlockalypse.” Or there’s the shorter, more Southern version: “Gritslock.”
One R-rated nominee that’s come in is “Clusterstuck.” Which leads us to the suggested storm name that dare not speak its name. The hands-down most aptly descriptive one for the way it plays off the city’s hip nickname and doesn’t bother to sugarcoat what we all went through last week:
“The AT(hel)L 2014.”
Commence coming down with the vapors, y’all.