by MICHAEL BOWEN, JACOB H. FRIES and KEVIN TAYLOR & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & E & lt;/span & very once and a while, Mother Nature reminds us that we are not, in fact, Masters of the Universe. Despite all our advanced science and technology, we are still fragile, warm-blooded beings of flesh and bone whose lives can be halted -- or dramatically altered -- in a sudden storm.

In an impressive display of strength, this week's record-breaking blizzard knocked out power, split trees, shuttered businesses, grounded planes, stranded people in their homes and closed Spokane schools for the first time in a decade.

Life, in short, became an adventure.

Facts. Just the Facts.

It was Sunday and the snow was coming down for 30 hours and something didn't add up. Something was funny. I was making the hop to my regular corner joint to grab some joe when it hit me. That sound I was hearing -- schlorp! schlorp! schlorp! -- that ain't the sound of the kind of snow we usually get. What's the story here? I act casual and make like I'm taking an innocent whiz against the back of the elementary school whilst I scope it out. Hey, this stuff is thick, heavy, wet ... wait a minute, this stuff is more like gloop. And there's a lot of it.

I call it into the newsroom ... but of course nobody picks up, because it's Sunday and The Inlander is a weekly. Dammit.

So I head downtown. It's Sunday, and I'm working the weather detail. Something's going to break. I can feel it. Sure enough, I was only on my second game of mahjong when the e-mail pops up.

It's from this dame at the city. Meet me at the EOC by 6, it says. I ponder the angles. Here the city is all over the airwaves telling the good citizens to stay the hell off the streets -- the whole burg is covered in wet, heavy gloop, they say -- and yet they invite reporters to drive across town to a remote, secret location for a press conference to say the roads are bad.

We all go, because we're suckers that way.

My roadster purrs like a well-fed cat on the dark streets as I follow the bat signal to a spooky, industrial part of town where the buildings all seem to be charred. Wait, it's the fire department training center. Some mug is at the door. "Marlene sent me," I say and he steps aside like I hit him with a Taser.

Sometimes it just works like that. Pretty soon it's me, that tough chick from the Dark Tower, a high-level swank from KREM and the pair in puffy red parkas from Channel 4. We're all surly because there's no bourbon.

Marlene, that dame from the city, is behind a lectern. I got something to say, she says, and she says it. No nonsense. She passes around a single, typewritten sheet to make sure we know what she says after she says it. The rest of her mob -- police brass, fire department boyos, the sheriff's guy, street department supers -- gather along the walls behind us with their arms crossed and they stare. Hard.

I feel like the penguin in the ice floe exhibit and waddle out fast like there's herring in the parking lot. Whew.

I still got the sheet. Never wrote a word. I work for the weekly. (KT)

Symphonic Obstruction

It should have been simple. Yet at every turn, seemingly by some larger power with a wicked sense of humor, Fabio Mechetti met with disaster. The Spokane Symphony's former music director (1993-2004) was in town for a homecoming Classics concert at the Fox. Mechetti -- here with his family from sunny Jacksonville, Fla. -- was staying at the upper South Hill home of Sandy Kernerman, who's on the Symphony's board.

Mechetti was scheduled to deliver a 2 pm pre-concert talk on Sunday afternoon before a 3 pm concert, but when he stepped outside, he found his rental van buried under Snow Mountain. Kernerman's car was also immovable.

Mechetti called Avis to come get its van. Avis promptly dispatched an extra-large, "semi-sized" tow truck -- which promptly got stuck. The call then went out to Don Nelson, the Symphony's general manager. His car was also buried, rendered as useless as a solidly frozen beer.

Finally, Nelson's wife Vicki Strauss was able to rescue and deliver Mechetti downtown -- though not before he had fallen and gotten drenched to the skin while walking down a street. "All that," Kernerman comments, "and only 15 minutes late for the pre-concert lecture -- and still professional and composed."

Rumors of Mechetti's having appeared on the conductor's podium in tuxedo and galoshes were ultimately discredited. (MB)

Celebrity Encounter

Jay Leno doesn't cancel dates. Not once in the past 20 years, his people assured the Northern Quest Casino, where he was scheduled to perform on Saturday. When the snow piled up in Spokane, shutting down the airport, Leno considered flying into Lewiston. When Lewiston got socked, Leno picked up the phone himself.

"Hi, this is Jay Leno..."

On the other end of the line, Mary Lien, the casino's entertainment coordinator, was floored.

"I want to apologize for not being able to make it," Leno continues. "I hope you understand."

By Monday, Leno's appearance was rescheduled for March 2 at 4 pm -- he even mentioned it on The Tonight Show Monday night, adding he plans to entertain the troops at Fairchild while he's up here. Presumably, that date's far off enough so that at least one runway will be cleared for landing. (JF)

Mayor, and Maybe More?

Maybe it's the Native American heritage. Maybe it's all the years of environmental work, but here's something to consider about Spokane Mayor Mary Verner and snow. She was officially in office the morning of Nov. 27, when the election was certified. (This is because the previous mayor had been appointed to finish a term.) According to John Livingston of the National Weather Service, "It started snowing in earnest Nov. 26."

None of us have said this out loud, but we all know it hasn't stopped.

Mayor Jim West? Think he was a strong mayor? The snowfall total for his first winter in office, the weather service says, measured 25.8 inches. Dennis Hession? Think he was well-connected to the power elite? His first winter in office: 27.3 inches.

Verner? "Snow totals for this winter, through Jan. 28, are 51 inches," Livingston says. That's an inch away from beating them both. So we must ask: Mayor or Earth Mother?

"If this all stays frozen and stays in the snowpack till spring and recharges the aquifer, I will say my rain dance worked," a laughing Verner says, her voice still cracked and hoarse after a week with the flu. "But if it causes a stormwater overflow, then I'm keeping quiet." (KT)

Essential vs. Nonessential

When Spokane declared a snow emergency and shuttered City Hall on Monday, only essential workers were asked to come in. The Inlander observes the following:

Essential -- Two guys walking around to empty the quarters out of the parking meters.

Not Essential -- City Council. Hey gang, if you want to pitch in, think shovels ... or quarters. (KT)

Pride Night Out: Arts & Culture Crawl @ Human Rights Education Institute

Wed., June 16, 6 p.m.
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