When the Presidents Day blizzard hit in 2011, I was working in O'Hara.
Driving home, I slipped, slid, skidded, crawled and prayed my way from Field Club Drive to Regent Square. Then I got to Swissvale, where I stopped at the Giant Eagle to pick up ice melter and a few other essentials, and everything was fine.
The streets were clear. The streets here are nearly always clear.
I don't know how it happens, but Swissvale handles snow better than anywhere else I've ever been. The minute the flakes hit the street, so do the snow trucks. They don't rest until the snow stops.
In February 2010, "Snowmageddon" slowed them up a little. Around 10 that night I stopped seeing the snow truck's red lights going up my street. About 10 the next morning, it was back, plowing and salting the hill in front of my house, while my neighbors and I waved and cheered.
Unlike the mayor of Pittsburgh, the mayor of Swissvale made it to work right after that blizzard, and to the bowling alley, and Maldini's pizza shop, and the library, and anywhere else she wanted to go in Swissvale because our streets were plowed and salted.
I'm told Pittsburgh residents who live near the borough eyed their Swissvale neighbors' shoveled and salted alleys with unneighborly envy.
Yes, our snow trucks do alleys too.
We have our share of problems here in Swissvale. Snow is not one of them. I'm not sure how the borough came to realize that steep hills and icy streets are a bad combination, but it did.
Heavy snows can be disastrous in Western Pennsylvania. We've seen the TV news footage of cars skidding down ice-covered streets. We know horror stories of people stuck in their homes for days because their street wasn't cleared.
I lived most of my life in the city's East End. Its main streets were almost certain to be cleared sooner or later, but side streets were a grab bag. Walnut Street in Shadyside was always shoveled and cleaned and so was Ellsworth Avenue. Filbert Street or Elmer Street, well, those were maybes. Sometimes they were like skating rinks. You could pretty much forget about the alleys, though people lived on those alleys.
The East End was walkable, at least, which was a good thing in winter. Sometimes the only way you could get around was to walk, though I knew people in Point Breeze who traveled by cross-country skis.
When it snows in Swissvale, my elderly neighbors never have to worry that they won't be able to get their prescriptions filled. No one frets about the ambulance not being able to get up the hill. Nobody has any excuses for being late for school.
The borough knows that snow is not something you can reason with. So, when it hits the streets, so do the snow trucks, plowing and spreading salt.
That doesn't mean we don't have problems. The idiots who think my street is a NASCAR track don't go away because it snows. Neither do the people who don't know their big SUV needs a muffler, or those car stereo connoisseurs who treat the world to their favorite tunes.
But I can live with that, because I know that I can get groceries or walk down to the busway any time I need to.
When things do go wrong here in the borough, it regularly winds up on the 6 o'clock news. I frequently recognize streets where there was a shooting or an arrest or something else involving law enforcement.
I've been wishing for a while now that somebody would do a story instead about the Swissvale snow trucks. I'm sure the folks in O'Hara would love to know how we manage. Maybe the people in Fox Chapel and Sewickley would like to know, too.
We are short on stately homes, rolling lawns and quaint little shops here in Swissvale, but what we do have is accessible, even after a heavy snow. I sometimes wish that the borough could handle all of our problems as well as it handles icy streets. Of course, if it did, I might not be able to afford to live here.
Despite confidence in our snow crews, I'm stocking up on ice melter and piling on the blankets, because this seems to be one of those winters. But there are worse places to winter than here in Swissvale.
Jean Martin of Swissvale can be reached at email@example.com.
The PG Portfolio welcomes “Winter Musings” submissions about this time of year, in addition to other reader essays. Send your writing to firstname.lastname@example.org; or by mail to Portfolio, Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh PA 15222. Portfolio editor Gary Rotstein may be reached at 412-263-1255.