Nothing beats the weather
When it comes to making safe, neutral conversation, nothing beats talking about the weather. In college I took a class that taught us how to survive a job interview (presumably it taught us how to succeed at a job interview, but all I really got out of it was an improved chance of surviving it), and the instructor told us that while making small talk one of the only subjects he approved discussing was the weather.
When I'm at work people always ask me things like "Is it still raining?" "Is it cold out there?" As if I have any idea! I work 12 hour shifts, during which time I never set a foot outdoors. My best answer so far is "Uh"… It looks cold."
My mother is the queen of weather conversations. She checks the weather religiously, the way some people read a horoscope. She goes online, she does research, she looks at extended forecasts, and she owns some fancy thermometer which tells her, without having to get up from the table, what the current temperature is outside. She has her favorite weather websites, and likes to discuss not just what the current temperature is, but what the "real feel" is, which is affected by things like humidity, wind, and whether or not I'm paying attention to the conversation. I don't mind that she discusses the weather in so much depth though, it's only fair since I describe my cat's eating habits until my sister begs me to just go ahead and host a PBS special about it.
I've noticed that in general, Ashlanders seems to be pretty pessimistic about their winter weather. Attitudes about weather seem to get even worse as the weather improves. As I write this column the town seems to be in the middle of a couple nice sunny days, and even a couple mornings where I don't have to scrape the ice off my car. I absolutely hate scraping the ice off my windshield, in fact it's the only time during the day when I seriously think about trying to get married, because then I might be able to convince my hypothetical hubby to scrape my car. My married friends inform that this never actually happens.
Everywhere I go, the bank, the grocery store, the coffee shop, no one seems happy about the brief hiatus from ice and rain. People just look really glum, stare up at the sky and say things like "Yeah, last year we had a week of nice weather around this time too. It never lasts." I'm not saying it's going to last! I'm just saying it's nice right now!
And who, besides for my mother, who probably has a secret weather chart in her bedroom, remembers what the weather was like last January? I don't even remember if I managed to send my son off to school with a sweatshirt or not, and that was only three hours ago.
Weather is usually a perfect conversation. It's neutral, everyone can find something to say about it, and (unless you're my mother) it requires no further research than a glance out the window, or sticking your nose out the door. If only all job interview questions were equally easy.
I love the winter weather. I love the crisp coldness, I love the fact that when the roads are icy I have less traffic out my window, and I love being able to hide my 10 pounds of Christmas cookie weight under a puffy jacket. I love staying indoors when it's cold and finally having a good excuse for my antisocial behaviors, and I love scraping the ice off my car inch by horrid inch while my hot tears of rage, directed haplessly at the weather, help defrost the side-view mirrors. No wait, I hate that.
Zoe Abel is sitting in her climate-controlled bedroom. Her view of the weather from here looks excellent, but she'll call her mom later for an update. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org