I owned an umbrella when I lived in the Midwest.
I owned several, in fact, though rarely more than one at a time. I used them, sometimes—standing at the bus stop when I rode the bus across the river to school, walking across campus, or, if it wasn’t too rainy, walking home. Then for a while one lived on the backseat floor of my car, just in case.
I didn’t actually use the car umbrella, though. I made mad dashes from apartment to car and car to [insert destination]. I wasn’t outdoors long enough to really justify getting the umbrella out, and getting it wet, and then carrying it around wet and finding a place for it to dry. Umbrellas were work. I couldn’t be bothered.
Then I moved to New York.
You see, New York City eats umbrellas for breakfast. Where I once walked only as far as my car, I now walk at least a few blocks (half a mile or more) to get pretty much anywhere*. And I’m one of millions doing this. During the week, the city is filled with commuters who, like my husband, travel to and from work each day via some combination of walking and public transit. When it rains, maybe eighty-five percent of those people employ umbrellas.
Now, if the rain was just rain, the umbrellas might be okay. There’s an etiquette to learn—about when to fold your umbrella and when to leave it open, when to raise it and when to lower it, and when to look for a plastic bag so you don’t contribute to slippery floors or sopping carpet in retail establishments. These rules are pretty easy to master, though.
The real problem is the wind. Rain and storms often come with wind. New York is a coastal city and Manhattan an island, so things like nor’easters and hurricanes sometimes happen. Even regular old storms blow through the city in gusts, magnified as they funnel between skyscrapers.
Before New York, having an umbrella blow inside out was a fluke, something astonishing that might happen in really bad weather. Mainly something that happened in cartoons or Mary Poppins. Now, inside-out umbrellas are common nuisances. An increasing frequency begins to signal an umbrella’s death knell, for even if the umbrella does not die a violent death and have its skeletal remains tossed aside into a litter bin or dropped and trampled, it will eventually wear out.
The kicker is that even the best umbrella isn’t good enough sometimes. When the rain falls hard and the wind really picks up and barrels through the streets, you don’t stand a chance. Even if your umbrella escapes unscathed (highly unlikely), any part of your body not covered in impermeable materials—and, inexplicably, some parts that are—will be soaked. If you made the mistake of wearing anything but wellies, your shoes will squelch and your toes will shrivel to raisins.
You will pass the moments longing to return home and wonder if you will ever be dry again.
My husband and I moved to New York with two umbrellas. Now we have five umbrellas and have acquired additional boots and rain gear as well. As I write this, Hurricane Joaquin is twisting itself out over the Atlantic, sending in rain and wind and chill. I put on my rubber boots, shop for the indestructible Holy Grail of umbrellas on Amazon, and renew my stalwart commitment to staying in.
*Anywhere except class, chapel, and weekday lunches, that is. Living on campus is still awesome.
Alissa Goudswaard Anderson (’10) lives with her husband Josh in New York City, where she is earning her Master of Divinity at General Theological Seminary. Alissa enjoys private kitchen dance parties, big Midwestern thunderstorms, and perusing other peoples’ bookshelves. For more, find her online at www.episcotheque.wordpress.com or tweet her @episcotheque.