From the Desk of Ellen Fisher - March 2010


As I sit here writing this column, there is a winter storm watch for blizzard-like conditions and an additional six inches of snow. Philadelphians all seem to share the same sentiment - sick of the white stuff, and eager for the arrival of spring. I guess, because of my unique circumstances, I am not nearly as mad at the groundhog as everyone else. For starters, I totally missed the first storm back in December because I was out of the country in sunny and warm New Zealand. As for the second storm, well, let's just say that if you are a parent who was snowed-in with your kids for multiple days, without a serious stash of emergency chocolate and/or wine, maybe you better skip the rest of this column.

Long before the forecast for multiple feet of snow, my daughter, Dakota, and I had made plans to go down to Washington DC to stay with my sister, Nancy. She's a diplomat for USAID in Mozambique, and was in the states for training. As the expected snow accumulation numbers kept growing, everyone around me questioned whether or not we were still going. To be quite frank, I couldn't imagine not making the trek. And so, with an inch of snow on already on the ground here in Philly, we headed out. The only concession I made to the weather was that, instead of driving the whole distance, I drove to the train station in Wilmington, where I parked in an indoor garage. The Friday afternoon atmosphere in the station was as aflutter as the sky, with people panicking about getting to their destinations. In this flurry of activity, we ended up getting on the wrong train. When we realized we were stowaways on an Acela Express train, we got the giggles. That set the tone for the remainder of the weekend.

By the time we arrived in Washington DC, the city was already 90% shut down, even though there was barely any snow on the ground. We were very lucky that the metro didn't stop running until a hour or so after we took it to our hotel. That evening we walked to the one restaurant in the neighborhood that was still open for dinner. And when we returned to the hotel, overly-full from a nice dinner of Italian food, we didn't venture outside again for another three whole days.

If you're thinking to yourself that this little story doesn't sound that much better than being snowed in at home, that's because there's one teeny-weeny piece of information I have yet to share: We were snowed in at the Ritz Carlton!

And this is how we weathered the storm: We donned the official Ritz bathrobes and slippers, propped ourselves up on the bed, and watched free first-run movies; we left our cocoon to visit the steam room and sauna three times a day; we sat by the pool and had drinks; we exercised on all the latest equipment; and we ate all our meals at a four-star restaurant. Not bad, eh?

I did feel slightly guilty when I missed a call (my new cell phone didn't work in the steam room) from my husband to tell me that, even though the snow was still coming down with fervor, he just shoveled the existing two feet from our walk and driveway, because he had to take my dad to the Emergency Room for a minor infection. I knew my dad was in excellent hands so, like any sane person stranded at a luxury hotel with the entire city closed down for a state of emergency, I merely let my worries evaporate into the hot sauna air.

Although the mall that was connected to the hotel was closed on Saturday, we got word late in the day that the Macy's Department Store was, indeed, open. So, without putting on coats or boots, we simply walked through a door at the back of the hotel bar and went on a shopping spree. With only four salespeople and one security guard in the entire store, it was like being in the movie Night at the Museum. My favorite part was when we got to play at being cosmetic counter consultants for one another. I especially enjoyed rooting through the drawers to find the exact lipstick shade I wanted to buy.

On Sunday, the town was still fast asleep under a thick blanket of snow, but we didn't care because in the mall, Nordstrom's was now open. When we entered the store we had a good laugh because all the people who had been hanging out at the bar the night before were now waiting on us. It was like being in a really, really small town where you know everyone. As a matter of fact, by the end of the weekend, the staff at the Ritz (unchanged since we arrived on Friday) felt like family. When we were packed up to leave the hotel, I took a bit of a detour back into the restaurant to give my favorite waiter a big hug goodbye.

All businesses, government offices, and the Metro were still closed on Monday (I think that Washington DC needs, in addition to a Department of Homeland Security, a Department of Hometown Snow Removal) but the roads were opening up. We decided to try our luck at taking a taxi to the train station. Cabs were very scarce, but we did end up securing one which we shared with others trying to make their way out of town. To our pleasant surprise, one of our cab-mates was none other than the US Ambassador to Indonesia. It was fascinating to learn about his job on a first-hand basis.

I like to end each of these columns with a business lesson. And this time, as we sat in the cab, realizing our fairy tale weekend was drawing to a close, I also found myself naturally slipping into one of my favorite business skills. At the Women's Yellow Pages we refer to what I do as I may look like I'm not working, but I'm really networking. And so, while the taxi slid and slipped its way to the train station, I certainly didn't look like I was hard at work, but I was really networking with the Ambassador. I put in a few (okay, maybe more than a few) good words for my sister who is getting ready to apply for her next position in, of all places, Indonesia!

I am looking forward to tomorrow's snowfall (I just checked and the prediction is sticking at 6 inches) as well as the entire month of March with hopes that in addition to the accumulating snow and the arrival of spring, I will also have the chance to accumulate a few more stories to share with you.

Ellen Fisher, Publisher who is already fantasizing about a trip to Indonesia

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