Ben Werner

Hunter-Gatherer: Ahead of the Jonas Snowpocalypse 2016

Ben Werner traveled with his family from South Korea to the Washington, D.C. area just in time for Winter Storm Jonas. Here’s how he prepared in advance of it. 


Chicken, milk, bread, vegetables, carrots, celery, any type of fruit especially bananas, frozen pizza, and whatever else you think we’ll need for the kids.

“Is one bottle of Prosecco enough for 36 hours of snow?” I asked.

“No, get wine,” she answered. “Get red. Actually, get white too.”

And with this list texted to me, I set out Thursday before the storm searching for supplies. In my family unit, I’m the hunter-gatherer.

Normally, this entails meandering through markets in Korea, making educated guesses as to what I’m purchasing. Meat packaging usually has a picture of a chicken, cow, or pig. Boxed goods are somewhat trickier. I’m quite accomplished at pantomiming “I’d like a bibimbap to take with me out of your establishment.”

But, we’re visiting the States, staying with my mom in suburban Washington, D.C. as a crippling snowstorm was predicted. Listening to Thursday’s local news reports, one would’ve thought the four horsemen of the snowpocalypse were galloping to the nation’s capital Friday.

Would this storm be anything? And would anyone actually adopt The Weather Channel name for the event, “Winter Storm Jonas”? Were we really going to endure a boy-band-dubbed whiteout?

My gut said yes. A childhood spent studying isobar maps and watching weather patterns to predict if school would occur had taught me to fear this oncoming storm. A low moving through the south, dipping into the Gulf of Mexico, before chugging up the coast would surely dump snow; lots of snow. These were the storms of great sledding and days off of school. The fronts moving across the Midwest, crossing the Appalachians, were good for an annoying one- or two-hour morning delay.

Plus, the storm’s arrival was preceded by the meteorological harbinger of doom, Jim Cantore, live on The Weather Channel on Louisiana Avenue with the Capitol Dome in the background.



So, like millions of others, I battled traffic Thursday, attempting to gather food and sundries to last a week. Interestingly, while hunting for food, I was engrossed by an NPR story about a massacre of hunter-gatherers about 10,000 years ago in modern day Kenya.

A team of Cambridge University researchers thinks such a massacre suggests warfare existed before humans had anything worth protecting, such as settlements and domesticated livestock. Luckily, the worst I had to contend with was a sense of protecting my shopping buggy of food and being stuck behind cars driven as if the blizzard had arrived.

Perhaps these drivers were still spooked by the night before, when a short-lived squall dumped less than an inch on D.C. and ground the evening rush to a halt. Salt trucks were stuck in traffic crawling past spinouts and icy patches they were dispatched to prevent.

Perhaps it’s a bit apocryphal, but my friend Diego told me he’d been stuck on a bus inching up Wisconsin Avenue through the tony Georgetown shopping district. His bus was gridlocked within sight of a Five Guys. As more minutes passed, Diego kept looking out the window thinking of burgers. Eventually, he got off the bus, went in the Five Guys, ordered a burger and fries, waited for it to be grilled, paid, walked out, and finished his commute—on the same bus.

I asked if he was braving a trip to the supermarket Thursday.

“Yes, I’m going to park my motorcycle at the Safeway,” He said.

Instinct suggested avoiding the closest Harris Teeter supermarket. Located amid single-family homes of retirees and stay-at-home moms, I feared a Soviet-era shopping experience of long lines and few choices.

Instead, I opted for a Harris Teeter set among apartment towers and next to a Metro station. This location catered to young childless folk who shrug off dire warnings of snow so long as their wine, liquor, and beer supplies hold out. It wasn’t crowded and I found plenty of foodstuffs.

Meal inspiration was drawn from TV adventurer Bear Grylls. During his recent trip to Alaska with President Obama, he lauded the survival benefits of salmon while cooking one that was likely discarded by a grizzly. I found several packages of lox. I also relied on pluck, finding milk not at the supermarket but at the Parkway Deli, where I also procured a gallon of matzo ball soup.

I survived the traffic, evaded the crowds, and secured a lengthy list of goodies. Only wine and bananas remained unconquered, but were to be found during a post rush-hour trip to Whole Foods. I only needed bananas and wine, but what I found was a produce section denuded of all items except a lonely star fruit. Did everyone in D.C. intend to take up jarring and canning during the anticipated blizzard? Lines stretched back to the free-range chicken and grass-fed beef counter. People were moderately polite but edgy.

A nearby liquor store, doing a brisk business, would at least provide wine. I grabbed a Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio—per follow-on instruction—and selected the best of the last few bananas piled near the register next to lemons and limes.

Driving home, still thinking about the NPR story, I couldn’t help but wonder about those massacred hunter-gatherers. Maybe the fight hadn’t been over land or territory, but instead just a prehistoric incident of a veritable road rage ahead of an impending cataclysmic storm?


Ben Werner

Ben Werner is a writer currently living in Busan, South Korea, where he, his wife, and three small children made the decision to root for the Lotte Giants, perennial cellar dwellers of the Korean Baseball Organization. Stateside, the family pulls for the Washington Nationals. Along with being a freelance writer for newspapers and magazines, Ben has previously been a staff writer covering education and publicly traded companies for The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va., The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C., Savannah Morning News in Savannah, Ga., and Baltimore Business Journal. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland and a master’s degree from New York University.

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