March 5, 2008

Is This Town Big Enough For the Both of Us?

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Oh, snow is a wonderful thing. It’s very pretty, when it’s falling down in big, fat clumps all around us. And it’s useful, too. Where would we be without its snowmen, its igloos, its power to illuminate the incredible abundance of canine urination that in the summertime goes too often unnoticed? Snow regulates the temperature of our oceans, I believe, as the icy coolness of the poles expands and merges with our warmer, tropical seas. This regulatory property is what makes it possible for mammals, such as whales, to survive underwater, as I understand it. And how could we have survived the Middle Ages without harvesting valuable whale blubber from beneath the sea?

But snow has its seedy underside, like all things. For one, hypothermia. I’ll never forget seeing Ben Affleck in the throes of hypothermic attack in that epic high seas adventure, Voyage of the Mimi. I learned many valuable things from that fine program — how to get me some drinking water from a piece of nylon fabric and a rock, for instance. But more than anything I learned the horrors of hypothermia, as young Affleck huddled naked for dear life, cuddling furiously in a sleeping bag with his naked cabin-mate. The transfer of heat from nude skin to nude skin is hypothermia’s only cure.

Snow also clots our roadways. Thanks to technology we now have snow plows, but what we really need are snow dissolvers. Those snow plows only displace the problem from road to sidewalk. Giant snow banks impede the way of the plucky pedestrian. The accumulated snow piles up, slowly encroaching on our already too-narrow sidewalks and pathways.

It is always important to consider the other people walking around you, I think. But this is especially true in wintertime. It’s always a problem, to get from one place to another, but in the winter those sidewalks have less walking-room than ever and this complicates the process. For instance, where in the height of summer your average walkway might be three chest-breadths wide, in the winter that number could be as low as two chests.
This is trouble for those lone walkers who might happen to cross paths with a group of two or even three folks, walking carefree, shoulder to shoulder. In most cases these larger herds are merrily chatting it up, oblivious to the lone walker’s plight. Nobody wants, mid-conversation, to either cut in front of their buddy or vanish behind them in order to make room for some anonymous loner. But this means that the poor pedestrian, flying solo through these icy climes, will have to dodge into those giant snow banks in order to avoid a painful bump in the shoulder from the passing gabber. It’s not right. If you’re walking in groups, make way for others, I say.

It’s difficult to stay aware of your surroundings like this, I know. I, too, am likely to be distracted by the majestic cars, chugging through the slushy mud, or the seagulls circling around looking for a suitable pond of melted snow to roost in. But it’s important not to bump people in the shoulders and thereby causing painful bruising.

Paying attention is important in other places, too. The entrances and exits of certain buildings, for instance. Now I don’t like a cardboard sign telling me how to behave any more than the next person, but I think in some cases those black-markered words may have a point. If everyone abided by the signs and went in the “In” door and out the “Out” door then there could be a constant flow of foot traffic. No frustrating delays as people pass through the incorrect door at cross purposes.

It’s important for there to be a certain kind of cooperation during these snowy times, I think. And this has been true throughout human history. During the winter in the Viking days, groups of red-beards would have to sleep two or three to a sack of whale-blubber in order to stay warm. It got that cold up there. So the next time you bump somebody else in the shoulder, knocking them into the snow and leading to hypothermia and thus to possible nudity or death, take a step back. Think about how willing you would have been to curl up in a sack of whale blubber with your fellow Viking, and give that walker some room to walk.