tMichaelB is the web site for Tom Bengtson, who writes about business, religion, family and politics.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Another snow day

They say March is the snowiest month of the year in Minnesota, and that is proving to be true in 2007. We had more than a foot of snow on March 1. Our kids were off from school Thursday and Friday as everyone shoveled out. Just about every school in the area was closed Friday, even the inner city schools, most of which hadn’t taken a day off because of whether since Gov. Arne Carlson closed all the schools in the state one very cold day in 1994.

It took me a long time to shovel the sidewalks and driveway on Friday, although I lucked out when a good neighbor offered to use his 12-cylinder snow blower to clear off my driveway. Moving snow is a big deal. I am told that earlier in the week, on the first wave of the snow storm, United Hospitals in St. Paul treated five people who suffered heart attacks while shoveling.

I get mixed impressions whenever I first look out the window in the morning after a night’s heavy snow. The snow covers many of the things I am used to seeking, like some bushes in the back yard and a bench near the garage. It is a little bit disorienting. Years ago, there was a picture in the newspaper of a guy standing in the middle of a bunch of new fallen snow. The caption under the photo had the guy exclaiming: “I can’t find my garage!” Well, it wasn’t that bad yesterday, but we certainly got a lot of snow.

Years ago, I used to start my car and let it run while I finished up my shoveling. It takes a good 10 minutes for my car to warm up to the point where a human being can sit in it on these cold days. But do you know that that is illegal now in Minneapolis? Yes, our beloved city has passed an ordinance making it illegal to idle your car if you are not in it. So now, if your car is stolen while it was idling, the first thing a Minneapolis police officer is going to do when you report the crime is give you a ticket. In an email the city sent out to residents, the police warn that if your car is stolen while you are in violation of city ordinance you may not be able to collect your insurance.

A few years ago, my office was within walking distance of our house – about a mile. At that time, I came up with an idea that I still think has merit. You know how those early morning TV news programs show a map of the highway system with blinking lights that indicate traffic levels? Well, wouldn't it be great if there was something similar on the internet for sidewalks? Rather than indicating traffic levels, the web site could provide real-time information about which sidewalks were shoveled. The same way those TV-road maps help a commuter determine the best way to work, the sidewalk map could help walkers choose their best route. The shoveled walks could be represented by a thick green line and the un-shoveled sidewalks could be represented by a red light. Perhaps there could be another color to indicate shoveled walks that remain icy.

I could look at the map, and if I saw that four houses on 45th Street had not yet shoveled, I would walk down Beard Avenue another block before turning along 46th Street. The neighbors could all pitch in to make such a system work. After I finish shoveling my own walk in the morning, I could put a call into the person maintaining the web site, or I could just send them an email. It might even be fun to bring up the web site and watch as the sidewalk in front of my house officially changes from red to green.

Furthermore, if we noticed a shoveled sidewalk still represented by a red line on the web site, we could call that in to set the record straight. I suspect people calling in to report the condition of other peoples’ sidewalks would be key to the service’s success. The people in my neighborhood are already pretty good at keeping an eye on their neighbors’ property. Last summer, there were some neighborhood volunteers who actually went around counting all the trees in everyone’s yard. It would be much easier to keep track of whether someone has shoveled the sidewalk in front of their house than to keep track of whether someone has planted a new conifer in their back yard.

Spring starts in two and a half weeks, although I am not sure that means much. In high school, I played on the tennis team and I can remember matches in April being snowed out. Either way, I love the fullness of the four seasons which we get in this part of the country. Every season comes with its own stories.