Lileks: Don't forget harpoon when packing winter travel kit

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 8, 2012 - 8:35 PM

Forecasts say it'll hit 60 Saturday. That was an easy winter, eh?

Well, it's not over: Today is the conclusion of Winter Hazard Awareness Week, or WHAW! -- the sound you make when you hit black ice at 65 miles per hour. This is a service of your Minnesota Department of Public Safety and its keeping-you-safe partner, Homeland Security. The main focus is ...

Hold on -- Homeland Security? What do they have to do with being aware of Winter Hazards? Imagine that phone call:

"Hello, Homeland Security? I think I have frostbite."

"Thank you for calling. Please remove your shoes and belt. If you have any liquids, such as schnapps or latte or any other winter-specific sustenance, please put them in a magic plastic bag. Be prepared to show the agent a photo ID that shows the number of fingers you had prior to your frostbite incident."

"Take off my shoes? I've already lost one toe I think. I'm calling from a ditch. I think the toe's gone. Look, my name's Albert Kaeder, from Osseo? Hello?"

"Al Qaeda? Let me transfer you to drone targeting. Please stay on the line..."

Anyway. There are five components to WHAW.

First, a "WEATHER OVERVIEW." Winter, it seems, includes "ice storms, blizzards, subzero temperatures, winter weather watches and warnings and wind-chill." Also known as "Winter." They have advice: "The best way to avoid any danger is to stay indoors in a well-heated environment for as much as possible."

(Related: The best way to avoid broken fingers from hitting your hand with a hammer is to not hit your hand with a hammer. Also, when you come across a rabid woodchuck, do not carry it home in your pants. Please make a note of it.)

OUTDOOR WINTER SAFETY. This includes snowmobile safety. Use only approved trails. Do not race over lakes after the first snowfall unless you have one of those new combination snowmobile-submarines and go by the code name 007.

WINTER FIRE SAFETY. I can sum this up: Think of all the ways you can burn down everything, and don't do them.

INDOOR WINTER SAFETY. This relates to carbon monoxide, radon, mold and other things nature has concocted as part of its relentless plan to kill you wherever you hide.

The official FEMA site also has tips on Christmas trees. It ...

Hold on, FEMA?

Yes. I'm checking the site to see if they have advice about keeping your Christmas tree fire-safe while the building is burning because rioters have no power or food after a natural disaster. ... Nope.

Anyway. Dry trees can explode into flames, so keep your trees well-moistened by applying lotion to each branch and needle on a daily basis. Again, this should be obvious.

Even as a kid I winced at Grandpa's tree -- dry enough so it'd drop a hundred needles if someone in the next room slammed a drawer, and they'd decorate it with candles. I have a vague memory of every Christmas ending with someone rolling around in a blanket out in the snow. Thought it was a game.

WINTER DRIVING. Have an emergency kit: hand-warmers, flares, chains; a copy of your will; candles that will generate carbon monoxide and set the inside of the car on fire, because you skipped reading "Indoor Winter Safety"; a cow you can use for food or makeshift shelter; a blood-soaked dummy you can toss in the road that will make someone stop for you, unless they drive over it, drive on, tell themselves it was already dead, and spend the next 20 years waiting for the knock on the door.

Kitty litter for traction; a cat with incontinence issues because it's a shame to let that stuff go to waste; a harpoon in case of bears -- really, it's the last thing they expect.

You're probably asking, "Can I use the harpoon to hit a passing truck, then use the rope to yank the car out of the ditch?" Yes, but this is not approved by Homeland Security or anyone else, and you have to have a concealed-carry license for the harpoon. What's the point? We all see the signs: HARPOONS ARE BANNED ON THESE PREMISES.

So there you have it: Don't set yourself on fire. Drive as though your car is laden with nitroglycerine and Faberge eggs. Don't make holiday cookies by putting the dough on the table, filling the room with propane fumes and tossing in a match.

Also, it's going to be 60 on Saturday.

Take off your parka, lest you suffer from heatstroke.

jlileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858

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