Lileks: How to survive a snow emergency in Minneapolis

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 5, 2013 - 9:25 PM
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Many had their snowblowers running to deal with the snow this week, including Jessica Bellcourt, (Wednesday, December 4, 2013 in Minneapolis.)

Photo: Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

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The city’s snow emergency website was unavailable for a while on Wednesday, due to heavy traffic. Perhaps people were trying to buy towing insurance. OK, the system has some glitches, but it’ll work fine eventually:

Bronze plan: Covers the towing charge, which is $168. Deductible: $169.

Silver: Cars parked before the plows came through now defined as a “pre-existing condition.”

Gold: Children up to age 26 who live in another city are covered, should they be towed for any reason during a snow emergency where the policyholder lives.

Platinum: Cab ride to the impound lot is covered, if you use a particular provider network; you cannot submit a bill for two gallons of gas because a friend drove you. Hint: If the driver’s phone number isn’t printed on the side of the phone book you never use unless you’re arranging a cab to the airport, it’s not in the network.

Because this is Minneapolis, the momentary website snafu was a minor event. I got a tweet about the crisis. I got a phone call about it. I’m surprised a pigeon didn’t land on my shoulder with parking instructions rolled around one leg.

You have to live in other cities for a while to realize how good we have it; if this had happened in Washington, D.C., when I lived there, they would have sent out postcards announcing the event two weeks late, with postage due.

Here, I imagine a control center where two uniformed guards march into Command Central, present the data to the Chief of the Office of Inordinate Snowfall, who nods grimly and flips open a concealed panel with a red button. The guards insert their keys and turn them on the count of three, the button is depressed and every phone in town rings simultaneously to tell you we just got a lot of snow.

But is it really an emergency? Seems overwrought, no? I could understand “Biblical Inundation of Poisonous Toad Emergency” or “Unexpected Volcano Emergency,” but lots of snow is not an emergency, and it makes us look like wimps. It’s a Snow Inconvenience.

Or, more accurately, the Carnival of Plowing and Towing. Every year I give the instructions for newcomers to avoid, but they bear repeating. So:

What do I do when there’s a snow emergency? Certain streets have signs with a plow logo, indicating that massive, terrifying machinery will barrel through, blade down, scraping a trench that tosses aside all objects with pitiless indifference. If you don’t see the sign, that’s because A) someone slid into it and knocked it down because they were driving like a fool who believed that several tons of metal and plastic has the stopping ability of a cartoon Road Runner, or B) the snow is covering up the sign.

So why aren’t the signs heated? In the future, signs will contain solar collectors that store energy throughout the year, and you will be able to activate the melting element by tweeting #snosign to the city’s Twitter account, which will use GPS to determine your location. Of course, you could kick the pole, but then we wouldn’t make the top 10 list of “Cities that Use Social Media to Integrate Dynamic Signage,” and the twenty-somethings wouldn’t move here.

If a street has a blue street sign, it’s a snow emergency route. Green or brown signs mean it is not a snow emergency street. Here’s a handy little trick to remember the rules:

If the sign be green, your spot is keen. If the sign be brown, park in the town. If the sign be blue, please proceed to the impound lot at 51 Colfax Av. N. with proof of insurance, title, license plate number and photo ID.

Repeat it enough times; it’ll sink in.

It’s confusing! Yes. But there are rules. On the first day of a snow emergency, park on the lawn. Day two, park on the odd, or “peculiar,” side. On the other day, park on the even, or “level,” side. On the third day — and this is important — park on BOTH SIDES. On the fourth day, park in the airport ramp and fly to Arizona.

Whatever you do, take time to appreciate the beauty of the season. On Wednesday, when the snow was falling, I swear I heard the tornado sirens. You’re startled and think, “I must park the car in the northwest corner of the basement!”

Why use the sirens to announce a snow emergency? But then I thought: They’re loudspeakers. Why not have a loud voice shout, “Snow Emergency Is in Effect.”

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