Peter’s Road Rant -dlh (I don’t buy your premises)

Peter Gillette

Jane Byrne was elected mayor of Chicago, Ill., in January of 1979.
Gender prejudice notwithstanding, it was no small feat. Byrne’s victory shocked election forecasters who figured that incumbent Michael Bilandic (Byrne’s former boss) would retain his seat atop the city’s efficient Democratic political machine.
But even a well-oiled machine can be ground to a halt when Midwestern winters weigh in.
You see, a few days before the election, a series of snowstorms took the city ******– and Bilandic’s road crews *******– by surprise. Traffic would not move. People were snowed in. Chaos likely would have broken out had residents been able to find it.
For Byrne, disaster struck just in time. Throughout her campaign, Byrne insisted that city services were overdue for reform. Evidently, those Chicagoans who slid to their polling places agreed.
Perhaps it is odd that I thought *******– between my frightened, white-knuckled prayers *******– of the 1979 Chicago mayoral election as I attempted to drive from Appleton to my home in exurban Illinois New Year’s Day. But it crossed my mind.
You see, in 1986 my family moved to Waukegan, Ill., north of Chicago, from San Diego. I was a wee young lad afraid of snow. But the roads were always plowed, salted, and seemingly laced in antifreeze at the slightest hint of a flurry.
I remember slipping on the sidewalk on the way to our front door, though, until my father made a crucial discovery: One winter, he glanced down the street and saw that the snow-free sidewalks were in front of homes with campaign signs for Alderman Tenpas. Dad, an ardent supporter of Ronald Reagan, swallowed his pride and struck up a friendship with our Democratic alderman. For years, I never worried about snow.
We moved into a more rural area right around the time I began driving, but the roads remained, almost always, passable.
Go to Illinois, I believe, and you’ll hear more people complaining about salted cars than half-mile skids.
It is not so in Wisconsin. January of 2002, the first “big snow,” I remember trying to walk a friend of mine to the bus station and thanking my lucky stars I made it back. You see, in Wisconsin, I think they’ve given up any sense of urgency about this.
To be fair, Appleton streets seem to be comparatively safer than Highway 41, but still ******– when was the ice storm, Saturday? Salt hasn’t made its way to all of those new Ave. sidewalks.
Anyone who’s almost fallen on ice, or, has spun around in an automobile unintentionally in a busy roadway, knows of that odd survival state of mind that slows time down and accommodates a disparate array of thoughts. Perhaps one of my thoughts, as my car joined the familiar Wisconsin winter dance with centripetal dominion, stood out for its moderate liberal guilt:
“It sure would be awful to have to drive a snowplow or salt truck on New Year’s Day.” I also tried to think about the many, many, many people in the world who faced infinitely larger problems. But I nonetheless cursed the state of Wisconsin under my breath after I turned my car so I no longer faced oncoming traffic.
I decided to forget that mythical greener grass south of the border, figuring it would cough up my forgotten luggage when the roads were safe enough for my mom to make the trip.
There is a lesson in this, though: while most of us probably asked ourselves last November whether Bush or Kerry would have guarded our safety and well-being better than the other, maybe those unfamiliar, straight-ticketed names on the bottom of the ballot have a closer hold to the politics of life and death.

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