20 March 2007

Winter in Minnesota: From "E Pluribus Unum" to "It's All About Me"

posted by Chet Brinkley.....

We were out to supper with friends not that long ago. Bill, who drives a snow plow in the winter, was commenting on his latest misadventures. As usual, getting buried recently under several inches of heavy, wet snow did not bring out the best in our fellow citizens. One shrieking harpy called up Bill's station and screamed, “I don’t care about anyone else! You get a plow over to my house right now and get me out of here.” Bill’s boss, of course, laughed uproariously before hanging up on the hysterical wench.

When the storms are as bad as they got a couple of weeks ago, Bill drives twelve hours at a shot. As anyone who’s lived in Minnesota for any period of time knows, snow plow drivers are some of the most despised people in the state this time of year. Cleaning the streets also means clogging people’s driveways with massive piles of back-breaking, compacted snow. The force of the propelled precipitation can smash or at least deform mailboxes. In order to accomplish the greater good, all of us who own homes have to pay a little extra for our privilege and dig ourselves out. It’s the only way all of us can get to our jobs and pay our bills. But this doesn’t stop morons from trying to pass these behemoths on the road, and from flipping them off for having the temerity to slow them down. Of course, a lot of these bozos end up in a ditch or slammed into a light pole a little further down the road.

Bill was doing what had to be done, driving a truck that, fully loaded, weighs about 15 tons, when a crazed citizen jumped in front of him, forcing him to slam desperately on the brakes. The man screamed, ‘You left a big pile of snow in my driveway! You come back and clean that up!” He demanded that Bill come around a second time, drive on the wrong side of the road so that the snow would pile up in the middle of the street, and then come through a third time and push it all into the yards and driveways of his neighbors across the way. In other words, screw everybody else, just take care of me. As this fractious discussion continued, the rabid fellow jumped up onto Bill’s truck, so Bill grabbed for his hammer and put it on the dash, just to make sure it was there if he needed it. As the tensions escalated and Bill remained resolute in his sanity, the fellow finally adopted a thin veneer of sanity, read my friend’s name tag, and intoned, “Well Bill, I guess I’m going to be calling your manager.” Bill laughed uproariously and said, “You go right ahead.” No doubt this fellow became the story/psycho of the week back at the shop.

It’s easy to think of Bill’s experiences as silly stories about a couple of wack jobs who freaked out during a recent snowstorm, but I’m not sure any of us can let ourselves off the hook that easily. Maybe Barack Obama is doing more than establishing a niche issue for himself when he speaks of an “empathy gap”. All of us have raced down the interstate—or even a small local road—and cursed at anyone who impeded our progress in the slightest way. More and more of us stare transfixed into our computer or television or cell phone screen or plug ourselves into our MP3 players and eschew meaningful interactions with the world around us. We shop on line, we drive through the bank and the fast food place—we probably have more fondness for our cars than for our neighbors or even members of our extended family. Where does it end? How long is it going to be before we’re all so myopic and unjustifiably self-righteous that we’re lying in wait for the newspaper deliverer because he left the paper lying in the middle of the driveway—where it was buried by the snow plow?

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