That Good Samaritan Feeling

It snowed quite a bit Monday, going well into the night.  Tuesday morning I got up and instead of taking my early morning walk, I went out to shovel my front steps and sidewalk.

I was out shoveling at about 6 a.m., in the quiet darkness, when a young woman approached.  It probably took some nerve on her part to approach a total stranger on a dark, bitterly cold morning, but she obviously was desperate.  “Excuse me, sir!” she said.  “My car is stuck.  Would you mind coming down and shoveling me out?”

good-samaritanI looked down the street and saw that her car, which was one of those ultra-light compact cars that are about the worst snow vehicles in the world, was turned sideways and was well and truly stuck in the snow piles.  “No problem,” I said.  “When the weather is like this, we’ve all got to stick together.”  So I went down with my shovel, let loose my inner Dad, put her behind the wheel, and shoveled and pushed and rocked the car back and forth and instructed her on cutting the wheels this way and that — not too sharp! — until we finally got her too-light car out of the snow banks and onto the ruts of the street so she could head on her way.

“Thank you soooo much!” she said several times before she puttered away in her little car, and I think she really meant it.  I then went back to my shoveling.

Growing up in Akron, Ohio, I learned that you help people out when they get stuck in the snow.  One time when UJ and I were little kids we went to an Akron Zips basketball game with Grandma and Grandpa Neal, a blizzard hit during the game, and we came out to an Oldsmobile that was covered in snow and buried in a drift.  A bunch of men who also had come to the game came over to help us, and eventually they pushed and pulled and rocked us out to the point where we could get to the street.  Their selfless act of kindness and decency made a big impression on a little kid.

Ever since that happened, I’ll gladly lend a hand to help anybody trapped by the snow.  I know that the Good Samaritan acted for wholly altruistic reasons, and when it comes to the winter weather I do too — but I always like the “Good Samaritan” feeling I get when I do it, too.  That young woman’s heartfelt thanks made my Tuesday a little bit better.

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Smokers On Ice

Walking home from work tonight, with the temperature plummeting rapidly and already down below 10 degrees, I saw one of the people at the outdoor bus stop in front of the Ohio Statehouse smoking a cigarette.  And I thought:  “Really? Smoking in these ridiculous temperatures?”

a9a4f5381b5f6269a640259f845f9c7f-dart-frogs-cold-handsKish makes fun of me, because as a long reformed ex-smoker — I puffed my last cigarette more than 25 years ago and am forever happy that I quit when I did — I’m always quick to wonder aloud how anyone can smoke, period, even though I smoked off and on for a number of years.  In that regard, I’m like the one-time sinner turned into a holier-than-thou convert.  But if smoking under normal conditions seems crazy, given its abundantly documented health risks, smoking a cigarette outside in these temperatures seems especially insane.  In fact, there is some evidence that smoking outside during freezing temperatures is even worse for you than smoking is generally.

In Columbus, you can’t smoke in most buildings as a matter of law, so at our firm, and in other businesses, the few remaining smokers have to go outside to indulge in their habit.  You’d think that, as the mercury plunges into bitterly cold territory, the smokers would decide to refrain from going outside into the deep freeze and maybe even consider quitting altogether.  But when you pass the smoking area outside, behind our building, there’s always a few people puffing away, even on a day like today.  They look terribly cold, and act like they feel terribly cold, but they’re out there smoking, anyway.  It’s a pretty good indication of how addictive smoking is for some people — and a pretty good advertisement for why you shouldn’t start smoking in the first place.

Saturday Shovel

Yesterday the temperature plunged about 40 degrees over a few hours, then a winter storm slammed us with snow. So this morning I hauled out the back-saver snow shovel and cleared off our sidewalk and front steps.

Every Midwesterner knows you need to shovel as soon as the snow fall stops, before people start walking on the snow and compressing it to the point that it needs to be chipped away — which is a much bigger pain. Now that the snow is cleared I can feel a sense of keen accomplishment, and if the sun comes out Mother Nature will do the rest of the work.

Interior Exercise

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We’ve reached the depths of winter in the Midwest, and the part of that dismal season when changes in temperature mean melting snow, then refreezing, then melting again, then refreezing again.  It makes walking outside a treacherous exercise that is not for the faint of heart — especially if you’re walking on ever-slippery brick.

But there is an alternative to outdoor exercise for those of us who are too cheap to get health club memberships but who desperately need the exercise if they hope to stave off the condition of Rapid Waistline Expansion.  It’s called the stairs.  And if, like me, you toil in an older building where there are lots of stairwells with different designs, like the stairwell shown above, the stairs can be a pretty cool option aesthetically, too.

According to the medical experts, taking the stairs does have the effect of burning some calories — although not enough to allow you to rationalize eating a Snickers bar a day, unless you’re walking to the top of the Empire State building on your way to work — and other health benefits as well, including building and maintaining health bones, muscles, and joints and improved aerobic capacity.  I like doing it because it gets me moving and gets the blood flowing during the day, and I feel like I’m at least doing something to maintain or even improve my health while at the office.

Of course, it’s a lot easier taking the stairs going down, than going up.

In Praise Of Bingeing Technology

You can argue about the value of some technological advancements that we have seen in our lifetimes.  Is the invention of Roomba vacuuming robots, for example, really a good thing?  However, the significance of one development is indisputable:

The ability to engage in TV and movie binge-watching during the cold Midwestern winter months is one of the greatest leaps forward for the human species since the ancient Egyptians developed papyrus.

tmp_uirc5w_4f3814e036213fed_harry_potter_photoConsider this week in Columbus, Ohio.  It has been so absurdly cold, with ambient temperatures hovering, with leaden immobility, in the single digits and wind chill factors below zero, that there is absolutely no incentive to go outside voluntarily.  Unless you’ve got to go to work or to an appointment, there is no rational reason whatsoever to venture into the frigidity.  So, you’re stuck inside.  What to do?  Well, you could read a book, of course . . . or, you could be intellectually lazy and binge-watch TV, thanks to options like Netflix and Amazon TV and cable channels that offer premium options.  The last few days Kish and I have curled up on the couch at nights and begun watching the entire Harry Potter movie series — thanks, HBO and AT&T Uverse! — and it’s been a lot of fun.

You don’t have to watch the Harry Potter movies, of course — you could watch The Wire, or Deadwood, or Lost from start to finish, or a whole season of 24, or the John Wayne westerns in sequence, or the Thin Man films from beginning to end, or every movie in the Shirley Temple collection.  With the amount of new content being produced these days, and the amount of old TV shows and movies that remain available for casual viewing, your binge-watching options are virtually infinite.  And whatever you choose, you’re going to be entertained . . . and out of the cold.

I’m not suggesting that binge-watching TV is something that people should do constantly, week-in and week-out — but when the cold fronts plant themselves in your neighborhood and going outside becomes a bleak, frigid experience, binge-watching is a wonderful option to have.  As I said, it’s right up there with papyrus.

Fire And Ice

It’s been so cold for such a long spell lately that it’s got me thinking about cold and heat — and which is worse to endure for long periods.

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Extreme heat is bad for a lot of reasons.  It saps your energy, you’re a sweaty mess for most of the day, and — for me, at least — it’s impossible to get a good night’s sleep in a hot room.  And, when a heat wave hits, you read stories about heat stroke and even death for people left in rooms without air conditioning.  Extreme cold is bad for a lot of reasons, too.  It’s uncomfortable and wearing to constantly feel chilled and shivery, bundling up produces hat head and static electricity shocks, and the cold, dry air leaves your skin feeling desiccated and cracked.  And extreme cold can produce frostbite and death, as well as sad news stories about unfortunate dogs being found frozen solid on porches in Toledo.

Right now, in the midst of an arctic blast that has kept temperatures in the single digits and teens for more than a week, I’m sure I would gladly trade brutal cold for heat — and come the next August hot spell, I’m equally certain I would happily swap terrible heat for cold.  But I think Robert Frost had it right in one of his early poems:  both heat and cold have their own distinctive destructive powers.

Fire and Ice, by Robert Frost

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.