“It gets cold, man, it just gets really cold,” says the percipient comedian and Chicago-native, Hannibal Buress, on the topic of Chicago weather. That, and “if you really need to make some small talk, it’s a go-to.”
Anyway, welcome to Spring semester! The beginning of the end (of the academic year)! In the spirit of Spring — the season of new growth or the season of snow melting away to expose the shit underneath — we’re revamping the news-in-brief column and adding a newsletter.
Regardless of your feelings on Spring, we’ve got some stories that will fit the description. If anything, think of it as a source for small talk. This is the Mascot. Written every week by alternating writers, Parker and Michaela.
Chicago to hold snow-plow naming contest
Last week, the Department of Streets and Sanitation (DSS) announced they will hold a contest over the summer to name “a small subset” of Chicago’s 300-strong snow plow fleet. In total, the city has 675 plow-handlers that can be dispatched throughout the Winter.
As the Chicago Tribune reports, other states in the area have taken to naming their fleets as a way “to raise awareness for winter driving safety and to recognize employees who drive snowplows.” That’s nice and all, but the heart of the story is definitely the names themselves.
Michigan’s Department of Transportation selected 299 names out of over 15,000 submissions according to Detroit Free Press. Musician-based wordplay seems to be a popular trope, with names like “Sleetwood Mac,” “Scoop Dogg,” and, wait for it … “Ice Cube” making the cut. Minnesota went more regional with one plow named: “Ope, Just gonna plow right past ya.”
Star Wars characters make recurring appearances across state lines, “Darth Blader” was selected for snow plows in Minnesota, North Dakota, and Ohio, according to each state’s DOT pages. Between fleets, the most overlap appears in variations on Obi-Wan Kenobi. In Ohio, Minnesota, and North Dakota, you’ll find “Snowbi-wan Kenobi” clearing the streets; in Vermont it’s “Obi-wan KenSNOWbi”; and in Detroit, my personal favorite, “Snowbegone Kenobi.”
In any case, the contest starts this summer. Keep your eyes on the DSS sites like I know we all love to do, and we may end up with our very own Han Snow-lo.
Chicago Dibs: Not news, just a thing
Where I grew up (in a snowless landscape), dibs was just an effective way to call the front seat. But Chicagoans have endearingly held onto that concept with the tradition-nay-phenomenon known as “Chicago dibs.” If you’ve spent as much as a week in Chicago winter with a car, you’ve noticed dibs.
“Is dibs legal?” asks Chicago historian and TikTok phenom, @6figga_dilla. “Absolutely not. It’s a time-honored tradition. If you park in a spot you didn’t shovel we will bury your car, the Chicago way.” According to @6fiiga_dilla, dibs started in January 1967. That year a record 23” fell during The Great Chicago Blizzard, and people had to put in work to get to work. “After digging our cars out of 23” of snow, we dared you to take our parking spot,” he says. People have wildly differing opinions on whether dibs is legit or not, but based on the anecdotal evidence of ~my neighborhood~ it’s not going anywhere, anytime soon.
If you still have no idea what I’m talking about check out the Chicago Dibs Tumblr, started back in 2010 and still running. Talk about tradition.
Speaking of ice, fire!
If you’re reading this near a window, the following sentence might seem unimaginable: There are fires burning out West. In California, the Colorado Fire burns along Big Sur, and in Colorado the Marshall Fire took out nearly 1,000 homes. Both of these began in the dead of winter — the Marshall fire on Dec. 30, and the Colorado fire Jan. 21 — “not the typical time of year for wildfires to spark,” a meteorologist and reporter at AccuWeather duly noted.
The massive level of devastation from the Marshall fire has provided an opportunity for climate scientists to point while they shout — this is a climate catastrophe. Utility regulators (after breathing a huge sigh of relief when it was determined downed power lines did not start the fire) are scrambling to understand how “rising temperatures, drought and natural disasters worsened by climate change could threaten the state’s energy infrastructure,” according to Colorado Public Radio.
But don’t call it apocalyptic, says Alex Steffen, a climate futurist recently interviewed for a New York Times Magazine article. “If you can wake up and go to work in the morning, you’re not in an apocalypse, right?” Seems oddly optimistic.
But then the article continues: “The more accurate assessment, according to Steffen, is that we’re ‘trans-apocalyptic.’” Writes Elizabeth Weil, the story’s reporter. “We’re in the middle of an ongoing crisis, or really a linked series of crises, and we need to learn to be ‘native to now.’”
Considering Chicago is 17-degrees and partly sunny (I swear this isn’t a weather report, it’s a report with some weather), here are some resources for the “now” we’re experiencing.
Protect your face from the cold and virus particulates: Wear a mask. Walgreens, CVS, and other Chicago pharmacies and retailers have begun distribution of free N95 masks. Here’s a list of stores distributing them.
In order to keep the streets drivable, Chicago bans overnight parking on these streets from Dec. 1 – Apr. 1, regardless of weather. An additional 500 miles of streets can be added to the ban if at least 2” of snow has accumulated on the street.
Here is a list of warming shelters and community centers open to the houseless when degrees drop below 32 F.
Lastly, a petition by Better Streets Chicago to demand that the city become responsible for keeping the sidewalks clear of snow, instead of relying on private citizens to do so.