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In this Feb. 4, 2011 photo, Mindy Chambers sits on her chair after shoveling snow in front of her home in Chicago. A blizzard that dumped nearly 2 feet of snow has revived a longstanding Chicago tradition: Break out the patio furniture. Or, if none is available, suitcases, garbage cans, strollers, bar stools and milk crates work, too. (Nam Y. Huh/AP Photo)
In this Feb. 4, 2011 photo, Mindy Chambers sits on her chair after shoveling snow in front of her home in Chicago. A blizzard that dumped nearly 2 feet of snow has revived a longstanding Chicago tradition: Break out the patio furniture. Or, if none is available, suitcases, garbage cans, strollers, bar stools and milk crates work, too. (Nam Y. Huh/AP Photo)

Road Sage

Take this snow and shovel it Add to ...

This column is about snow and winter. So, my heartfelt apologies to all those Vancouverites who may feel left out. I promise to write a Van City-specific column later, perhaps something about the effects of rain on passive aggression (in Vancouver when people tell you to "have a nice day" they appear so full of suppressed rage they almost seem to mean it).

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When we think of winter driving, we typically imagine dangerous slippery conditions and yet there is another aspect of icy motoring that seldom gets mentioned but is, in many ways, just as frustrating: winter parking. People can't park properly when conditions are ideal. The influence of old Jack Frost makes it near apocalyptic. Only the truly competent are daring enough to try and parallel park on a street that is coated with a layer of uneven ice and ringed by foreboding snow banks.

This "winter parking" nerve was stepped on last week when an irate Chicagoan posted a video on YouTube in which he buried a neighbour's car in snow. David Welles, a security expert whose house is ringed with cameras, discovered his shovel was missing. When he checked his footage he saw a neighbour had crept up and "borrowed" it. The women had then dug out her car and kept the snow spade.

Outraged, Welles went out under cover of darkness, fired up his snow blower and, using the same tenacity that made Chicago's 1893 World's Fair such a hit, encased her vehicle in snow and ice. It allegedly took her four hours to dig out using a broom.

The video went viral and when I finished watching it all I could think was: So that's how my car gets magically snowed in ever time there's a blizzard! Angry snow elves sneak out and use enchanted magic snow blowers to mummify every vehicle in freezing slushy tombs. What other explanation could there be?

Here's how snow affects parking:

*****

A heavy snowfall covers the streets and cuts the amount of available parking by a third. Snow plows go up and down roads pushing snow into the least convenient places possible. As people clear their walks and businesses dig out, snow gets thrown onto the street. Plows then return depositing ice/snow mountain range mixtures so hard and concentrated they could be used to plug holes in the space shuttle. A city block that may have once been able fit seven cars (or as parking officers like to call them "money") now can only accommodate four.

*****

It would be logical to assume that those who have driveways would be spared the indignity of winter parking. Wrong. Once a driveway has been cleared a snow plow will come by and throw up a miniature version of the Rockies across its entrance in the amount of time it takes for the driver to put the shovel down, walk back to his car, and turn on the ignition. How do they always time it so perfectly? Now we know. They have cameras everywhere and whenever a person is spied about to go somewhere, a snow plow is sent to scuttle their plans. If the plow arrives too late to wall the target in, they go to Plan B: slowly inching down the street.

*****

Winter parking does strange things to the mind. After a storm passes, previously semi-rational individuals become territorial and possessive of the icy spots they carve out. They go mad like hermit prospectors who have staked their claim and are determined to hold it at all cost. I once lived across the street from a guy who used his snow blower to create what can only be described as a "car igloo" in front of his house. It had four one-meter high walls with an entrance cut out of the street-side wall. The dimensions were big enough to hold his car only. He maintained this spot like a mother bird takes care of her nest. Other less obsessive diggers try to stake out their claims by placing chairs or boxes to reserve their spots.

*****

Some discouraged drivers give up and abandon their vehicles to the elements. Strangely, these folks always seem to park their wrecks near corners or intersections. The snow accumulates on these lost automobiles and they are transformed into small, snowy hills. These cars (and often vans) make the roads dangerous because they block vision and make driving more difficult. For some reason these cars never seem to get parking tickets. Perhaps the soulless harpies who hand them out fear they are haunted.

*****

What can we do about winter parking? Eventually, solar-powered heaters buried under our roads will eliminate the need for plows, shovels and snow blowers but, until that day arrives, there are a few measures that motorists can take to lessen the inconvenience of winter parking.

1. Stop driving.

2. Discourage your friends from driving by saying, "I've stopped driving."

3. Start driving again.

As always in Canada, there is a role for government to play. Citizens of cities where people soil themselves at the sight of three flakes of snow (Toronto) should lobby the federal government to charter planes and send armies of capable winter drivers from cities such as Edmonton and Montreal to come and drive in Hogtown. This way, at least a few people on Toronto's roads will know what they're doing.

Other than that, you're on your own.

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