Season of shoveling


by Ben McLeod, sports

While living in Chicago in 2005, I slipped on a patch of ice while walking home late at night. I’m a Minnesotan, so I just picked myself up, and walked home. Because that’s what Minnesotans do when we slip on the ice. Walk it off. I walked four blocks, down two flights of stairs to the El stop, rode four miles, walked up two flights, walked three more blocks, and up the three flights of stairs to my apartment. My back felt a little bit sore, but I’m a Minnesotan, and it was just some ice. I walked it off.

The next morning I could hardly move. After spending 30 minutes trying to put on shoes, I finally gave in and called an ambulance. The door to my building was locked, however, so I spent a memorable 45 minutes creeping down the three flights of stairs to the sidewalk. I didn’t cry, though. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. I’m a Minnesotan.

At the emergency room, I was informed that I had broken two vertebra. While I was waiting for the ambulance to transport me to another hospital, they stuck some needles in my arm and turned on the TV, so I could watch in dreamy slow motion as the Chicago Bears beat the Packers. I don’t remember much of the game, but I don’t remember a lot of things from that week.

Months later, an associate finally convinced me to call a personal injury lawyer. I didn’t want to make a fuss (I’m a Minnesotan), but the medical bills were piling up and I was having trouble adapting to life with a bad back. When I finally spoke to the lawyer, he explained to me the reasons why I didn’t have a case. I was alone when it happened, I didn’t call an ambulance at the scene, and crucially, the property owner abutting the sidewalk where I fell hadn’t even tried to clear the snow from their walks.

This was an arcane and ridiculous point of Chicago law: if you make an effort to clear your walks, and someone slips and hurts themselves, you are liable. You knew the walks needed shoveling, and you didn’t do a good job, and someone got hurt. However, if you decided to entirely neglect your sidewalks, and leave pedestrians and the integrity of their skeletal structure to chance, well, then you weren’t responsible at all. (I believe this particular law has finally been amended.)

This was, and remains, complete insanity to my ears. I’m a Minnesotan! I shoveled walks all over Winona throughout my childhood, including my own. In my time in Michigan and Chicago, I voluntarily shoveled the walks at the rental properties where I lived. Heck, I usually shoveled the sides, stairs and back walks as well. Sometimes I did the neighbors’ walks for them. I’m a Minnesotan! It’s what we do!

I was incredulous. I asked the lawyer, “Are you kidding? If somebody neglects to clear the snow in front of their homes and someone else gets hurt, they get off scot-free, while someone who makes the effort can be penalized? That’s insane! I’m from Minnesota! We know snow! Minnesotans would never stand for this nonsense!”

Snow is already starting to fall in Winona today as we send the paper to press. I don’t need to be worried, however, because here, we have all slipped on the ice, and we’ve all shoveled our share (or more) of snow. Nobody would be so rude and neglectful to their neighbors as to totally ignore the danger posed by slick, icy, treacherous sidewalks. We’re Minnesotans!



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