Scot Lehigh

Slippery slope to nanny state

By Scot Lehigh
Globe Columnist / February 4, 2011

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A PROLONGED period of cold weather — “winter,’’ scientists call it — has set upon the land, and all I can say is, thank heavens Mayor Menino and Governor Patrick are here to help us cope.

On Wednesday, the mayor’s office warned that when the temperature dips below freezing, puddles may turn to ice. (Who knew — with the possible exception of the MIT faculty, that is?) That can create treacherous conditions, because a certain slipperiness numbers among ice’s many mysterious qualities.

I realize this may come as a shock to those of you who enjoy iced coffee or scotch on the rocks, and thus have come to regard this often soothing substance as an ally of humankind. But that’s the tamed indoor version. Outdoors, ice is an entirely different flavor of Slurpee, my friends. Thus the owlish old mayor urged everyone to salt or sand potentially slippery surfaces, to “use great care to stay on the sidewalks,’’ and to be wary when walking where icicles may come cascading down and bonk one on the head.

Governor Patrick, who grew up in frigid Chicago, has offered some valuable survival suggestions of his own. For example, during periods of bitter cold, stay indoors. That would never have occurred to me, but when you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Why, it’s every bit as edifying as the Boston school department’s suggestion that students wear warm coats on cold days.

Now, I appreciate all that our elected leaders have done to alert us to the perils that come with cold weather. Still, it’s a wintry jungle out there, if such a thing is possible, and so I’d like to add a little advice of my own.

Tip No. 1 : If you should opt to walk to work, do not go barefoot. That might seem like a good idea if you’re in a hurry, can’t find your boots, and don’t want to ruin your new suede shoes, but the nasty outdoor ice could cut your toes. You may consider that part of the outdoor adventure, but your boss is unlikely to be as philosophical if he finds bloody footprints on the company carpet. So on days when you’ve misplaced your Timberlands, slip on a pair of flip-flops before heading out.

Tip No. 2 : If, as per the governor’s recommendation, you retreat inside to escape the bitter chill, only to find it’s just as frosty indoors, check to see if the sliding glass panels found in most walls — windows, they are sometimes called — are in the closed position. This won’t just save you money. If you’re in the habit of dozing off in the bathtub after a hard day’s work, it might save your very life. Or at least spare you a nasty head cold.

Tip No. 3 : Should you decide to fight the winter blues with a festive family night around the fire, it’s best to kindle that blaze in your fireplace rather than in a portable fire pit in your den or family room. Yes, the fire pit imparts more of a genuine bonfire atmosphere, while ensuring everyone a prime marshmallow-roasting spot. Still, an open indoor fire could set your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms off, which could necessitate opening the windows, thereby subjecting you to the possible perils discussed in Tip No. 2.

Tip No. 4 : If you own a hot-air balloon, resist the temptation to counteract your cabin fever with a soothing nocturnal ride over the snow-cloaked city. In cold weather, the air inside the balloon is subject to rapid cooling, which could leave you bumping along at eye level. If so, your neighbors may come to suspect that you’re snooping to see whom they’re having over for dinner. Or, worse, that you’re Coach Belichick, out to steal their family signals. Further, low-flying balloons often prove distracting to plow drivers, with lamentable results for neighborhood cars. If you really must escape the house, take your Segway out for a spin instead.

So, there you have it. Here’s hoping these simple tips, like those from the mayor and the governor, help bring you safe and sound through this long, cold winter of our discontent.

Scot Lehigh can be reached at