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Unfiled February 6, 2003
 
Reading the Ice
By John Dolan Browse author Email
 
 

"Pain," they say, "is the best teacher" -- and after a few bad falls you become a diligent student of Ice. Of course true Muscovites handle it with ease. You see young men actually jumping onto big patches and sliding across to show off, and young women crossing lethal sidewalk glaciers in stiletto heels that provide about one square centimeter of traction.

But there are days and places where even the Muscovites go carefully. The worst days are thaws after a week of snow, when the ice is topped with meltwater. The worst streets are either sloping or covered for most of the day by deep shadow. The most dangerous places on such streets are downstream from the gutters that drain the roofs.

Our street, Lyubyanskii Proezd, is a perfect experimental site for ice injuries, because it's steeply sloped, often shadowed, with lots of drains flowing onto the sidewalk. It's one of the places where you see even the strutting guys in watch caps and women in high heels picking their way as slowly as the old ladies.

The first skill you need is reading different pavings. This is particularly important in the Metro in winter. The pebbled stone they use on stairways is very slick and dangerous, whereas the thick black asphalt is pretty safe. The metal at the tops and bottoms of escalators should not be trusted, even when it has those raised diamonds which are supposed to provide traction. Those diamonds are liars.

When you come up out of the station, scan the pavement. Brick is not to be trusted. Some Metro brick seems designed to hold a thin, lethal layer of ice. (The paving atop Marksistskaya is especially lethal.) Big stone tiles are also dangerous, but asphalt is your friend.

Once you've read the surfaces, you need to plan your route over the next block in advance. It's a lot like white-water canoeing: you have to "read the water," as Xtreme sports braggarts say.

The first choice is whether to use the slush-path -- a line of slush the color and texture of brown sugar -- down the middle of the sidewalk. This is where most people walk, but they're Muscovites who learned to icewalk before they could crawl. What worked for them might not work for you, the fairweather-raised eXhole. It depends on what's under the slush. If it's asphalt, you're OK, but if it's glassy black ice, stay on the crunchy, snowy margins of the sidewalk or walk in the street.

Walking in the street is the option I've come to favor. Cars seem to melt ice much more thoroughly than pedestrian traffic, so you can usually count on direct boot-contact with asphalt-wonderful, marvelous asphalt! How I've learned to love asphalt since coming here! The reliability, the sheer traction of it!

The drawback to streetwalking is obvious: you're likely to get hit by a car, ending up dead or tetraplegic, instead of getting off with a broken wrist. And of course when you think about walking in the street, another option arises: why not just put your hand out and hail a taxi?

This might seem like a reasonable move, but it would involve talking to strangers. Arguing, even. About money. And compared with that nightmare, what's a little death or maiming? How could I be the ace city beat reporter if I actually talked to these strangers? I'm sticking with the streets until further damage.

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dolan@exile.ru
 
 
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