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Open Letter

Where the hell did you go?

About half of you vanished February 13, the day of the big snowstorm. You didn't all leave for Cancun or Disney World right before they shut down the airports. So the question remains: Where were you, or more specifically, where were your cars?

Sure, that snowstorm was the worst in at least five years for our area. The brutal east wind just destroyed streets right across from the lake like Shore Drive - the main parking ground for me and, until recently, you.

The cars became a de facto storm fence. As you know, parking is diagonal on the east side of Shore Drive, so the cars face the lake. After the storm, each car looked like it had driven into its own mountain of snow, stopping only because windshield wipers don't work anymore when the windshield is completely submerged.

But the mystery lies in the spaces that were empty when the storm hit that morning. Though Shore Drive parking is nearly impossible at night, about half the spaces are free during the day. That evening, the empty spaces were completely engulfed in several feet of snow. And not one of you tried to dig one out and use it.

(Suddenly I hear Jesus in my head - Jesus Christ Superstar, that is, at the end of "What's the Buzz": "Not one, not one of you!!!!")

The people who leave their cars buried until normality is restored - these people I can at least understand. But you . . . you are something different. I got home, double parked, and spent about 15 minutes clearing a space before I could pull in. You took one look and hightailed it out of here.

Frankly, abandoning my home never occurred to me. Why did it seem like an option to you? How could it be more convenient than getting out the old shovel for a while? A week later, half of Shore Drive's parking spaces were still snowbound; two weeks later, it was down to about thirty percent, thanks only to warmer weather. Were you enjoying Magic Fingers or better cable at a motel too much to come home? Do none of you have pets to feed or plants to water?

If you didn't find a motel, it's even more mystifying. East Hyde Park is so geographically defined it might as well have a moat around it. There are only two more streets to the west - already packed with regular parkers, and one designating no parking after two inches of snow. After that you'd be parking on top of the Metra tracks. South is Jackson Park, stretching to 63rd Street. North is concentrated highrise land nearly devoid of street parking, and then the Metra tracks converge with Lake Shore Drive at 47th Street. East, of course, is the lake.

Did you all drive into Lake Michigan during the brief white-out that forced the closing of northbound Lake Shore Drive between 57th and 39th? By now, your corpses would be bobbing to the surface, so I'm thinking, no. I would be able to see you with my binoculars.

I wish you had, though, because then I could have been using my car for the last couple of weeks. I dig mine out in case of emergency, but then it just sits there because the lawn chair dibs system of post-snow parking never caught on in Hyde Park. If I leave during a snow-in, I have to dig out a new spot when I get back. Because you apparently spend all day cruising the neighborhood looking for spots dug out by people like me. And if you don't find one, I guess you go back to your motel and pop more quarters into the Magic Fingers.

Maybe I should blame the city, which took two entire days after the initial snowfall to plow Shore Drive, forcing several buses to change routes. Oh sure, they blitzed Lake Shore Drive during the lane closures, big deal. Nobody has to PARK on Lake Shore Drive, so the ten-foot wall of snow left by the plows on the side of the road was of little consequence.

And we South Siders got the larger message: Clear a major route THROUGH the South Side, so no one else gets stuck here. But don't bother clearing the South Side ITSELF, because no one cares if we get stuck. Non-South Siders assume we're already stuck, because otherwise, why wouldn't we leave? Perhaps someone has a gun to their heads, they answer themselves. After all, it's the South Side.

But that still doesn't tell me where you went. I checked in with some transportation experts to see if any scholarly work has been done on the topic of urban parking after snowstorms. Apparently not.

Professor Joseph Schofer, associate dean of Northwestern University's McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, did note that people are very resourceful, and will somehow relocate their cars. He surmised that "a derivative of a law of physics applies - conservation of cars. They did not disappear or cross over to a parallel universe."

I'm not so sure about that, much as I enjoy the line "conservation of cars." The concept of parallel universes isn't so crazy anymore.

Some physicists think parallel universes are not just likely, but an inevitable outcome of quantum mechanics, the inflationary universe theory and string theory. That emphatically includes Michio Kaku, professor of theoretical physics at the City University of New York, a co-founder of string theory, and author of "Parallel Worlds". Kaku's book handily answered most of my questions on the topic.

Let's just consider the "many worlds" idea first proposed by Hugh Everett III in 1957. Everett's theory explains the odd juxtaposition of quantum mechanics in the subatomic world, where electrons are in two places simultaneously, and our macro world, where we expect things to be in one place at a time. His solution to the famous Schrodinger cat-in-a-box problem (see postscript) is that the cat is both dead and alive, in two different universes, because the universe splits every time a quantum event takes place.

From what I can gather, the most likely entrance to another universe, if it exists, is via a wormhole, if it exists. Wormholes are thought likely to be at the center of a black hole, so there is much doubt that anyone could enter a wormhole and survive. However, in 1963 Roy Kerr solved an Einstein equation for a spinning black hole, in which the resulting centrifugal force would allow you to be sucked through its wormhole without being instantly killed.

But how would someone trying to park on Shore Drive during a snowstorm run into a black hole, a cosmic object normally found in outer space? A valid point. In fact, I almost tabled the whole notion until I remembered a recent article in New Scientist (Vol. 192, No. 2583/2584): "Blackholes in your backyard."

Plasma physicist Pace VanDevender, recently retired from Sandia National Laboratories, firmly believes that an 1868 ball lightning incident in Ireland was actually a mini-black hole. VanDevender thinks about 10 percent of ball lightning reports could be mini-black holes because these "extreme" cases go through solid walls and glass, which could indicate a subatomic core.

Briefly, the article says most astrophysicists "think it possible that the universe was awash with mini black holes just after the big bang," but they would long since have disappeared due to Stephen Hawking's theory that black holes emit radiation which gradually make them evaporate. Some physicists, though, including VanDevender, don't think the Hawking theory is definitive, as there is "no experimental evidence for Hawking radiation."

Ball lightning, I should add, can occur without a thunderstorm. So I'm thinking a spinning mini-black hole hovering around Shore Drive on February 13 would explain everything.

If so, once the snow is finally gone, parking around here will be considerably easier, because no one thinks there's much chance of returning through a wormhole. That means you, and your car, are gone for good.

Bon voyage,

Cate Plys

P.S. I hope you remember the Schrodinger cat-in-a-box problem, because I'm not about to get into all that now.


Send nice open letters to Open Letter at Send unkind letters to the parallel universe in which the first Mayor Daley built an airport in the lake, the current Mayor Daley built another airport on top of my grandparent's house in Hegewisch, Mayor Jesse Jackson III built a spaceport in Peotone, and I enjoy nasty mail.


The Open Letter collection.


Posted on March 6, 2007

MUSIC - Chief Keef Changed The Industry.
TV - Vizio's Best Product Is You.
POLITICS - UIC: Soda Taxes Work.
SPORTS - More McCaskey Malpractice.

BOOKS - All About Poop.


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