Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Pushing Cars towards Community

Snowfall 2008. Vancouver comes to a slushy standstill. And sometimes not just a standstill, but a spin-in-one-place-because-all-season-tires-just-aren’t-that-great-in-the-snow-and-kinda-just-turn-and-turn-and-turn-because-the-combination-of-hills-and-ice-and-slush-just-don’t-jive-so-well-with-less-than-savy-winter-drivers-here-in-The-Couve. This isn’t the East Coast. We do rainy holidays here, man. Not frozen ones. And in this snowy city at this snowy time of year comes a great way to build community.

Now. I could talk about airport line-ups and how, in spite of all the stress and mismanagement and bad luck, people are staying sane and, well, not revolting against each other and Air Canada (and, wow, do we ever know how tempting that is). I could also talk about workplaces, and how people are covering for their co-workers, bosses and subordinates who simply can’t make it into the office because of the weather. And I could talk about all the families who are propositioning pragmatic solutions to complex, snow-related logistical problems (ie. getting from Coquitlam to Abbotsford to Vancouver Island with stops in East Van and Richmond along the way). But the mainstream media is talking enough about that. Today, let’s chat about pushing cars out of the snow. And how it builds community.

That’s right, kids. Mother Nature is making sure that, from Yale Town to The Drive, vehicles – from Z series BMWs to rusted 1980s GMC vans – are being hampered and hemmed in by a record amount of this cold white stuff (honestly, fair enough, given our collectively inhuman behaviour as it relates to poisoning the planet I can understand why she’s a little pissed and not playing by “the rules” or basing her current behaviour on “existing historical data”). And I think part of the reasoning behind this bombardment of inconvenient holiday snow is to test the resilience of our community.

During a walk from Yale Town (we were saying goodbye to a friend who, by publication of this article, will be on his way to Bogota, Columbia for a holiday wedding/kidnapping) back home to Commercial Drive, my friend, Kurt, and I helped to push five cars out of the snow. As of today, we’ve combined to help over a dozen drivers out of snowy situations. Whether you’re an idealistic believer in random acts of kindness or a logical rationalist who wants to stop accidents that will raise everyone’s insurance rates or a health-conscious exerciser who is looking for innovative ways to keep fit whilst snowed-in, this community-building activity is just for you!

And here’s the best thing: helping people out of the snow totally brings out the community-mindedness in us all; not only that, once together, individuals are inspired to look for helpful opportunities (be it car-pushing or otherwise) as they walk around their neighbourhoods. And that’s just considering the people involved in pushing a car out of the snow. Think about all the onlookers who, elated by the idea of frolicking in the snow with their buddies to help someone out, will seek out the chance to build community in a unique way at a festive time of the year.

Excited to help out a stuck, spinning neighbour? Here are five tips and tricks for car-pushing in the snow and the community-building that it entails:

1. Be friendly (like, really friendly). If you’re like me, then you use the holidays as an opportunity to grow a beard and wear grubby clothes with a hilariously ugly toque to match. This might scare people. So, as you rush towards a snowed-in car, be sure to smile and say something like, “hi there friend, we’re here to help you outta this mess! What do you want us to do?” When approaching a stressed-out fellow struggling with a fish-tailing BMW in Yale Town, I can’t stress this point enough. You might want to keep your hands out of your pockets, too.
2. Form a team. Sometimes, one or two people just isn’t enough (man, there are a lot of hills in Vancouver!). Get people involved in your project for, yes, logistical purposes, but also consider how contagious helping others can be. Uniting to remove a car from the snow creates a collective sense of accomplishment that will inspire everyone who helped out to become Pushers (cars, not drugs, people) and to do it again, and again, and again…and again! Pushers will meet new people and inspire them to intervene when others are stuck, which will inspire other people to become pushers and so on.
3. Rock the vehicle. Like physics, it’s so simple, yet so complicated. Rocking the car/van/truck back and forth creates “friction” and this helps to give the car “traction” that will help it to find some “grip” to get out of the snow. While rocking, be mindful of where the exhaust pipe is located on the car – taking in a breath of carbon monoxide just before the driver backs up can introduce you to the dark-side of car pushing. Finally, make sure to have a “three-count” – rocking, pushing and sustaining momentum goes well when everyone is on the same page.
4. If you’re on the scene, get involved! Please don’t get involved in a way that can only be described as “backseat car-pushing,” which consists largely of standing across the street and yelling suggestions like, “hey, turn your wheel!” or “push it more to the left” or “you know, the back wheels aren’t even turning when you push” or “you know, the driver’s just gonna get stuck again” – it’s not at all productive and, quite frankly, a little dickish.
5. Drivers, say thank you. It can just be a wave or a gentle honk, but if you don’t do it, well, people might not push again. Just keep driving as you honk and/or wave, because stopping to say thanks and then getting stuck all over again, while funny, isn’t really that funny.

So there it is. A great way to meet new people, get some exercise and, most importantly, spread some goodwill during the holidays. As Mother Nature gets us stuck, let’s stick together as a community and overcome her efforts to trap pollution-emitting cars in slush fil- … wait a minute. Have I just espoused a foolproof recipe for building community, or has it been all about enabling drivers that shouldn’t be on the road in the first place (for a litany of complex reasons)? Okay, okay. Look. If you see where I’m going with this, please re-read the article and replace the word “car” with “bike” or “senior citizen” – all the other stuff applies just the same. Thanks. Happy holidays!

- John

The Afterword: When Hummer Owners are stuck in the Snow

The last thing I would like to say about car-pushing as community-building is to think hard about whether or not to push Hummer owners out of snow banks. They’ve made their choice to consume in a certain way and, consequently, have joined a different community. Mostly, though, seeing a Hummer stuck in the snow and a wee-man teamed with his inferiority complex and designer girlfriend/escort waste-deep in slush is pretty much the most perfect kind of irony. But that’s another conversation for another time.


Theodora said...

I would just like to say that, although I agree with you about people just "standing there" and "yelling" things at you while you're pushing the car, sometimes it is important to have someone stand, say, at the top of the hill you're pushing the car towards, smack in the middle of the intersection, watching for on-coming traffic and "yelling" words or support (and maybe a little giggling) because, well, that's what he/she does well!

And a big thank you to what now feels like a dozen people who have helped me out of the snow this holiday...rock the car, er, rather, the pushing-of-the-car-out-of-the-snow! And rock public transportation...it's not a perfect system but it helps! And wear your gumboots, they've got grip!

Anonymous said...

Can a Hummer be considered a hybrid as it's being pushed out of a snowbank? (: