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Peterson: Warnings from on high, in name only

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The signs are not reassuring: "Caution: Falling Ice."

As if you can protect yourself from a sheet of ice or a javelin-like icicle. Not when the buildings are the towering behemoths of downtown Chicago.

I have plenty to worry about, real and imagined, and falling ice can be added to the list.

The first time I saw the signs, I thought I'd walk closer to the curb, as far as possible from the falling-ice signs. All the better to get hit by the proverbial bus, which is how I thought I was going to die when I quit smoking cigarettes.

The rationale was simple: I would go through the pain and suffering of nicotine withdrawal, kick the habit completely, slowly begin adding years to my lifespan as my lungs healed, only to get run over by a bus. And I quit the enjoyment of smoking for this?

Well, I haven't been hit by a bus, and it's been 22 years. And I rather enjoy not smoking, so if I get hit by a bus, I won't leave with the regret of having quit a nasty habit against my will. My last words won't be, "Do you have a light?" If I get hit by a bus, it will be because of falling ice.

The odds of being hit by falling ice while walking the downtown sidewalks of Chicago have to be pretty slim, but it seems as if I read about actual falling ice frequently. Not a winter goes by that pedestrians aren't pelted by it. It comes completely unannounced. No warnings. No red lights and clanking bells. No screaming assault. Just smack. The sky is falling. Ouch.

And I'm thinking the worst thing you can do is look up and walk forward at the same time. If the ice doesn't smack you square on the face, the first or second guy you run into will. You can say, "Excuse me" only so many times before you run into the wrong person having a bad day.

"Caution: Falling Ice" is about as effective as a warning as "Caution: Falling Rocks." It's one thing to keep your hands clenched to the steering wheel as you drive through the mountains, hoping not to veer off the edge of the road to a 1,000-foot drop. It's quite another to keep one eye on the mountain above you, watching for falling rocks, and the other on the mountain below you to keep from becoming a falling object.

In fact, we came across some fallen rocks on the highway of an Oregon mountain range. We were flatlanders from Iowa, and to see fallen rocks on the road was an amazing site. They could have hit us. We stopped at one place to move large rocks to the side of the road – something Iowans do naturally – but we kept one to remember the trip by.

It was dubbed "Scott the Rock," after one of our traveling companions, who we think slept the entire week in the back seat. "Scott the Rock" was as entertaining as "Scott the Person." More than 35 years later, I still have "Scott the Rock," a 40-pound boulder that has moved each time I have. Right now, it serves as a grave marker for our last dog, Rusty.

"Caution: Falling Ice" is about as effective as "Caution: Wet Floor," which are yellow floor signs spread out in the Illinois Governor Who Wasn't Imprisoned Transportation Center for the duration of the winter. After a while, they lose their effectiveness. Warn me once, you get my attention. Warn me every day, and I stop paying attention.

But not completely, because I have developed this year a healthy fear of falling on slippery surfaces. It's becoming hard-wired into my brain, and I don't know whether it is a matter of age or common sense. But I have felt myself slipping – and that's frightful – more this year than in years past.

A sign I have not seen is one that merits consideration: "Caution: Pigeon Poop." My bus stops have been rearranged this month, and my initial stop is under a building where pigeons roost overhead. There are two distinct circles about 9 feet in diameter and a few feet apart where the ground is splattered with a lot of pigeon poop.

You would think people would see the poop circles and stand outside them. But, no, people stand inside them, seemingly unaware of what is likely to hit them. There's a far higher likelihood of a person being bombed by a pigeon than struck by falling ice. And given the choice between the two, I think I would choose the falling ice.

I've been pooped on by a Chicago pigeon and it was disgusting. And, no, you don't want to be looking up for falling poop, either. Especially so.

• Dick Peterson, who lives in Woodstock, is a mental-health advocate, a freelance writer, and a former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor. He may be contacted at dickpeterson76@gmail.com.

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