Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Calling 'Dibs!' on Dibs

You might have heard that Chicago experienced a huge snowstorm the first weekend in February, on Super Bowl Sunday, in fact. Some hungover people even got a snow day Monday! It was the fifth largest snowstorm on record (inches in a certain period of time), such-and-such amount fell at O'Hare, there were train delays, reporters checking out the commute, and so on..snow, snow, snow. And when the Chicago Tribune ran out of things to write about (because actually, the post-storm recovery was going pretty smoothly), they started writing daily about "Dibs."

"Dibs on parking spaces after snow is the Chicago Way," said one editorial headline. It's a "quaint custom" and a "Chicago winter tradition" whereby vehicle owners shovel out their street parking spot, drive off somewhere (assuredly it must be to work, what with the Chicago Midwest work ethic that undoubtedly is behind all things that happen here in the land of friendly earnest Midwesterners) (did we mention we're in the Midwest?), and leave in the newly shoveled-out spot a chair, or a plastic stool, or maybe some crates from the porch, even an ironing board. Thus, "Dibs!" has been called, and no pesky driver who didn't shovel the spot can violate the code of Dibs and park there. Is it legal? Is it libertarian? Is it great? These and other questions have been discussed for more than a week now in the opinion pages of the Tribune, and now we're in the public-weighing-in phase of the discourse with letters to the editor extolling the lovely communal spirit of Dibs that is just a "quirky Chicago attribute" and a symbol of the ever-great neighborly Midwest. And a cursory internet search reveals that this same self-congratulatory discussion has launched itself in the news pages in previous winters as well. 

One small problem, Chicago: Dibs is not unique to you.

What?! Sputter, gasp, the friendly Midwesterners of the neighborly vibe, earnest work ethic, and pathetic NFL team spit out their coffee (often Dunkin' Donuts, it must be said -- they do have that good sense) and choke on their deep dish "pizza" and ketchup-free hot dogs. But it's true. Citizens of other cities respond to their own snowy deluges by digging out their cars and then claiming the space with a folding lawn chair that would otherwise go unused for another few months. Dibs. I, for one,  learned about the practice when I witnessed it in Medford, Massachusetts. (Boston, another city that is proud of itself from time to time, also experiences a fair amount of snow, as you may know.)

I was passing over most of the Dibs talk with no more than mild interest for a few days but this morning the bit I read in a letter published in the Trib was over-the-top in its delight about this so very Chicago tradition, and this one was from someone who isn't even from here. The letter didn't specify the writer's original home; it just cakcled with delight about moving to Chicago a year ago and discovering Dibs.

Chicago, you're on thin ice here (<--- see what I did there?). I moved to the "Second" City (sort of) to get away from this attitude of specialness, or, as I like to call it, New York. I am forever telling anyone who will listen (all three of them) that Chicago gives New York a run for its money in offering up art, music, literature, theater, dance, people, crowds, liveliness, and anything else a city dweller could want, sometimes at half the rent. (And almost twice the rats.) I am forever reveling in the experience of life in this big, famous city that isn't so full of, well, New Yorkers...the annoying ones, I mean. The ones who have never been anywhere else, the ones who can't really distinguish between Colorado and California, the ones who are entirely convinced that New York is the one and only place in the world worth living. It's not, those people are dumb, and the attitude of specialness threatens to undo the specialness. Don't let this happen to you, Chicago.

So I commented about this particular letter to the editor and its effusive praise for the quirky Chicago attribute (which is not that at all), and Brian's response, besides just disagreeing with me that this is a problem or issue to be noted, was along the lines of, well, how can the Chicagoans be expected to know what goes on in other cities?

Gaaaaaahh! This! This!!! THIS is what I hate the most about the specialness. If you don't know what goes on in other cities, then now is not the time to talk about how quaint and quirky and special yours is.

I love bemused, self-deprecating geographical humor. I loved reading the "Only in L.A." columns as much as the next person. I re-Tweet all the great "10 Things Arizona Natives Have to Explain to the New People" pieces. It's all a good time. But in order to make the comparisons, you're going to have to know about the other place, too. "How can they be expected to know?" Nuh-uh. But if you don't know, then you can be expected not to talk.

You can't get dibs on "Dibs!" by calling Dibs!-dibs. That's like a giant, living Möbius strip or something. It's like trying to mail yourself to the post office. The world just doesn't work that way.

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