As if winter in Chicago weren't bad enough. Hard the heels of the bitter cold, the pelting snow, come these stupid signs set out everywhere.
"Caution: Falling Ice."
Caution? What does that mean? How is our caution supposed to manifest itself? What are pedestrians supposed to do? Look up, and get it in the face? As if looking up would give you enough time for anything more than "Oh shi...!" Turn around? As if you could navigate a route that doesn't include the signs, which are everywhere, so common that we barely notice them anymore. Cover your head? Veer off the sidewalk into the street, where the danger of falling ice is replaced by the greater danger of skidding traffic?
Then again, the signs are not for pedestrians. They are attempts by building management to off-load responsibility for getting clobbered by an icicle from themselves to those walking by their buildings. And the signs seem to have some legal weight: building owners have an obligation to clear ice and warn pedestrians of hazards, and putting the signs out grimly informing you of falling ice are similar to the signs ordering you not to slip on freshly mopped floors. Though why those signs don't serve, not as fair warning, but as proof the building owners knew of a potential hazard and did nothing, is a mystery to me, and I've quizzed legal sorts about it. I addressed the subject last year, in a blog post about a man who was killed by a 100-pound block of ice walking into the Neiman Marcus department store on Michigan Avenue.
This year seems to be the year that Chicagoans finally realized the idiocy of these signs, and started making fun of them. Over at the Wit hotel, the yellow and black falling ice signs contain a quip from Stephen Wright: "Every so often, I like to go to the window, look up, and smile for a satellite photo." I'm not sure how that applies to falling ice, but give them credit for trying.
A cleverer sign is at the School of the Art Institute, as seen in this photo sent in by regular reader Tom Brashler. It injects a bit of whimsy into the otherwise obnoxious blend of threats of physical peril mixed with pallid cover-your-ass legalism.
I contacted the school to find out the back story behind the sign.
"The signs were created by SAIC's Instructional Resources and Facilities Management team," said Bree Witt, a spokesperson for the SAIC. "We wanted to address the caution in a clever and playful manner, and also honor the fact that someone will inevitably deface the signage to form other words from "ice" as has happened in the past. And, let's be honest, in a city like Chicago, ice, mice, rice or dice very well could falling off the roofs of the buildings, so pedestrians should be aware of the possibilities. The signs have been well-received and it's great to see people taking photos and laughing as they walk down the street."That must have been earlier in the week, when it was 25 degrees warmer. Right now I could have Jim Gaffigan walking on one side of me and Louis C.K. walking on the other, both telling jokes and tickling me as I rush through this frozen hellscape, and I wouldn't be laughing. But when the weather warms up and breaks, oh, 20 degrees, I'm sure I'll find my good humor again.