LINCOLN PARK — On Saturday, the autumn wind undressed the maple tree, spreading its blanket of bright red leaves on the sidewalk as a warning: Winter is coming.
With some weather forecasters already calling for snow, I spent the afternoon straightening up the garage — a menagerie of unfinished projects tangled in unexplainable clutter — in hopes of squeezing the car inside.
During the cleanout, I reluctantly rounded up the snow shovels — one for the front porch and the other for the backyard — and buckets of rock salt to keep the sidewalks clear.
As my neighbors will tell you, I'm not always the quickest to shovel out the front walk and the few sidewalk squares in front of the house.
I blame my laziness on the "funk" that hits every year about this time — some people call it seasonal affective disorder. I'm pretty sure I've got it, according to MayoClinic.com.
It starts to kick in every time I round up the snow shovels, and the symptoms — depression, hopelessness, loss of energy, weight gain, oh you get the idea — get worse every time I have to use them.
And almost every year somebody dies shoveling snow. So there's that.
I don't think there's much I can do to prevent the onset of winter funk, but I'd probably feel better if snow would just hit the ground and melt away, leaving the sidewalks like Chicago’s lakefront — forever free and clear.
Or to be more specific, I'd probably be happier spending the winter at 400 W. Dickens Ave. in Lincoln Park — an almost-finished mansion that construction workers building the place say has an indoor and outdoor pool and some kind of fountain on the roof.
That's where I spotted the orange heating tubing that ultimately was covered with concrete sidewalk — about 200 feet lining the giant corner lot that stretches from handicap-accessible curbs to the alley — that will ward away ice and snow this winter.
I imagined the ultimate real estate ad: For Sale: Mansion; no snow shovel needed.
So I called the homeowners who are paying for the heated public sidewalk installation to tell them of my jealousy and to ask if they also have diagnosed themselves with seasonal affective disorder and ultimately fear death by snow-shoveling.
I had prepared questions: Is the mansion outfitted with features specifically aimed to combat the winter funk? If so, can I hang out?
But they never called back.
So I did a little research. Turns out the sidewalks are part of the mansion’s geothermal heating and cooling system, which collects enough geothermal juice to heat the luxury sidewalks.
Heated sidewalks on residential streets are rare, but there are others. Since 2004, workers have installed two other sidewalk snowmelt systems in the Gold Coast and Lakeview, according to city building permit records.
Of course, we all know that not everybody gets a building permit when they’re supposed to, so there probably are more heated sidewalks around town.
Certainly, some condos and garages have driveways and sidewalks with snow-melting systems. But it's pricey — thousands of dollars per square foot, a snow-melting system saleswoman told me.
That's what keeps heated sidewalks from becoming a growing trend in Chicago — even in posh parts of town, she said.
Still, I wonder if having a heated sidewalk helps lessen the symptoms of winter funk?
I bet it does. And when I realized that, I started to feel depressed — and a little hungry.
'Tis the season, I guess.