To say someone is “the salt of the earth” is a compliment. And yet, every Winter Chicago assembles scores of trucks and tons of salt for us to walk or drive over. Is that any way to treat a compliment?
In some ways this perfectly illustrates the mixed role of salt in our lives. On the one hand, a culinary star to enhance our daily diets, but on the other just another gritty piece of urban planning.
The records show the Chinese were already using and trading salt by 2700 BC. Later the Ancient Greeks were trading slaves for salt [it is where the phrase “not worth his salt” arises]. Still later, Europeans found large deposits of salt in the Great Banks of Newfoundland [it is one of the reasons they pressed for further explorations into the New World]. Once here, this press ever westward helped build great programs like the Erie Canal in 1825 [known as “the ditch that salt built” because of its trade’s large salt tonnage].
It’s a good bet Chicagoan’s will not be thinking about the history, but rather the availability of salt during our embattled Winter mornings. And, as is the wicked ways of our Human Nature, we will curse any absence while taking for granted any presence.
Knowing this easy-to-outrage habit by the public, one wonders why politicians ever run for public office. In today’s aura of rage, it has some of the same undertones of a death-wish. While in office, good headlines are rare. When they leave office, few find themselves on any altars of honor. Frankly, if it weren’t for a candidate’s passion for power, they might never step up.
Still, the next time we find ourselves in some un-salted traffic jam — and we will before the smell of Spring! — we wouldn’t be wrong to remember those officials are probably out there too. They too are citizens, and they too are human. Perhaps what most distinguishes them from the rest of us is they wanted — at least when they started — to hold public office for the public’s good.
The salt of the earth…? Alright, maybe over the years theirs has decayed some around the edges. But most of them started trying their best, as they understood it. What distinguishes most of us from most of them is we didn’t even try. But if you’re unhappy, now is never too late….
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