I can’t go anywhere these days without people asking me about what I think about the heated sidewalks.

Some Great Barrington merchants believe that since we are going to rip up and replace our Main Street sidewalks, we might as well be proactive and deal with another major problem.

According to Craig Okerstrom-Lang, a local landscape architect with experience installing such systems, installing heating tubes beneath the new sidewalks would effectively keep them clear of snow and ice.

Green people like the idea because you use less salt and chemicals. Medical professionals are on board because less salt means lower cholesterol.

Having gone to Carr Hardware in December where I bought a pair of those weird rubber thingys with the metal spokes, my poor man’s approach to icy sidewalks, I really wish someone had told me about the heated sidewalks a bit sooner. But I’m willing to put my own selfish interests aside for the greater good.

As usual, the big issue is cost. Like who will pay for the plastic tubing and the glycol you use to fill the pipes with. Not to mention, of course, the continuing expense of heating that antifreeze stuff.

There are two ways to go. Every merchant can pay for the section of the sidewalk that borders their establishment, or the town can pay for it as yet another worthy public service.

As someone who occasionally votes Democratic, I was a bit worried about what our Republican friends would say, especially after the acrimonious health care debate.

Imagine my surprise when my closest Republican friend, Anthony, endorsed the idea without hesitation. While the prospect of Washington-sponsored death panels and incompetent bureaucrats performing open-heart surgery clearly unnerved him, the idea of our town paying for snowless sidewalks seemed a reasonable function of government.

So government-sponsored heated sidewalks are not what I feared they would seem: just one more slippery step (and I assume the ice and snow may very well turn to slush in the short term) on the road to socialism.

It turns out that clean, clear, heated sidewalks are a basic American right, like maybe #5 on the list: just a few small steps behind your basic life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and the right to carry a concealed firearm.

I must admit, up to now, I haven’t weighed in on the issue, sidestepping every direct question in the same way I try to avoid the ice.

But having watched Rep. Bart Stupak maximize his influence over the last few weeks, I’m inspired. Bart forced his fellow Democrats to swear up and down all over the place that there’s no way federal money will be used in the new health care bill to underwrite abortions. So I’m prepared now to announce that I have seventeen Great Barrington taxpayers and voters who will endorse the public option for heated sidewalks in exchange for a promise that our Main Street benches will remain in place all year long.

This might sound like blackmail to you, but to me it’s just old-fashioned democracy. The eighteen of us have been meeting day and night on this issue and please believe us when we say this is a matter of principle. Up until now, the excuse for removing the benches has been that they make snow-removal too difficult. Well, no snow, no problem.

Hot sidewalks, warm benches.

We’re all winners.

Mickey Friedman is an unpaid lobbyist for American Benchsitters, a non-profit corporation dedicated to helping people spend more time sitting on public benches.

The Berkshire Record, Thursday March 25, 2010. © Mickey Friedman. All rights reserved.