>> Friday, January 23, 2009


I trudged home last night after a long day of back-to-back classes, working, seeing people, attending a (boring) board meeting, and seeing some more people. Wait, that's kind of a lie. Not the whole sentence, just the trudging part. A friend gave me a ride home, so I only trudged from his car to my door. In any event, with a long day behind me, I approached my door and saw a piece of paper attached to it. I assumed it was a note from the tree trimmers since I left before they finished. Or maybe it was a solicitation of some sort, as those have been increasing of late.

But no, it was none of the above. Instead a "Sidewalk Snow Removal Notice" greeted me, and not too nicely I might add. The document's seal and strict language would seem more official if it wasn't clearly printed from Word. But looks aside, it was official. It sternly ordered me to clear the compacted snow from the sidewalk and driveway, remove all patches of anow/ice, and return the sidewalk to its full width.

I won't write down the thoughts swirling through my head as they were not very nice. I trust you can come up with language of your own that might mirror mine. But beyond the silent cursing, the notice bothered me for two reasons.

1) I prefer compacted snow to cleared sidewalks. Why? One does not slip on compacted snow; one slips (as I have many times) on basically cleared sidewalks that leave an all but imperceptible thin layer of water that freezes. As a result, I find that a cleared (each time it has snowed, I shovel the new snow) compacted snow path is easier to grip, easier to gain traction on, and thus easier to walk upright on. I learned this lesson well last year in Madison, where compacted snow is apparently acceptable, and much better than certain sidewalk sections that were inevitably slippery.

My compacted-snow-sidewalk was wide enough for 2 people to walk side-by-side, for a stroller to roll on, and for a wheelchair to fit on. So I was annoyed because I like my non-glassy sidewalk. But once presented with the city code, I understand how the language can restrict cleared sidewalks to the non-compacted snow variety. Not thrilled, but willing to be compliant, I prepared myself to deal with the sidewalk this morning.

2) Despite the extraordinarily diligent residential parking permit enforcers, the city does not send out equally assiduous sidewalk clearing enforcers. In order to receive the notice I did, someone had to call in to the city's "community standards unit" and complain. I don't know who* complained as that information is kept confidential. There are, I'm sure, good reasons for maintaining the privacy of the complainer.

At the same time, however, I can only guess that the caller was a neighbor. Why couldn't the neighbor knock on my door and ask me to take care of the sidewalk? I just moved here about 6 months ago, and I don't know my neighbors well. But I'm a pretty neighborly person. I've helped more people than I can count shovel and push out their plowed-in cars. I don't know all of their names, but when I come upon someone struggling to deal with their car, I help. I help because I've been there, and the silent (or vocal) cursing that comes with the plowed-in car far exceeds that which the sidewalk notice compels. I help because others have helped me. And I help because it's the right thing to do. So, please neighbor, come and talk to me before reporting me. If the compacted-snow really affected you, come and tell me why. I'll probably very nicely take care of it, and do so as soon as I can.

Un-neighborly: Calling in my sidewalk without talking to me first.

Neighborly: my rock-star neighborhood hardware store.

This morning, I wake up, grumble about having to deal with the sidewalk, bundle up, and get to work. Except my shovel isn't cutting it, and I know I need to acquire some salt. The city claims that residents can get 5 pounds of salt for free at the city yard. I grab my keys, scrape off the front windshield, wait for the car to defrost, and head over to the city yard. Which is vacant. Or vacant of people. With no visible salt pile.

Hopes for an easy snow-removal morning dashed, I get back in my car and head over to the local hardware store. Finally a ray of light. The very very very nice guy working this morning (not the owner, who I got to know well this summer when figuring out how to redowel the couch legs to the main couch) was extraordinarily helpful.

He asked about the condition of the sidewalk/driveway and about the length of the sidewalk. He asked whether I have animals (no, not right now, but plenty of people walk their dogs on my section o' sidewalk) and if I have a metal pick/trowel thing for breaking up the ice. And so on and so forth.

He gathered information and told me how the salt in 2 different bags is the same salt. He informed me which (not exactly) salt is better for animals (I know salt was painful for Max when wedged in his paws). He estimated I would need about 10 pounds of salt per snow and let me know what the best deal is (40 pounds of salt). He suggested the best way to remove the compacted snow and commiserated about the being "told on" to the city. And so on and so forth.

He brought the 40 pound bag of salt out to my car and wished me luck. I went home and got to work.

And now I'm done, or I think I'm done and hope the city inspector agrees.

I think it's time for some whole-wheat chocolate chip pancakes -- I'll provide the recipe later today.

*Left to my own devices, I can only assume that the obnoxious neighbor who kicked Max complained about my sidewalk given his expressed willingness to call the police over an unleashed dog in my own yard.


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