Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Law Didn't Do This

Reader and commenter Bob Johnson asked an interesting question yesterday:
  • Are you obliged to clear your sidewalks? Last place I lived with a sidewalk we would get a ticket if we didn't clear the snow fast enough.

I know the sort of ordinance Bob's talking about. Every city has one. What they're trying to accomplish is legislating civility. It's not possible. When I scoff at publications like Forbes endlessly talking about how swell urban hellholes are, it's mostly because they reiterate a laundry list of legislated civility that supposedly makes crummy places swell. Last time I checked, it is illegal to kidnap, rape, murder, and eat your neighbors. Didn't stop Jeff Dahmer from costing Milwaukee a few slots on Money Magazine's Glorious Places To Live, Unless They Don't Have A Subway So #$%@ Them.

People do the right thing around here, without being asked. The sidewalks are plowed, just like the street is, by the town. The town doesn't worry about how much salt I'm putting on my puttanesca, it puts it on the street after it plows it. It minds its own business. Its business is the safety and comfort of its citizens, not massaging the neuroses of martinets and the fools that elect them. The local government is not corrupt, and by extension, is not incompetent. It doesn't try to do too much, but what it does try, it succeeds at.

Here's an object lesson in how it works here. That's our neighbor, Gayle, who walked her snowblower up the hill from her house and blew all the snow out of our driveway early this morning, without being asked. She knows we can't afford a snowblower, and we had a long morning of shoveling ahead of us. My older son is blazing a flying saucer down the side yard with his little brother instead of shoveling right now. The law of unforeseen circumstances works both ways. Good things happen downstream when people are pleasant. Gayle, like so many of my  new neighbors, is a peach.

It's not as if there's nothing to govern snow removal in Rumford. You're supposed to remove snow from the access (driveway, for instance) to your house so that an emergency vehicle could get to it. That doesn't come up much. It's mostly to keep absentee landlords of abandoned properties from ignoring the need for a fire engine to be able to get to a burning building whether someone's living in it or not. When my wife and I drove around looking for a house in Maine a year ago, we didn't look at any occupied houses, but every house had the driveway plowed out.
That's another of my neighbor's houses. It looks nice in the snow. Rich is another fellow, like Gayle, who puts his genial nature out into the world, like messages in a bottle, not knowing exactly who, if anybody, might read them, but knowing it's worthwhile to try anyway. He cannot number the kids he's taught and coached, and hired to mow his lawn for more than their efforts merit, I'm sure. Decent people don't keep score like that anyway.

So no, no one tells the people who live here to remove the snow. But then again, anywhere that actually requires a sign telling people it's required by law that they wash their hands after crapping is sure to have feces in the food.


Anonymous said...

I don't remove snow from my property for the very simple reason that I can't because of a chronic back injury (could use a broom if it's just a dusting, but any effort with a snow shovel leaves me exhausted and in pain after the first few handfulls).
My neighbours know this, yet noone took the trouble of clearing the sidewalk and path to my door (they all cleared their own, stopping exactly at the property line, not an inch over it).

City life... Sadly moving to the country isn't an option. People are nicer there, but the property is so much more expensive in villages I can't afford it (plus there are what amounts to seniority requirements, meaning you won't be allowed to buy property in a village unless you or your parents already live there or have lived there in the past).

Andy said...

Yea. Decent people don't keep score.

Truer words were never spoken.

I've always been a fan of karma. Or less granola flaked, the idea that if you treat people how you might like to be treated, it comes back to you two fold.

The handful of people that matter in my life arrived via this type of vehicle. You find folks with a modicum of decency and finding you share likes, hobbies, or music is lagniappe.

I firmly believe that a person of character will only meet two, three, maybe four people in his or her life that can truly be called friends. You know the scene - 2,800 mile long I-wouldn't-call-unless-this-was-serious-shit type thing- and homie is on the next plane or simply listening to the gnashing of teeth and beating of chest bones over a crackly connection.

A simple act of honest compassion brought them to me. And sometimes I have to catch myself and remember how dumbstruck with blessings (if there are such things) I truly am. Perhaps I should take more credit, methinks.....

Rob De Witt said...

But then again, anywhere that actually requires a sign telling people it's required by law that they wash their hands after crapping is sure to have feces in the food.

That's pretty much got it, all right. By the time you see signs reminding you of normal behavior, it's already game over

Cas said...

we had a dusting (1-2") of snow the other day here. My one new neighbor has cerebral palsy, and CAN'T shovel snow. My other neighbor was out of town. So, I went ahead and scooped out their sidewalks and driveways, while I did mine.(1-2" isn't really a problem, unless it melts a little, then re-freezes) Yeah, it took me awhile longer, but the benefit of having neighbors who know about you is beyond price!

Gary said...

I've always offered to tutor gratis in science or math anyone of my acquaintance. I have helped people pass certifications, medical boards, and college classes. I always mentored anyone who showed an interest in my profession. I spoke at professional conferences whenever asked. I helped my neighbors any way I could.
The last few years battling cancer, I have been showered with help and support by people who I have worked with over the years, by neighbors, and sometimes by people I hardly knew.
Helping your fellow man whenever you can will enrich your life. Letting your fellow man help you, in your turn, enriches both your life and theirs.
In the end, the only accomplishments you will treasure are the times that you touched another's life.
The rewards of kindness are much greater than the cost. Living selfishly is worse than a crime, it is stupid. Do something nice for your fellow man; you will be repaid many times over.

Class factotum said...

It is required by ordinance to shovel here (Wauwatosa, a Milwaukee suburb) but there is one guy who never shovels and it's a pain in the neck because I have to walk out into the street on my way to church. I won't call to report him, though, because I don't like the idea of citizen narcs.

I shovel my elderly neighbor's sidewalk because he's a super nice guy. My husband's parents are total jerks and I suspect nobody would shovel for them if they were in a snowy area. Nobody retrieves their errant trash cans and I suspect that's the Florida equivalent of shoveling the neighbor's snowy sidewalk.

CT said...

"But then again, anywhere that actually requires a sign telling people it's required by law that they wash their hands after crapping is sure to have feces in the food."

Yes indeed, the presence of a law in all ages is very strong evidence of the existence of the very thing the law is (presumably) designed to ban. That's why they can be very useful to the historian. It's always been intellectually easier to demand that "there oughtta be a law!" than to acknowledge that we're powerless to legislate people's consciences.

formertory said...

Here in the UK there's a perennial debate about whether clearing snow from the pavement (sidewalk) outside your house makes you liable if someone slips and injures themselves. Legally, it seems, it does, so few bother and we all laugh at video on the TV news of people falling over on ice because no one - from the local authority downwards - clears snow and ice. My, my! So funny!

We've fallen a long way, over here, and I don't mean on ice.

I've always been struck by the way Americans just seem to get on and clear it, and clear for others, too. Just another example of good manners long lost in this country.

I was most struck, though, by the simple truth of your comment about handwashing signs. Every eating place in the country seems to have a sign in the washroom saying "now wash your hands"; for myself, I agree with your analysis.

Anonymous said...

60 years ago when I was a child many people choose not to shovel their sidewalk because the law said if you slipped on an unshoveled sidewalk and hurt yourself it was a result of an act of god. If on the other hand the sidewalk had been shoveled and you slipped it was a result of the act of the homeowner. It would be interesting to know if the act of making it a requirement that the sidewalk be shoveled exempted the homeowner from law suit?? It would seem to me the state assumed this responsibility by passing the law

teresa said...

If you have received a desperate-sounding email from someone purporting to be me stuck in the UK w/ no money, please disregard. My email account was compromised. I am actually stuck in Northern Mine w/ no money.

Blackwing1 said...

The big snow-dumpster we got here in Minneapolis left over a foot-and-a-half of the white stuff. I've got a 26", 8-horse, 2-stage blower I inherited from my folks when they had to give up their house.

You know, once you've got the thing fired up and running, it's really not a whole lot more effort to just keep going. When I did my front walk, I just kept going to the end of the block, and then back again to the other end. When I blew out my driveway, I cleared the widow lady's next door drive, and my neighbor's to the north. You'd be amazed how many people thanked me directly, and expressed their appreciation.

Seems like a natural and normal thing to for me to do. For a big (well, middling-big) city, we live on a GREAT block, with wonderful neighbors who genuinely look out for and help each other.

On the other hand, maybe I'm just building up credit for the time when the SWAT team has to pick me off the clock-tower, and the neighbors will get to say, "He was always such a nice man, shoveling our walks and mowing our lawns. I never would have figured..."

Joe D said...

I was sick as a dog Wednesday, Thursday and today, so I barely managed to shovel my and my wife's cars out so we could get to work. I put my "sidewalk" duties off until tomorrow.

My new neighbor, who is the son of the recently deceased old neighbor (and who lives 5 minutes away), came over this morning and asked me whether I was going to have "my guy" come and do the sidewalk again like I had in the past 6 years. I told him "I" was "the guy" - that I did it for his mother as I was not going to have an 85 year old woman stranded if she needed help while I lived next door.

He said "well, if you want to pay someone to do it, I'll split it." I said, "you're welcome" and closed the door.

Class factotum said...

He said "well, if you want to pay someone to do it, I'll split it." I said, "you're welcome" and closed the door.

Lending credence to the theory that nice people do favors for nice people, not for jerks.