Thursday, December 19, 2013

Because It's Cheaper To Shovel Snow Than Lose A Lawsuit

     For that matter, it's easier to shovel snow than render first aid to a neighbor or stranger.

     Tam's recent observation on snow-shoveling (and those who don't) has prompted acrimonious debate, with sunshine-state para-Objectivists objecting, "City's sidewalk, City's to clear."

     Nice notion, but A) the City doesn't agree and B) you don't really want it to; see, the City spins not, nor does it plow.  Every dime the City has, they took from the pockets of you and your fellow inhabitants.  By the time they'd've gathered up a Snow-Shoveller Corps, uniformed them, issued shovels, inspected them for disease and degree of imbecility, worked up a manual of arms for Shovel, Snow, Official, m. 2013, trained supervisors, hired a department head, etc. etc., my taxes would have gone way, way up -- and my street would be low on the priority tree to actually have our walks shoveled, count on it.  They'd probably dutifully drop by every June, shovels on their shoulders, singing a happy snow-shoveler chanty, give the walks a quick look-see and mark us down as done for the year, as pleased as gandy-dancers encountering an already-straight section of rail.

     "But," objectors might splutter, "the City is eeeeevil.  They will fine you if you don't shovel their sidewalk."  They can.  They rarely do -- see, just as they haven't got a Snow-Shoveller Corps, they're a bit light on Shovelled-Walks Inspectors, too.  The po-leece could go around writing tickets but even IMPD would be ashamed of collaring non-shovelers.  The possibility of a -- oh, horrors -- ticket and fine doesn't prompt me to shovel my sidewalks.

     Here's what does (and you will be shocked, shocked to learn my reasons mostly boil down to self-interest):

     1. I want to be able to walk on my own land without slipping, falling, having shoes fill up with snow, etc.  By the time I have cleared the house-to-garage walk, the back-door-to-front-door walk and the front-door-to-curb walk, the itty bit of across-the-frontage sidewalk is nothing.

     2. I enjoy receiving mail and packages.  The Post Office and the various commercial delivery concerns usually will not wade through snow with one's new fridge.  Yes, yes, I'm sure you'll tell me they damned well ought to; but they won't and you can't make them, so....

     3. I don't really care to touch strangers, nor listen to their wailing, nor see them bleed and thrash about.  One can largely avoid the occasional necessity to render first aid to slippers and fallers by clearing and salting the sidewalk in front of one's home.

     4. Similarly, it's purely inconvenient to be hauled into court by a slip-and-fall victim.  I'd just as soon not give 'em the chance.  Let them go elsewhere if they're minded to fall down and break something.

     5. I want the neighbors to clear their walks so I can comfortably and safely walk to the store, various eateries, etc.  It's considered rude to go threaten them -- plus I am not the boss of them anyway -- so shame (in the form of setting a good example) is about all that's left.  I clear my walk and they see it, and perhaps think, "Oh, so that's the Done Thing, is it?" and clear theirs.  (If the snow isn't much, or the neighbor does stuff for me, I might shovel their walk, too.  Now you've got three houses with cleared walks and, as Arlo Guthrie tells us, people will think it's a Movement. Maybe they'll want to get in on it.) (And maybe they won't.  I still win: I have at least three houses worth of cleared sidewalk to ease my peregrinations.  Yes, ooo, ick, other people might walk on it.  So what?  I got what I wanted!  How many dogs did you want to put in that manger?)

     If you want to be an island, go live on an island (or the functional equivalent).  If you like living in town, where there are things to do and places selling nice stuff to eat and art museums, bike shops and radio-parts stores and so on, with that comes living cheek-by-jowl with the other fonky primates.  If you want to reduce the friction that comes with that, sometimes you've got to oil the gears.  Sometimes you've got to shovel the sidewalks.   Or hire someone to do it for you.


Sean D Sorrentino said...

My wife and I once had to organize a snow shoveling party at our apartment in Allentown, PA. I was appalled at the sheer laziness of most people. It was The Tragedy of the Commons all over again. Apparently these people were unaware that the snowplow company hired to clear the parking lot was unable to plow between parked cars. Or over them. Or, in fact, very near them.

Shame works. Sending people to knock on doors to ask people to get off their fat butts and move their cars to spaces already cleared so the plow truck could scrape that section of parking lot. It was a lot of oil for some pretty rusty gears, but the end result is we had lots of parking spaces for our building, which resulted in zero shovel assault charges after parking spot arguments.

I consider it a win.

Tam said...


billf said...

I agree completely,spot on!Especially the part about "every dime the city has,they took from you".I can't believe how many people think "oh,it doesn't cost us anything,the city does that for us"
Gov't doesn't have any money-it's all ours,(or it used to be ours before they stole it).
You can't even use the "don't be so lazy"argument anymore,everybody always thinks that they,themselves ,work SO HARD.

Anonymous said...

When I lived in the Virginia exurbs of Washington, D.C., I did exactly what you wrote, and for the same foundational reason: it benefitted me.

I found greater benefit, though, in moving back to Texas. The snow in Austin is a mite sparser than "up thar."

Anonymous said...

Snow blowers have terrible depreciation, and if you can catch someone moving out of town you can often pick up a very powerful model with direct drive wheels for under $300. I know, because I just moved from town to suburbs and tried to sell mine. A good snow blower is a wonder, a joy! A few years ago we had a megastorm that dumped 30" on our town and I just wish I could find the words to describe the (clearly ineffable) satisfaction of coolly walking down the sidewalk behind a machine shooting a stream of snow twenty feet when you've spent the last 10 winters sweating and grunting over a shovel, wrenching your back when the shovel gets caught in a sidewalk crack, etc. The little old ladies along the street will not only adore you and treat you like their long departed sons, they make you soup or hot chocolate, and sometime will slip you an envelope full of ones - "Here take it, thank you so much!"
And, think of the tinkering opportunities! (alas, my snow blower was electric start and was as reliable as the sun)

Jake (formerly Riposte3) said...

I'll add one more reason you don't want the city doing it: Eventually, the Snow-Shovelers Union will get the city to make it illegal for you to shovel/salt your own walks. So when you do have to wait 6 weeks for them to get there, you're stuck with impassable or dangerous sidewalks and UPS/FedEx/USPS/etc. refusing to deliver your packages, or leaving them in the muck at the edge of the street.

Ken said...

What Jake said, and Sean D. Sorrentino too.

I'm of two minds, I confess. We shovel for our own safety and because we think it the neighborly thing to do. On the other hand, I have no qualm with anyone who, not already having a city sidewalk on the property, declines the city's offer to install one.

jon spencer said...

Those "you have to shovel the sidewalk" laws only work where the snow is measured in inches not feet.
The sidewalks here are where the snowplows put what they have plowed off the streets. Until the banks get too high, wide and the roads to narrow. Then they come around with the front end loaders and trucks to haul it off.
Life in the U.P. eh.

Anonymous said...

One thing I would mention on clearing side walks is about snow plows. They always arrive after you clear your sidewalk and driveway in the cities. Push a big wall of snow over the sidewalk and the driveway. So you get to do it twice. My neighbor had a good solution, he made his wife clear it off. Now I live in Florida and haven't seen a snow shovel any were. Great right up by the way. All the Best to you.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like SOCIALISM, with which I heartily agree!

(Now, as to STATE Socialism...)


Motor-T said...

Screw that! I never shovel my sidewalk. Mostly because it NEVER snows where I live.

LabRat said...

In my thankfully limited experience with weathering natural disaster (hurricane brushing the city I lived in at the time, wildfire where I am now), I've learned that who you know and how they feel about you has a vastly greater impact on your fortunes than what you've stocked.

I don't shovel my sidewalk because my street is sidewalkless for some reason, but I do other things for my neighbors (catch an escaped pet, help someone struggling with something heavy, take an alert interest in people I know don't live there when I know or suspect that neighbor is away etc) when the appropriate occasion arises. Mostly I do it because it is neighborly and I reckon that the decent thing to do, but small local communities are the human race's real environment of evolutionary adaptedness, and it's an investment with unpredictable but almost always positive dividends.

Drang said...

Message from Applebees-America: What is this "sidewalk" of which you speak?

Seriously, though, having grown up a couple of hundred miles ENE of you, when it snowed at Alte Schloss Drang, I broke out the shovel and did our driveway, our sidewalk, the the sidewalk and drive of the widow next door, and thought everyone else in the neighborhood was unconscionably lazy and irresponsible for declining to do the same.
Then I discovered that it usually only snows fractions of an inch here, and that it usually melts before the next snowfall.
Or, it snows an icey crust over crappy snow over a quarter inch of more ice. Shovels are futile, get me a flamethrower!

Anonymous said...

I shovel my neighbors walks and blow out their driveways for a simpler reason:

After the SWAT team has picked me off the clock tower, I want the inevitable interviewee to say, "But he was always such a NICE man, shoveling my walk and mowing my lawn..."

Bulldog Man said...

Self-sufficiency!! What a concept. Hope it catches on. Saw where Tam said she was taking Mom back to the Doc. Hope she's doing better.

Eck! said...

I offer to the scratchers and antiGands.

The community places a blanket ob
for some things other are personal obs.

See "And Then There Were None" by E.F. Russel


Bruce H. said...

And besides, being the first one on your block to shovel the walks gives me the warm glow of moral superiority at a remarkably low price.

Anonymous said...

You forgot to mention the snow-shovellers gold-plated pension plan that will eventually drive the city into bankruptcy and unemployment benefits during the summer months when the snow-shovellers will be working off the books building decks, re-shingling roofs, etc.

Regarding snowblowers, the biggest thing that most owners never do is drain the carburetor in the spring to prevent the gas from turning to varnish in the jets. A buddy of mine does this every spring, refills with fresh gas every fall and it starts every time and runs as smoothly as it did in the '90s when he bought it. If you can clean a carburetor you can pick up a great bargain on a snowblower from someone who doesn't understand why it won't start this year.


P.S. You're a Neo-Victorian Roberta? By Jove, I had a Tranter revolving pistol that you would have loved.

Roberta X said...

Indeed, Al-in-Ottawa, indeed.

Mark Alger said...

Ohio, so I understand, has an odd legal situation. Cities where it is mandatory to clear your walks. Good so far? People fail in their civic duty. Right? Somebody slips, falls, and breaks their sacral-illiac. (Or their profane-illiac, take your pick.) With me so far? Takes the property owner to court. Case drags out over years and gets bumped up the ladder to the State Supreme Court where it is decided (if I understand this correctly, which I might not) that, if an effort was made to clear the walk and a bad job was done, the homeowner is liable. If, however, no effort was made, the homeowner is NOT liable.

Go ahead. Parse that. I've got all day.


Ken said...

I am an Ohioan, and I think (but do not know) that Mark Alger is right. I've heard the same, anyway.

Roberta X said...

Yeah, well. Eff that. 'Scuse me, but eff that. I'll need to see chapter and verse, and even then? I will probably still clear my damn walk.

You can't let the barbarians win.

Anonymous said...

The Ohio case is actually logical. Responsibility lies with the City to clear the sidewalks. If you clear the sidewalk yourself, you're assuming the City's responsibility and therefore also its potential liabilities.

Think of it this way: Tam offers to bake a cake for Shootin' Buddy, and buys the ingredients, and then realizes she won't have time to actually bake it. Good roommate that you are, you offer to bake it, but you let it stay in the oven too long, so it becomes marble hard, and when Shootin' Buddy tries to eat it, he breaks a tooth. Shouldn't you be the one to pay the dentist's bill and not Tam? Not an exact parallel, and I'm sure your baking abilities are better than that (they're sure to be better than mine, which is limited to defrosting Pepperidge Farm three layer cakes), but the legal principle involved is essentially the same.

Anonymous said...

Wait, darn it. Misread MA's comment. My first comment is totally irrelevant....apologies.


Roberta X said...

Bingo -- because the City has decided it isn't their responsibility to clear the walks; it's yours. That is the basis on which they can (but rarely do) fine you.

It seems unlikely the law can have it both ways, heads-I-win, tails-you-lose; either they can cite you for not clearing your walks or a cleared walk exposes you to liability for hazard that an uncleared walk does not.

IMO, the preferable course is to do the very best job clearing that could reasonably be expected (or a bit more) and if you get sued anyway, you'll at least be able to point to your good faith effort to reduce the risk.

It's a mug's game to leave the walks snowed over and hope for a technicality.

Brandon said...

#3 was my personal favorite. That it played in my head in Malcolm Reynolds' voice may have been a factor.