Snow deep enough to shovel may be a rare event in Baltimore, but how it’s removed tells us much about our neighbors.
“Me and my car” individuals only clear a one-shovel-width path from their front door to their car. Why do more? Everybody uses their cars to get around in the winter so clearing the sidewalk is a waste of time, right?
“What walk-in traffic?” businesses thoroughly and carefully remove every flake of snow from their parking lots, piling it on the public sidewalk. Some even make the extra effort to build higher mounds at the bus stops. Riders either face the perils of climbing up and then down the snow pile to reach the bus or stand in the street to face the hazards of motorists. These businesses have a completely clear lot at the expense of their neighbors. Business are required by law to remove snow from public sidewalks, but in my experience, this legal requirement is rarely enforced.
Any discussion of snow in Baltimore would be incomplete without mentioning chairs. The Baltimore custom is to leave a chair — often of the lawn variety — in a parking spot that the driver has cleared when the car is moved. The chair claims the spot for the driver. Legally, street parking belongs to everyone and cannot be claimed, of course. Twenty years ago, when I was new to Baltimore, I followed the letter of the law that the public street could not be claimed. I shoveled out my spot and drove away to do an errand. On return, another car was in my spot. I shoveled out another spot and later in the day drove out of the neighborhood for another errand. Sure enough, a neighbor’s car that was always parked in the alley now occupied the second spot. So, a third spot was shoveled out, and I became a convert to the “mark your spot with a chair” custom.
Even this custom has limits. Our church plowed its parking lot, and some people from the neighborhood parked their cars in the church lot. One Sunday morning, a neighborhood car pulled out of the plowed parking lot and claimed this spot in the church parking lot for themselves with a chair. The Baltimore ethic is folks who clear a spot can claim the spot. Folks who do nothing to clear the spot cannot claim a spot. Another variation on “me and my car” mentality?
Snow often brings out neighbors we rarely see or speak with. There is much cooperation shoveling, pushing and salting so all cars can get out. The rest of the year it is just a friendly nod or a brief “Hello, how are you?” Another neighborhood I’m familiar with has a more elaborate snow removal plan. Step No. 1 is to shovel out a four-wheel drive vehicle, which then travels up and down the street to making a drivable path. Step No. 2 is for the car parked behind the four-wheel drive vehicle to pull into the cleared spot. Step No. 3. is removing snow from this spot. The process of clearing snow and moving forward continues until all the cars can pull out. This level of cooperation means you live in a good neighborhood.
Snow and schools in Baltimore raise the issue of overcoming adversity. Closing or delaying public school for only one or two inches of snow is puzzling for anyone raised in the North. This amount of snow is at worst a minor annoyance. Expecting students to cope with minor annoyances is a teaching moment that will enable students to cope with major traumas later in life. Closing school sends the message when facing difficulty, stay at home put your head under the covers.
Snow is a sporadic event in Baltimore; make the most of it.
Ted Kruse is a retired librarian; his email is firstname.lastname@example.org.