Tuesday, February 09, 2010
Metro columnist Dan Casey: Southerners scoff at shoveling sidewalks
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From today's paper
- Snow-weary folks brace for more
- Roanoke Valley crews head north to help with snowfall
- Snow causes roof to collapse in Pulaski
- Dan Casey: Southerners scoff at shoveling sidewalks
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There is a new guy here at the paper who started last week as a metro editor.
His name is Kurt and he has lots of talent and decades of experience working in Philadelphia and New York.
In other words, he is a Yankee.
For all of the past week, Yankee Kurt has been bitching about the snow-covered sidewalks. They shock his conscience. It's a sign of incivility, he told me.
He's partly right about this. Many of them are unshoveled, but it's not because of incivility. And how could a Yankee lecture us on that?
I mean, really.
But the truth is, Southerners don't shovel sidewalks. There are many reasons, and I thought I should list them for the new guy's benefit.
First we have to get a few things out of the way. For example, there are plenty of sidewalks in western Virginia that have been shoveled, not only in December, but also in January and this past weekend.
All of those are Yankee sidewalks. There are a lot of Yankees down here, and snow helps us pick them out, without actually talking to them.
It's about the only thing snow is good for.
Second, you may have noticed that every sidewalk in Salem is shoveled.
That's because everyone in Salem moved down here from Maine.
Clearing snow is as natural for them as raiding garbage cans is for a black bear.
With those caveats we will tackle the subject at hand, 'Why Southerners Don't Shovel Sidewalks.'
The No. 1 reason, of course, is that people in Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine actually do shovel their sidewalks. Down here we take great pride in being the opposite of them.
No. 2 is that we don't get much practice. If we badly desired it, we would move to New England. But I don't see any northward stampede -- do you?
No. 3 is that sidewalks are a rather foreign concept here. They are common in the towns and cities, but are unusual in suburbs and exceedingly rare far out in the county hinterlands.
And because Southerners believe strongly in equality for all, it's difficult to justify making the city folk break their backs with work the county folk don't have to contemplate.
I'm just kidding about all of the above, of course.
No. 4 is probably the biggie: The laws on the books are rarely if ever enforced.
Almost every locality has them. But in most places, they don't mean jack.
In Roanoke and Radford, the law says you're supposed to have your sidewalk cleared three hours after the snow ends. In Salem it is six hours. In Floyd it is 24.
But nobody has been charged with violating those ordinances.
I confirmed this with phone calls to all of those jurisdictions.
In Roanoke and Salem a violation is a misdemeanor, if a police officer bothers to write a ticket. The city managers could order city workers to clear unshoveled sidewalks and bill the owner.
Hah! That will never happen. It's hard enough for them to keep municipal sidewalks cleared.
In Radford there is no penalty for a violation, city spokeswoman Becky Hawke told me.
"No one can remember anyone being cited for this violation," Salem spokesman Mike Stevens said. He wasn't talking about this year. He was talking about ever.
There is one exception, and that is the town of Blacksburg, where residents are supposed to clear their walks within 24 hours of a storm's end. Still, there's no fine.
Since Dec. 1, a town inspector there has issued 362 notices for snow removal, mainly in high pedestrian-traffic areas, said Heather Browning, a town spokeswoman.
Maybe Yankee Kurt should look for a house to buy there.