Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Code of the Snowblower

Winter is back.

The nice springtime temperatures that we enjoyed only so recently disappeared almost as soon as the words I wrote about them hit the internet, and it became February In Wisconsin once again. Now it is, after all, February in Wisconsin, so there is a certain amount of appropriateness to that. But it's been a long winter, and not even the girls are interested in having it hang around anymore.

And then it snowed Friday night. Five more inches of winter, stacked up on our driveway, demanding to be removed.

The Brotherhood of the Snowblower rides again.

I didn't own a snowblower until I moved to Wisconsin. I married into one, just as I married into a cat and a lifelong commitment to IKEA - it was a package deal. When we lived in our apartment, the snowblower was sort of an extra. I was younger and my back was stronger. Our driveway was just big enough for one car, and the sidewalk was narrow - it could all be handled with shovels. But with the house and its acres of driveway, I have come to appreciate the virtues of the snowblower. And understand the Code that goes with it.

The Brotherhood of the Snowblower has certain rules.

For one thing, there are time constraints. One does not haul out the snowblower before 7am on school days or 9am on weekends, or after 8pm, without risking the Wrath of the Neighbors. This you do not want to do, because of the sidewalk issue.

The sidewalk issue is one of those agile little dancing maneuvers that guys go through when they want to be nice but not too nice - kind of like the annual ritual one does when buying Christmas presents at the office. You want to get something that says, "I like working with you," or at least, "You don't make my life any more miserable than it already is because I'm working here, and I appreciate that." You don't want to get anything that says anything more than that, though, such as "Let's socialize outside of the office!" or "Let's see what interesting things we can photocopy after hours!" It's a fine line.

The sidewalk issue works like that. You want to be nice to your neighbors, and the City requires sidewalks to be clear after a certain amount of time, so if you're out there with the snowblower, you can just keep going down the block and get your neighbor's sidewalks as well. If you like your neighbor, that is, and if the snow is not too, too deep - there is a certain calculus of effort that goes into it, and if you have just a shovel you are excused from this entirely. When you do this snowblowing, your neighbor is thereby obligated to perform the same service for you, if the opportunity arises. Unless prior arrangements are made, it is considered bad form to make a point of always being the first one out there and getting your neighbor's walk all the time, as this creates an intolerable social-debt burden on the neighbor.

Also, you don't want to do more than his sidewalk, as this starts edging you into "photocopy" territory.

Snowblowers are also easily communalized in the event of large storms or mechanical failure. It is bad neighborliness to refuse the use of one's snowblower to a neighbor, even one you don't like much, if your own snowblowing is done. Like borrowing someone's car, though, the snowblower should be returned with a full tank of gas even if it didn't have one when you got it.

Turning your snowblower into a virility substitute is considered juvenile. That's what automobiles are for. Just get the snow off the walk, thank you.

Snow should be kept on your own property if possible, or in the street. Piling it up on your neighbor's property is okay if you get permission. If a new neighbor moves in, the old permissions still apply unless otherwise negotiated.

You never knew this stuff was so complicated. What do people in milder climates do with all the time they don't spend learning these rules?

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