Civil behavior can melt `snow rage' on city streets

February 21, 2003|By Dan Buccino

IT SEEMS worth reviewing some basic snow etiquette during this epochal snowstorm.

The second-guessing has begun, tempers are rising and it is helpful to recall that civility refers specifically to one's capacity to live in the city, to be a veritable good neighbor and to endure events like this with grace and self-control. Homeland security begins at home as we try to deal with all this snow and each other.

Though it is illegal, there is a venerable Baltimore tradition of "throning the asphalt" - placing folding chairs on the street to reserve your just-dug-out parking place. This is a very important component of homeland defense.

Citizens understandably feel proprietary about the parking spaces in front of their homes, even though the street is technically public property. If you have not spent three hours uncovering a parking space - especially in front of the house of someone who you know, or even suspect, did spend three hours digging out - do not park there.

Most snow rage assaults occur when this unwritten law of city civility is violated. As a streetwise patient of mine once explained, the "New Golden Rule" in Baltimore is "Don't start none, won't be none." Especially if you take someone else's parking place.

If you don't have to drive, don't. I never realized how many "essential" employees there were who probably aren't. They are simply so "shack wacky" that even going to work in 3 feet of snow seems sensible.

If you do drive, go slow and make sure you have the proper gear. Neighbors on our street spent a half-hour dislodging the car of a woman on her way home from church in high heels and a thin coat, with no gloves and no ice scraper.

And if you must go out, ask neighbors who may not be so hearty or four-wheel-drive-equipped if they need anything.

Civility in the city requires that we live one step beyond the original Golden Rule. That is, in order to be good neighbors, we must do more than just mind our own business, we must reach out to others. While we shovel and plow, we are obliged to pay attention to others' needs as well as our own.

It is not acceptable to throw snow on the neighbor's freshly cleared walkway or parking pad. Getting your car out while blocking in another's is also uncivil. Elderly and homebound neighbors should be helped to dig out and to obtain any necessary supplies. Snow-blowing the entire block will earn double bonus points and gifts of gratitude from all the neighbors.

The record-setting storm affords an opportunity to reflect on basic urban citizenship skills. It's time to consider antidotes to snow rage as yet another way to build belief in city life.

Dan Buccino is a Baltimore psychotherapist.

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