Thoughts & Views

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow



Yes, I’m one of those perverse individuals who love snow. I don’t love power outages or falling tree limbs or ice (unless it’s on a rink), but snow is magnificent. (Don’t argue with me. You have your opinion; I have mine.)

Anyway, the weekend’s storm brought to mind two snow-related stories, both of which date to the days when I lived in Brooklyn. I may have shared these before. If so, sorry, but they’re worth repeating.

The first involves shoveling. Back then, I commuted by subway, and walking home from the station following snowstorms, I was always struck by something strange. This was a neighborhood of brownstones, and most of the homeowners would, as was the law, clear the snow from the sidewalks in front of their homes. But every so often, a pedestrian would encounter a sidewalk that hadn’t been touched. The snow was as pristine, and deep, as when it had first stopped falling.

There were enough of these law-flouters to rouse my curiosity, so I started asking around. And what I was told was this:

If you cleared your sidewalk of snow and ice, but someone later fell on it anyway, that person could sue you. HOWEVER, if you didn’t touch it, if you shoveled not at all, and someone fell, they had to sue the city instead, because the city had not enforced the law. The homeowner became litigation-proof.

I couldn’t quite believe it, so I called a source at the Department of Sanitation, who confirmed that the story was true. Luckily, not too many people, especially in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhoodS of newcomers, were aware of the loophole. Otherwise, there’d likely be not a shoveled sidewalk in the five boroughs.

Now this was years ago. For all I know, the loophole has since been closed, so don’t go telling your NYC friends how to beat the law. And I have no idea how sidewalk-clearing ordinances work in The Observer towns, so don’t assume you’re in the clear if you don’t clear.

Story 2 occurred in the same neighborhood. Again, walking home in the snow one night–it was still falling–I noticed that the streets were simply sparkling. This was a very special snow, something I’d not seen before, because it was as if those streets had been sprinkled with crystals, or stardust.

The sight was magical.

The truth was not.

The next morning, the City of New York announced that anyone in my part of Brooklyn who wanted to file a claim against it for a flat tire (or two or four) was invited to do so. There would be no challenges against said claim.

(That may have been the only time the NYC bureaucracy was so gracious.)

The mounds of rock salt for the plows/spreaders had been stored on a pier in Red Hook. The same pier where the city operated a recycling facility. In the dark and stormy night, some plow driver mistakenly loaded his vehicle, not with salt, but with crushed glass. And he proceeded to unwittingly spread it through streets near and far.

In spring, you could still see shards of glass glittering against the curbs. So much for stardust.

– Karen Zautyk

P.S. Speaking of rock salt: This week marks the second anniversary of North Arlington’s Great Salt Robbery, when 75 tons were stolen from a town storage facility on Disposal Road. Any leads yet?

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