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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014

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In Living Commentary

Shoveling snow a familiar task for homeowners in Milwaukee.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow - easy for me to say


Confession: I've haven't shoveled snow in years.

Don't blame me because I'm pretty good at avoiding that stuff.

The fact is I've live in a nice place where a guy gets paid to take care of the sidewalks and parking lot for all of the homeowners in the building.

Before I moved here, I spent much of my time living in lots of apartment complexes that also took care of the snow duty for residents.

Granted, I've been fortunate. If you live in the Midwest – particularly Milwaukee – dodging the snow shoveling duties on an annual basis can be a nice perk, particularly given this city's curious rules on snow removal, plowing and shoveling sidewalks.

According to official policy, the city of Milwaukee has responsibility for salting and plowing 7,000 lanes of city streets after big snowstorm, which can take from 18 to 24 hour. When heavy snow is predicted, the dreaded 'four inch' rule comes into effect, everybody with a responsibility for keeping the city from becoming snowbound leaping into action.

As some of you well know, most city property owners are responsible for clearing snow from public sidewalks within 24 hours after the snow stops falling. That can be a daunting task after heavy snowstorms that tend to linger with gusting winds depositing all that white stuff in front of your door.

If you park your car on the street during a snowstorm, you know about the inevitable possibility that you forgot the emergency winter parking rules and will wake up to your car either hopelessly encased in a vise made by the snow plowers or it even might have been towed.

The city doesn't plow alleys, which is a big deal in some parts of the city where the alleys can become a Matterhorn to conquer with just a shovel and a stern back.

When I tell people I haven't shoveled snow for most of my time in Milwaukee, some are either envious or quizzical.

After all, one of the dreams of home ownership for some is the idea of taking care of your home in every season, including getting out front to push the shovel or snow-blower around. For some guys, it's the epitome of home ownership as "the man of the house".

In theory, I mean.

The fact is some homeowners - male and female - really shouldn't be out there attempting to clear sidewalks after a heavy snowstorm due to health problems. Every year there are reports of heart attacks from shoveling snow or even fingers mangled by misuse of snowblowers.

In some parts of the city, particularly the central city, sidewalks remain unshoveled for days and even weeks due to the failure of some residents to follow the required rules. Often it's the result of some homes being rented by people who don't really see snow shoveling as part of their commitment; in other places, it's because there are way more vacant foreclosed homes than the city would like and nobody willing to take on the task.

I've seen parts of the north side so congested by snow after big snowstorms it represented part of the bigger problem for some challenged neighborhoods where residents don't work together on something as simple as snow removal.

I've also heard complaints for years about the lack of snow plowing after big storms in some low-income areas where residents feel convinced it represents an official slap in the face by city officials.

Ever since Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne was elected in a surprising 1979 victory over a previous mayor who failed to address concerns after a massive storm crippled the city, snow has become a political issue in some cities.

Have no doubt, ever since that Chicago election, whenever something big is predicted during hot political times, the mayor probably searches the sky with anxiety.

Mayor Tom Barrett probably doesn't have to worry this winter since he's not up for reelection for a few years. But he knows his critics will have no hesitation judging his performance by how his department of public works responds to snow.

As they should; the buck does stop there.

I would like to say I have always done my part to keep the sidewalks clear after our inevitable sloppy winter season, but I have been slack in that regard. Not due to any lack of enthusiasm on my part, mind you, but due to my circumstances.

After all, if I did decide to grab my shovel and start clearing the walk by myself, I might be shoveling the guy who gets paid to do it out of a job.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

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