Saturday, February 06, 2010

Snow and Ethics

We live in a townhouse cul-de-sac that's Y-shaped, about 30 or so houses on each arm of the "Y".  The Reston area has just gotten about 20 inches of snow, which offers an object lesson in the ethics of libertarian rugged independence.

Generally I'd say we're rugged independents here.  Each of us operates on his or her own time schedule and concepts.  Some get out before the snow has stopped, others will appear in a couple days. Some people shovel their way to the common sidewalk (on cluster property), and stop.  Some don't shovel.  Others shovel some part of the common sidewalk.

Once we get to the parking area, we're still independent.  The cluster pays for the area to be plowed (heavy 4-wheel drive pickup with front blade).  Usually that works okay.  But today, one person got his 4-wheel drive SUV backed out of his space (ignoring the advice to stay home and off the roads), and then got stuck.  Fortunately it wasn't at the entrance to the cul-de-sac, but it was at the base of one branch of the "Y", meaning that side didn't get plowed.  The late word is that the 4 wheel drive has gone out on two of the trucks of the contractor, so that side may never get plowed.

Even where the plow went, it couldn't do all that much.  For most cars, there's 5 feet between the back of the car and the plowed area, at least on the side that got plowed.  (Unfortunately because of the configuration I've got about 15 feet behind my car.)  So each of us is faced with the job of shoveling snow off the top of the car, from the sides of the car, and from the back of the car to have a chance to get to the plowed lane and then stuck. Now comes the test.  The best tactic which serves everyone's interest is to carry each shovelful of snow to the front of the car and dump it the other side of the sidewalk from the car.  The best tactic for each person is to get out early and dump the shovels of snow on his neighbor's car, or behind his neighbor's car in the plowed lane.  You may be hindering the people who live on the part of the cul-de-sac further from the street from getting out, but it saves you work.

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