The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
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by Jesse Walker

Monday, February 17, 2003
WHITEOUT: We have a couple feet of snow here in Baltimore, more or less -- I don't know the exact measurement, but it comes up a bit higher than my knees. The city has yet to plow our street, or any street within walking distance of here. "Walking distance," of course, isn't as far as it used to be. I'm sure I've owned winter boots at some point in the past, but they appear to have melted during my three years in snow-free Los Angeles.

The same storm hit nearby Washington as well. I'm told that their plows haven't been very prompt either. "Some years back,"
writes my D.C.-based friend Sam Smith of The Progressive Review, "I was asked by the paper to write an Outlook section piece about a recent storm. I decided to compare Washington's snow removal with that of another town I knew well, Freeport, Maine. As it turned out, Freeport had one percent of Washington's population but ten percent of its road mileage. If memory serves, Freeport did the job with five trucks while it took 150 in DC -- or three times as many per mile. In the most recent storm the figure for DC was up to 300 trucks with plows although the city's geography hasn't expanded in the interval."

The problem, Smith suggests, is D.C.'s native confidence in the bureaucratic approach to problem-solving. "There are certain jobs that do not lend themselves to the bureaucratic pyramid -- they are jobs in which employees carry most of the capacity for good or evil in their own skill, judgment and ethical standards. Jobs like teaching school, patrolling a beat, or plowing a street. Training makes them better; bureaucratic systems rarely do."

Fortunately, it's a holiday, and most of my neighbors don't seem intent on getting anywhere. Not that that's stopped anyone from devoting an hour or so to digging out a snowbound car. "It's better than doing it tomorrow morning," one woman told me. Depends on your point of view: Me, I work at home, and I'm gonna let my car sit until the white stuff's half melted.


posted by Jesse 5:07 PM
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