Thursday, May 23, 2024


A couple of days after heavy snows in Cambridge, paths between cleared sidewalks and roads have widened slightly but probably lead straight into a reparked car. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Cambridge Day is part of a project called Voices of MainStreet — a weekly, nationwide Q&A in which editors at the money and lifestyle site ask questions and bloggers answer them. For this entry, I was asked about winter rituals.

Oh, being snowed in. Shivers of delight in my saunalike apartment.

Horrible weather is a wonderful excuse for all sorts of retrograde behavior — making one of those great, cream soup mixes and eating it with hunks of baguette, huddling on the couch wrapped in a comforter and watching all three extended-edition DVDs of “The Lord of the Rings” while the sky outside darkens again, then simply returning to bed after a day utterly wasted.

It’s a perfect day to clean the apartment, which I won’t. It’s a fine time to catch up on correspondence, and I don’t. In all but truly bad weather, it’s probably possible for me to act like an adult and go for a run — it doesn’t have to be long, right? — and there’s no way I will even consider it.

When it comes to finding excuses for winter laziness, the area abets me.

The city is tasked with plowing the roads and does so with more dependability than I could muster, and it’s the property owners rather than us renters responsible for clearing a path through the snow on sidewalks. There are at least three fact sheets and how-to pages online for property owners, all reminding that shoveling has to be done within 12 hours after a storm and two going on to say ice has to be cleared, sanded or salted within six hours of forming.

This year also brings a second annual “best shoveled block” contest. Last year’s was in February, with an entry deadline of March 5, as though the organizers were fed up at the end of repeated meteorological affronts handled with decreasing vigor by an exhausted citizenry. (Last winter was actually fairly mild here.) This year the contest kicked off Nov. 26, when most people adhered to a willful optimism, encouraged by an early and persistently pleasant spring and summer, that this winter would pass as only a minor annoyance — requiring a jacket, some gloves and a rental for a ski weekend in Vermont. Done. The early contest announcement hinted that wouldn’t be the case and made what the PR people like to call a “proactive” move to encourage best behavior.

But that message is buried under the snow somewhere. When the plows have come through to make it safe on the roads and the landlords have cleared the sidewalks for pedestrians, the flaw in the system becomes clear: These things run parallel forever, resulting in giant barriers of snow bordering each block, and the city’s injunction to “make openings in snow banks” applies to too few people (corner property owners) and appears on only one of the city’s three snow checklists.

The result is a citywide battlefield of unbroken knee- or waist-high berms of snow through which arbitrarily placed footwide paths eventually form — and by this I mean the width of a human foot, not the length — only to be unmatched by a path to the sidewalk across the street. Then comes the reshuffling of parked cars along the street, which inevitably blocks the paths anyway.

You can walk around your block, but you can’t leave.

You can forge a path, but you might find yourself stranded in the road as a car swerves your direction.

Or you can just stay indoors, toasty, gluttonous and slothful.