Friday, February 21, 2014

Private Work for Public Good (Part II)

On the heels of my recent discovery on the background of the word “liturgy”  as “private work for public good,” I made another observation while taking my son to school along 38th Street, one of the busiest roads in Indianapolis, and one of the few that sees a significant flow of city buses. 

Last week, after the snowfall that had set the local record for the most snow in a season, I watched an older woman trudging east in the far right-hand lane of the six-lane street, staying close to the dirty white ridge that hid the curb.   

We have very nice sidewalks on 38th Street, with landscaped right-of-ways between the sidewalks and the street.   But for a four-block stretch of that street – occupied largely by branch offices of banks – the walks have not been shoveled, apparently since the big storm in early January.

Monday, I decided to traverse that stretch on foot to go to the nearest drug store.   In the 29 degree temperatures, the single-file path blazed by previous pedestrians was turning into a trench filled with ankle-deep slush.   The trails ended in knee-high gray roadblocks at the crosswalks where the snowplows have cleared streets.

Over an eight-block walk (there on one side, and back on the other), only two property owners had attempted to clear the sidewalks – the landlord of an un-named apartment building at 38th and Penn, and North United Methodist Church. 

Who is responsible for keeping sidewalks cleared?   On my street, everyone does a pretty good job of keeping their walks shoveled, if only so our neighbors can walk their dogs without getting snow over the tops of their boots.   What happened to businesses having that sense of responsibility? 

It was the sidewalks in front of the banks that irked me the most.  I suspect these banks know who their customers are and are not.   The sizable parking lots behind the banks are plowed, and the walkways around from the lot to the front door are clear.  Apparently few pedestrians patronize these banks; perhaps not even many of the people in the neighborhood who use public transportation (when they can avoid being run over by it).   Or maybe the pedestrians are just so used to trudging through knee-deep snow that it doesn’t occur to them to say anything.

I’ve also been reading about the U.S. Postal Service’s idea of becoming an outlet for financial services such as prepaid credit cards and even payday loans.  Apparently a growing number of Americans don’t have bank accounts – not only the unemployed and the disabled and those supposedly-ubiquitous welfare cheats, but also a lot of people who take public transportation to their minimum-wage jobs. 

I just watched my son perform in Les Miserables twice, so I’m still feeling like a revolutionary.  I couldn’t help seeing the little old lady trudging past the offices of the multinational corporation and thinking,

Look down, and see the beggars at your feet
Look down and show some mercy if you can
Look down and see the sweepings of the streets
Look down, look down, upon your fellow man!

Or, for that matter,

Look down, look down, you’ll always be a slave
Look down, look down, you’re standing in your grave...

Man the barricades!   Occupy!

Whew.  Okay, I got that out of my system.

Actually, I did consider doing something about it (instead of just writing about it).  I thought about going and shoveling it myself.   And notifying some friends in the media to come photograph and interview me doing it, to publicly shame and humiliate the property owners.   Luckily, it’s been thawing all week, and so I didn’t act on my passive-aggressive impulse.

But I did think, if I had noticed this was going on earlier in the winter, it could have been a great opportunity to approach those business owners about putting young people to work shoveling these  “public  thoroughfares” which cross “private property.” 

So I’m talking to a couple of people in the area about gearing up for that effort in the future.   It might be best in this day and age if the property owners were approached by an adult on behalf of an organization that was supervising the young people who could use the work, the direction, and the small amount of money.   We wouldn’t be asking residents and businesses to support one more charity.  We would be providing them the means to fulfill their erstwhile  obligation to do private work for public good.  It would be a liturgy.  

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