Leftovers: Let good intentions snowball

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Last week’s massive snowfall brought out the best and worst in some of my condominium neighbors.

With parking spaces, sidewalks, walkways, and steps considered “common areas,” everyone had their own take on how storm cleanup should have been prioritized and executed. Apparently, a new plow service threw long-time residents into a frenzy. And unlike the pure fluffy snow, it wasn’t pretty.

“Why should we have to move our cars when the storm hasn’t even been over for an hour,” asked a guy who’s lived there for 20-years. “We used to have a set time to do it based on when the plow and shovel guys would be in our area of the complex. I don’t pay condo fees to make life easier for everyone else here. No offense.”

The problem, it seems, came when the management company jumped at the opportunity for us to be the first on the new plow company’s route, thus upending the way it had always been done. Sending out an email at 5 p.m. asking everyone to move their cars ASAP, and line them up on the main road winding through the development, had people scrambling for limited spots near their unit. It wasn’t a big deal, but try telling that to the woman I loaned my new snow brush to. 

“The condo association board just makes decisions like this without reaching out to the rest of us,” she said. “They could send out a survey or something.” Rather than ask about her attendance at regular association meetings or joining the board for more input, it got my wheels turning about the last nine months. 

We’ve all been living in a time of uncertainty, frustration, and isolation. What if all this solo time reinforces the negatives of selfishness that comes from staying in our own pods? We’re supposedly doing it to protect others as well as ourselves but I didn’t see much brotherly love the other night.

In fact, some of the conversations were right out of a “Seinfeld” episode about Jerry’s parents’ Florida condo association, del Boca Vista. Everyone fought and plotted behind each other’s backs to obtain a powerful position on the condo board. That at least was funny, but once again, the interaction between the residents was not pretty.

This is not to say owners of single-family homes all live side-by-side in perfect harmony. The difference is, those folks point fingers at each other when something is a community eyesore or hazard, where condo dwellers point fingers at the property management company. That’s unless an individual rogue resident among us displays a political sign, doesn’t pick up their dog’s poop, or smokes weed on a windy day. Even then, I’m told most people call the property management office and tattle rather than civilly approach their politically minded, possibly stoned neighbor. 

Another favorite “Seinfeld” episode for these times is 1997’s “The Strike.” Tired of the commercialism of Christmas, George Costanza’s father, Frank, came up with Festivus, the Festival for the Rest of Us. It was a time to come together to air grievances when other established holidays of the season just didn’t seem to fit. How 2020 does that sound?

While I’m waiting for my new snow brush to be returned, I’m going to find out what course of action needs to be taken so I can get on the condo association board. I’d like to see a dog park go into an undeveloped field on the property. One of my neighbors wants a little lending library near the mailboxes, and I’m wondering why there isn’t a monthly e-newsletter. No one spearheaded a collection of coats and gloves for Portland neighbors in need, and our non-existent Halloween efforts, COVID-19 or not, were downright depressing. 

But, yet another neighbor told me the association meetings are beyond boring and all they talk about is how much it costs to do the kinds of repairs and upkeep that drove most of us out of single-family homeownership in the first place. 

Regardless of the holidays we’re celebrating, individually and/or collectively, there has to be a push for embracing our neighbors, even if the concept remains figurative until we’re all vaccinated. It’s too easy to blame one property management guy rather than help a fellow condo resident dig out her car. Did our behavior get even worse from quarantining and isolation? 

Before I’m accused of being sanctimonious (again), I know I need to do better too. So, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and of course, Happy Festivus. Let’s do the seemingly simple goodwill to men thing: Brush off your neighbor’s car once in a while, be nice to the property managers and well-intended people on boards, to the essential workers, your boss, your mom, and well, everybody.

And, it might not hurt to blow your smoke the other way, too.

Natalie Ladd is a Portland restaurant veteran, freelance writer, and connoisseur of all things Bruce Springsteen. She loves Boston sports, chewy red wine and has never sampled a cheese she didn’t like. She can be reached at natalie@portlandphoenix.me.