Big Snow Storms Can Make Or Break Politicians Major snow storms can shut down cities and strand residents. Frustrated voters often take their snow rage out on city mayors. And while the snow may be deep in some places, many state and local budgets are not. Still, communities are coming up with innovative ways to deal with the deluge.
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Big Snow Storms Can Make Or Break Politicians

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Big Snow Storms Can Make Or Break Politicians

Big Snow Storms Can Make Or Break Politicians

Big Snow Storms Can Make Or Break Politicians

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/132628820/132628810" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Major snow storms can shut down cities and strand residents. Frustrated voters often take their snow rage out on city mayors. And while the snow may be deep in some places, many state and local budgets are not. Still, communities are coming up with innovative ways to deal with the deluge.

Guests

Mayor Thomas Koch, Quincy Mass.
Mick Mercer, solid waste manager, Loveland, Colo.
Joan Vennochi, columnist, The Boston Globe

NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

Consider the fates of two major cities in the big Northeast blizzard. New York, buried by snow that still hasn't been plowed in a few places, and with all the sanitation workers shoveling white stuff buried now under mountains of uncollected garbage.

Or, Washington, D.C. The storm skipped past the nation's capital to the east, but hundreds of workers and salt trucks and plows prepared on Sunday night, on overtime, for what turned out to be nothing.

Snow removal can represent a major challenge in plans and budgets and execution - obviously in forecasting, too. And as more than a few mayors and governors can attest, it can leave political careers in the deep freeze.

Today we want to hear from those of you involved in snow removal. Tell us your stories, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the hour, the debut of OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network. But first, snow removal, and we begin with Thomas Koch, the mayor of Quincy, Massachusetts. Happy New Year, Mr. Mayor.

Mayor THOMAS KOCH (Quincy, Massachusetts): Happy New Year to your, Neal.

CONAN: And you had some experience with snow in Quincy. I suspect it's something you get every year.

Mayor KOCH: Yes, we're just south of Boston and we do receive a fair amount of snow each year.

CONAN: And your idea, as I understand it, was to - instead of paying plow drivers per hour, as normal, you would pay them by the inch.

Mayor KOCH: That's correct. It's worked quite well for us. We put a portion of the city out to bid under this system last year, whereby there are several categories on the inches, zero to two inches, two to four, et cetera, right up to over 18. And, you know, no matter how many hours they work, you know, we pay them for that agreed amount for the amount of snow that we receive.

CONAN: And if they're called out and it turns out to be - well, the storm traveled a little further to the east than you thought and they didn't get anything, what happens then?

Mayor KOCH: We don't pay them.

CONAN: And they understand that?

Mayor KOCH: Yes. It's a good deal, not only on the basis of accountability -you know, the same people in the same routes all the time, but when you're paying by the hour, which is the old way, you know, they take their time. It may six, eight or 10 hours after the storm that they're still cleaning neighborhoods up, which is unacceptable. This way, the incentive is to get done quickly, get all the equipment in you need, and as soon as the storm is over they're wrapping up.

CONAN: And so, these are private companies. Theyre not using municipal equipment.

Mayor KOCH: That's correct. It's private companies. We have some city workers that some of the main routes, but we don't have enough personnel or equipment to do the city ourselves. So this is putting the - almost three-quarters of the city now is out to bid under this process.

CONAN: And what's the difference in expense?

Mayor KOCH: We're saving - we've seen last year that we saved more than 10 percent in snow removal costs. So, that's significant when you're looking at the numbers we're dealing with.

CONAN: And last year was a pip.

Mayor KOCH: I'm sorry?

CONAN: Last year you got a fair amount of snow.

Mayor KOCH: Yeah, well, yes, we did. Yeah, we had a snowy winter and it represented more than $200,000 in savings.

CONAN: And that's pretty significant for, I guess, any city but certainly a city the size of Quincy.

Mayor KOCH: It's significant in general, but it's also significant in the times we're in where we keep getting cut in local aid and revenues are off. So, you know, the $200,000 could mean, you know, five teachers in our school system.

CONAN: Sure. And have you incorporated any other innovations?

Mayor KOCH: Well, we've done a nice - away from snow, in trash. We've put together with neighboring cities and put our trash contract together, increasing the volume, which helped drive down the bid. So, we're saving money on trash removal as well.

CONAN: And I wonder, what's the public reaction when, you know - did people tremble at the first flake?

Mayor KOCH: No, the folks, they - I don't know that they really care how you do it. They just want it out of the way. They want to be able to drive out in the morning and get to their work or their school.

CONAN: And I'm you've seen the situation of - well, I guess the mayor of New York has been in hot water lately because they didn't get to some neighborhoods and apparently did not do as well this year as they did last year when the city got hit by three blizzards.

Mayor KOCH: Well, I always say to my commissioner of public works, just like Bill Belichick says to the Patriots, you're only as good as your last game. You're only as good as your last storm. So, I feel bad for Mayor Bloomberg. He's got his hands full in New York.

CONAN: I'm sure. It's a problem of a different magnitude in New York, I think, than in Quincy...

Mayor KOCH: Absolutely.

CONAN: You may get snow more often, but when New York gets it, it really gets it. I'm curious, though, as, you know - for someplace that - Massachusetts is not the only place in the world in the country that gets a lot of snow. What would you have - recommendation for people who may be mayors in Colorado or Wyoming?

Mayor KOCH: Well, I would suggest they take a look at this. You know, if their costs are getting out of control, if they don't have accountability, this is a great way, a great approach to try in a municipality. As I said, in addition to getting the storm cleaned up quickly, we also have greater accountability because the same drivers have the same routes with those same companies all winter long.

Whereas the old way you called in the privates as you needed them, you didn't know how many city workers would come in or refuse to come in. You're constantly adjusting and augmenting with various private contractors, but they were being shifted around various times. So, it's accountability as well as saving some money.

CONAN: We want to hear from those people in our audience who are familiar with snow removal or maybe victims of snow removal. 800-989-8255, email us talk@npr.org.

And Thomas Koch, was there one incident that spurred this change?

Mayor KOCH: No, it was a discussion after my first year as mayor. How can we make things better? How could we improve, and how could we be more efficient? It actually came from one of the foremen on the city. And we followed it through and we're quite pleased with the results.

CONAN: Through a suggestion box?

Mayor KOCH: Not a suggestion box. It was during a meeting and he just came up with the idea during a meeting.

CONAN: I wonder, how did the city workers receive this idea?

Mayor KOCH: It seems to be received quite well. The city workers are different than 20 years ago. People don't seem to like to work as many hours, so. The old days everyone would be in line waiting to be called for overtime. But today seems to be a little different. So we don't have the numbers the city employees we used to have and those that we have don't like to work those kinds of hours of overtime. So, it's had no problem with city workers.

CONAN: But you'd think that a nice pre-Christmas storm everybody would be looking forward to a fat check.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mayor KOCH: I would agree. Times have changed, though.

CONAN: Times have changed. So, the city workers are not necessarily as eager to work those overnights on the weekend as they once were.

Mayor KOCH: That's correct. I think people - this generation likes to spend more time with their children and it's a different day in that regard. But we're getting it done, regardless.

CONAN: Well, Mr. Mayor, how's the forecast looking?

Mayor KOCH: It looks like it's going to be cold and sunny all week. Maybe some white stuff toward the end of the week.

CONAN: So, you're getting ready to maybe make a call by the weekend?

Mayor KOCH: Absolutely.

CONAN: All right. Well, thanks very much. And we wish you the best of luck.

Mayor KOCH: My pleasure and Happy New Year, Neal.

CONAN: 800-989-8255, email us talk@npr.org. That was Thomas Koch, who's the mayor of Quincy, in Massachusetts, where they pay for snow removal by the inch rather than the hour. We want to hear from those of you involved in snow removal or maybe victims of snow removal. 800-989-8255, email talk@npr.org.

We'll start with Danielle(ph). Danielle with us from Woodward in Iowa.

DANIELLE (Caller): Yes, good afternoon. Thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure. Thanks for calling.

DANIELLE: Domestic snow removal can be an issue of safety in the Midwest, where we have snow build up to sometimes a foot or more. If you have a well-insulated roof - so trying to be a prudent homeowner, saving structural integrity of the roof I got a roof rake. And it's a very long-handled device and you scrape it -you stand on the ground and you scrape it to remove snow from your roof. I didn't understand when I first moved here that you do not stand directly that...

CONAN: I was just going to ask. Where do you stand?

(Soundbite of laughter)

DANIELLE: You stand at a diagonal. But my first time using that rake, I was just kind of pulling it towards me assuming that the snow would come off bit by bit and just go right on over the gutter and onto the ground. Well, it was like an avalanche and that landed on my head.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: I'm sorry. I shouldn't laugh. Were you okay?

DANIELLE: Oh, yeah, it was funny. I thought it was funny, too. You can laugh. That's perfectly fine. It was a fluffy powder, but apparently there was enough melting that there was a little glaze of ice on the roof shingles, and it came down very fast. It was very surprising. But I learned a good lesson.

CONAN: And I wanted to ask, though: How many stories is your house? How long is the handle on that rake?

DANIELLE: The rake handle has sections that you can keep attaching. So you can get 30-foot-long handle. And it is only a one-story house, a moderately peaked roof.

So I was standing on the ground. Now, I have heard stories of people here in the Midwest climbing up on a ladder and shoveling the roof. And one daughter was watching out the window as the snow was cascading past the window, and her father also cascaded past the window because he slipped.

CONAN: Ouch.

DANIELLE: Yeah, (unintelligible), lots of snow.

CONAN: In that case, I guess it's a good thing there's a lot of snow to cushion his fall.

DANIELLE: Indeed.

CONAN: Well, Danielle, thank you very much for the call, and we wish you a -well, I guess a dry winter.

DANIELLE: Well, we like to cross-country ski. So - but thank you for the wish for safety.

CONAN: Danielle calling us from Woodward, Iowa. This email from Jason(ph) in St. Paul: Here in the Twin Cities, we've had a record December snowfall amount. The biggest problem now is paying for it. The crews did a great job, but we've already gone through a year's worth of budgeted snow emergencies in two months, and there's still two or three months left to go.

I suspect that's the situation in a lot of places. Let's go next to Jeff(ph), and Jeff is with us from Wasilla in Alaska.

JEFF (Caller): Yes. I've also lived in Vermont. And the key is planning ahead. Listen, I grew up in Manhattan, and I know that they do get heavy snows from time to time in New York City, and the city, part of the key is to be prepared ahead of time, to have a plan and a system.

And if, you know, if the regular employees don't want to do overtime, well, that's good, help the wider community by hiring temps. But the key to snow removal is having the right equipment, knowing ahead of time what you're going to do, and it makes a lot of sense to pay by the inch because what do you do with a foot worth of snow after you've plowed up the streets?

It doesn't just disappear. You either can expend an incredible amount of energy melting it, and hopefully the drains aren't frozen, or you need a place to put it, and you need the wherewithal to move it there.

One of the things that they do in Anchorage - and even in Anchorage, I've seen where it takes four days before the roads, the streets are all fully clear. It's just overwhelming.

But one of the things that they do is on the wider streets, they have gone through with the plows and the graters and piled the snow from the sides up into the center, which not only makes it easier for the trucks and loaders that are coming to collect this snow that's been piled up and truck it away, but it enables there to be at least one lane of traffic in each direction...

CONAN: And enables those who are...

JEFF: ...removal is going on.

CONAN: Those unfortunate enough to have parked on those streets actually get out of their parking places.

JEFF: Well, there are - they are given, plenty of notices. But I'm thinking of - a particular street I'm thinking of, actually...

CONAN: Oh, it's a snow emergency route, where you're supposed to not park during a snowstorm. Anyway...

JEFF: Oh, there are some emergency routes, where you're not supposed to park, but on normal streets, they handle it pretty well. Sometimes, you've got to go out there and spend a half-hour digging your car out after they plow, but it's all got to do with being prepared and what to do with this incredible quantity of snow when it comes.

CONAN: Jeff, thanks very much for the call, we appreciate it. 800-989-8255. Stay with us. This is NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Sure you can use a shovel or some rock salt to get rid of snow, but sometimes you need to pull out the big guns. When eight inches fell on D.C. the night before John F. Kennedy's inauguration in 1961, the Army reportedly broke out flamethrowers to help clear the streets.

A couple of years ago, a Japanese company built a self-controlled robot to clear snow. Many cities use GPS, even lasers to plow streets and driveways but not mailboxes.

We want to hear from those of you involved in snow removal or maybe victims of snow removal. Tell us your stories, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website, at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Joining us now by phone from Loveland, Colorado, is Mick Mercer, solid waste manager for the city of Loveland. Nice to have you with us today. Happy new year.

Mr. MICK MERCER (Solid Waste Manager, Loveland, Colorado): Thank you, happy new year.

CONAN: And I understand in your city, snowplows will be mounted on trash and recycling trucks.

Mr. MERCER: That's correct. It's something new we're doing this year for the first time, and we just put to a test a couple days ago. We had a smaller snowfall. So we mounted them up as a test run and as a training exercise for employees and sent them out into the residential street network to see how it went.

CONAN: And how'd it go?

Mr. MERCER: It went very well. We learned some things, some dos and don'ts, which is what we expected, so that we could be more ready when we have a bigger event.

CONAN: And that's almost a guarantee.

Mr. MERCER: It's a guarantee for sure, and our plan is to only plow open our residential streets using this trash-truck-plow concept during the bigger snowfall events that give people a problem, six inches plus.

CONAN: What did you use before?

Mr. MERCER: Well, like most cities out here, we don't routinely plow residential streets because luckily we don't have to. Our snowfalls typically are smaller, and they don't give people a problem getting from Point A to Point B.

Our resources basically allow us to plow arterial streets and collector streets, and that keep us pretty busy. We have a problem, though, when we have the really big snowfalls that hit us occasionally, and in that case, like everyone else, we would hire contractors at great expense, and they would show up - typically, they'd do their private work, their parking lots and churches and so on, and then they'd show up a day or two later to work for us, but that's too late.

CONAN: A day or two late.

Mr. MERCER: The snow gets packed down and rutted and bonded to the pavement, and it's impossible to cut off at that point.

CONAN: And I assume the plows for the garbage trucks ran a pretty penny.

Mr. MERCER: Well, it depends. They're a one-time expense. They cost $20,000 a piece. And we bought 11 of them, so $220,000, which is a lot of money, but they'll last a long, long time, whereas contractors cost $100 an hour. And a few years ago, we had to hire 40 contractors, and we worked them day and night for a long time, and we ran up a tab of $750,000 and did a so-so job on our residential streets.

CONAN: So you can pay Peter, or you can pay Paul.

Mr. MERCER: Well, the idea, of course, for us is to get on the snow when it's soft and to do it quickly. You know, when it's fresh snow, and it can be plowed, that's the time to plow it, and we can't be dependent on contractors to show up a day or two later. So we decided to utilize our existing resources.

We had a yard full of trash trucks, recycling trucks, and we had professional drivers for those trucks, and they know the residential street network better than anybody, literally, because they drive up and down them every week to pick up trash and recycling.

So we decided to put plows on the trucks, and, when we have these bigger events, to have these same drivers drive their routes, only this time they're plowing the center third of the street, up one side of the street and then eventually back down the other side, just as though they're picking up trash or recycling, only they're not. They're either plowing - they're just plowing in this instance.

CONAN: Well, you'd think garbage trucks and recycling trucks would be heavy enough to be good snowplows. Are there any problems with them?

Mr. MERCER: They are heavy. They're tandem-axle trucks, big, heavy trucks. They do need some weight in the back. So in this last event, where we sent them out and tried it, we actually left some trash and left some recycling on the trucks to give them weight.

For those times when the trucks are empty, we have made some counterweights to fit inside the back of the trash truck to give it the weight it needs.

CONAN: Oh, to counter the weight of the plow.

Mr. MERCER: Yeah. Otherwise it gets a little squirrelly, and it'll want to turn sideways. You still need some weight over those rear tires to give you the traction to push the snow.

And so we filled up some big tractor tires, farm tractor tires, with cement, and they have a lifting device on it. And we lift it on the back of the truck and close the gate, and away they go.

CONAN: You said you learned some dos and don'ts. Can you give us an example of one of each?

Mr. MERCER: Well, we have a lot of cul-de-sacs in our town, and these big trash trucks don't make that corner very well, especially when they're trying to push snow. So some of those cul-de-sacs we won't plow with the garbage trucks and the recycling trucks. We'll use pick-up trucks with plows on the front to zip in and out of those cul-de-sacs. The garbage trucks will do a great job plowing the straighter street.

CONAN: Well, good luck to you.

Mr. MERCER: Yeah, thank you.

CONAN: And we appreciate your time.

Mr. MERCER: My pleasure.

CONAN: Mick Mercer is the streets and solid waste manager for the city of Loveland, Colorado, with us today by phone from that town. 800-989-8255. Fay(ph) joins us, Fay calling from Sunshine in Alaska.

FAY (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hi, Fay, go ahead, please.

FAY: Hi. I just wanted to point out that we're in south-central Alaska. We're maybe 100 miles north of Wasilla. And I heard the comments from the caller from Wasilla and just now the caller from - whoever it was - who pointed out that when you're going to plow, make sure you plow when the snow is soft because people have terrible, terrible problems trying to plow with sticky, wet snow. And even with a front-end loader, it is really difficult to do.

CONAN: I understand. I've never tried to plow, but shoveling, yeah.

FAY: And also, (Unintelligible) minimum number of inches when they're going to plow a road. If it's under, I think, six inches this year, they don't do it.

CONAN: It's not worth their time somehow?

FAY: Also, they have priorities. They're going to do the school routes before they do anybody else. And so if we have an emergency, say the ambulance needs to get here or whatever, well, tough luck.

We have local residents with snowplows, but they can't do anything until the borough does, you know, what they're supposed to do. But bless their hearts, you know, they've been doing it.

But soft snow, get rid of it. Don't wait until, you know, it gets really wet and sticky because then it's practically impossible to do.

CONAN: Fay, good advice. Thanks very much for the call.

FAY: (Unintelligible) high-centered snowplow, getting high-centered because the snow is so sticky. Anyway, that's my comment. Don't forget Alaska. We're used to snow, and yet this year is particularly difficult.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call.

FAY: Okay, talk to you later, listen to you, bye.

CONAN: Let's go next to - this is Mark(ph), and Mark's with us from Ogden, Utah.

MARK (Caller): Yes, sure, how are you doing? Let me turn my radio off. There we go.

CONAN: There you go.

MARK: How are you doing?

CONAN: Very well, thanks.

MARK: As an ex-state employee with the snowplow industry, I enjoyed that part of the job as far as pushing snow on the state roads, government roads, federal roads. We get out there real quick. We get in, get out of there, off them freeways because of the commuters.

Utah's come up with some different ideas in how to combat it on sticking to the roads, And they've come up with some good ideas. As a residential thing, the guy that was from Colorado, I can agree with him on putting on garbage trucks. That is an exceptionally good idea.

And as an ex-landscaper, landscape business owner with my own snowplow trucks, the expenditure of putting them on - the snowplows on the trucks, maintaining them, putting drivers in them, as a residential landscape maintenance person, you just beat them trucks up, and people don't - people don't get out of your way, you know, when you're plowing, that park in right where you're trying to plow the snow up.

Combating snow is a really difficult thing, and it's very costly. So I - my personal viewpoint is the state, the cities, the counties - I'm going to say this like this: They need to combine forces because when I worked for the state, we wouldn't push a county road. We weren't allowed to.

CONAN: I see. And vice versa, I assume the county wouldn't plow the state road.

MARK: No, no, and I - and my viewpoint was when I was working for those people was let's band together and just hit it, just knock it out. Get after it. Do what it takes to get the job down. As a residential one, you wanted to get in there and get out of there because you were paid by the hour, and the more hours you put in, which is kind of a dangerous thing, too, but I worked as high as 47 hours with no sleep, I mean, going because...

and you wanted to get in there and get out of there because you were paid by the hour. And the more hours you put in, which is kind of a dangerous thing, too, but our work is high as 47 hours with no sleep. I mean, going, because it was snow...

CONAN: Yeah.

MARK: ...and some snows are really bad, some snows are really good.

CONAN: Well, Mark, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate your expertise.

MARK: You bet. Take care.

CONAN: We're joined now by Joan Vennochi, a columnist for The Boston Globe, where her most recent column, "Governing Live from the Scene," ran yesterday. Nice to have you with us today.

Ms. JOAN VENNOCHI (Columnist, The Boston Globe): Nice to be here.

CONAN: And in your piece, you recall some major moments in the politics of snow and particularly remember Mike Dukakis and the blizzard of '78.

Ms. VENNOCHI: Well, that may seemed like ancient history, but it was an iconic moment here in Massachusetts that people of a certain vintage still remember. It may seem like, you know, like politics 101 now. But Mike Dukakis put on his famous ski sweater, went on television and day-by-day walked the snowbound population through what was a very efficient snow cleanup procedure. And ever since then - I mean, every governor since, Republicans and Democrats, have kind of used that as the high watermark or the high snow mark as to what you do in a snow emergency.

CONAN: Yeah. Buy stock in L.L.Bean because you know the governor of Massachusetts is going to be out there in his outdoor wear.

Ms. VENNOCHI: Right. I think it - well, you know, what's interesting is, in the Massachusetts, snow removal has become an issue for the governor. From, you know, your previous callers, the mayor of Quincy and the...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. VENNOCHI: ...manager out in Denver, you know, usually, the, you know, the local, you know, municipal official is the one that pays the price for cleaning up snow or not cleaning it up. But, you know, here in Massachusetts, really, that image from back in the '70s have stuck with governors ever since. That's why I think it's interesting that, in New Jersey, Gov. Christie has made this issue an issue about the governor more than the mayor. And I, you know...

CONAN: Whatever he's doing, he's...

Ms. VENNOCHI: It'd be interesting to see how it plays out for him.

CONAN: Well, yeah, because he was in Disney World at the time. And...

Ms. VENNOCHI: He was at Disney World. And not only was he at Disney World, every response that he's had since the snow has been kind of, well, snow happens, sort of a lack of compassion for every man and woman who stuck digging out and shoveling. And the thing about snow is that it just doesn't fall on Democrats or Republicans. It falls on everybody...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. VENNOCHI: ...no matter what their political affiliation.

CONAN: And in New York, they're now saying next time Michael Bloomberg denies any intent to run for president, people are going to believe him.

Ms. VENNOCHI: Right. And, you know, both Bloomberg and Christie have cultivated this image of, you know, the confident manager. The - you know, they have sort of extolled the virtue of the private sector approach versus the public sector approach. And Christie, particularly, has been very contentious and really taken on the public sector.

And I just found it fascinating that he decided that he didn't have to be there to kind of oversee what - I think people have every right to expect is - you know, a basic public service, cleaning the streets. I just happen, by coincidence, to be driving through New Jersey last Monday night, which kind of - sort of peaked my interest in the whole thing. And I'll tell you, compared to Massachusetts roads, their roads were not what we appear would consider very clear.

CONAN: We're talking with Joan Vennochi, columnist for The Boston Globe, with us from a studio there at the newspaper. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And it's not just the occasional governor in the northeast, you think of the mayor of Chicago, Mr. Bilandic, who lost an election because the snow removal was not too efficient. You'd think, especially after last year, we had three blizzards in the northeast, people would learn.

Ms. VENNOCHI: You would think that they would learn, but it seems that - I don't know. I guess the lure of the warm climate. And I also thought it was interesting reading Gov. Christie's response. He said that his primary responsibility was to be a good husband and father. And I guess he had, you know, promised his child or children this trip to Disney World and he opted to, you know, follow - you know, keep that end of the bargain rather than the bargain with, you know, New Jersey residents.

Now, you know, I'm not a voter there. I don't live there. They may be more forgiving than the people are up here in New England. But, again, it'd be really interesting to see how that one plays out for him.

CONAN: I no longer live in Jersey, but grew up there. I don't think so.

Ms. VENNOCHI: Yes. I'm sorry I didn't hear that.

CONAN: I was just going to say I don't think they're going to be any less forgiving, the people in Massachusetts. But we shall see in any case.

Ms. VENNOCHI: We shall see. Well, as I, you know, wrote, he may want to buy one of those L.L.Bean outfits for the next blizzard.

CONAN: Joan Vennochi, thank you very much for your time today. We appreciate it.

Ms. VENNOCHI: Thank you.

CONAN: Joan Vennochi with The Boston Globe. Her column is "Governing Live From the Scene," ran yesterday. There's a link to it on our website. That's at npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION. Rod is calling, Rod from Kimball in Nebraska.

ROD (Caller): Good afternoon.

CONAN: Afternoon.

ROD: Well, I used to live in the mountains of Colorado at about 8,500 feet, and we got a lot of snow. And we lived off of a county road. We had a little driveway. We oftentimes would go out early in the morning and shovel our driveway, and then we'd go in and have breakfast or whatever. When we look outside, and the county snow plows would come by and buried our driveway with another three or four feet of snow that they had shoveled off of the - or plowed off of the roads.

So we got tired of that, so we used to listen for the snow plow trucks and we'd go outside and stand in our driveway so that they wouldn't do that. And you could actually see them turn their blade on their snow plow trucks to avoid dumping all the snow into our driveway. And had we not been out there, they'd be - they were glad to put all the snow back into our driveway again. And I used to accuse them of hiring sadists, and they didn't have to pay them anything because they enjoyed doing...

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Well, that may be another way to get out from underneath the municipal deficit. I don't know.

ROD: I guess. But if you got, I mean, you literally, I mean, you could watch them do it. I mean, it was fascinating. And sometimes we would be late and you could see them turn their blades so that they would plow more snow into the driveway, and if we were outside, they would turn their blades so that they wouldn't plow - excuse me - plow as much snow into the driveway.

CONAN: So be early and be vigilant, I guess is the comment.

ROD: That's right. And the comment I get about the politics of it, I believe it was back in the '80s or '70s. I lived in Denver and Federico Pena ran for mayor against Steve McNichols, who'd been mayor forever, and won I think most people would agree in large part because of a huge blizzard that closed down the roads for forever, and that McNichols wasn't terribly serious about it. And Pena managed to win, I think at large part, because he did take it seriously.

CONAN: So, Rod, thanks very much. Appreciate the phone call.

ROD: You bet.

CONAN: Here's an email we have from Paul, who writes us from Los Angeles but says formerly of the Snowbelt in Lansing: I got tired of shoveling snow so I removed myself from Michigan to Southern California. Wouldn't you know it? Look at the forecast today, a lot of Southern California having terrible problems with winter storms.

Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. We're coming up next to talk with Eric Deggans of the St. Petersburg Times about the debut of the Oprah Winfrey Network.

I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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