Even in San Francisco, where the drought isn’t as much a problem as elsewhere (thanks to a bit of rain and the water stored behind Hetch Hetchy Dam), there’s a little panic setting in as the state moves toward mandating less water usage. The new rules will prohibit the washing of sidewalks with hoses.
But San Francisco wants an exclusion from that rule. It uses high-pressure water, mixed with disinfectant, to clear away every morning the filth left by people who sleep in the city streets and use those thoroughfares as bathrooms. If this cleaning isn’t done, apparently the people who don’t use the San Francisco alleys and sidewalks as toilets raise cain at City Hall.
The rinsing off of sidewalks and driveways used to be normal behavior. In fact, in business districts, it was expected. I can remember storekeepers in the town where I grew up hosing down the sidewalks in front of their stores every morning. The water, carrying whatever flotsam and jetsam it happened to pick up, would flow into the gutters, then into the storm sewers, then into whatever waterway the storm sewers dumped their contents.
Washing the sidewalks was sometimes my job at the small-town weekly newspaper where I served an apprenticeship while going to high school. At no time do I remember ever having to wash any human waste into the gutters. Mostly what got washed away was just dust, the occasional gum wrapper, sometimes a cigarette butt or two.
But one day I happened to see a dog’s calling card lying on the sidewalk next to the corner of the building. I used the hose to whisk it away into the gutter, and forgot about it. However, the next day, there was another one. I washed it away, too, and had to repeat this several times. Finally, I told one of the printers what was going on, and asked him why he thought the dog left his calling card there every day.
“Habit,” he said. “But we’ll break it.” In the back room of the plant was a spare car battery we kept charged and some insulated copper wire. He hooked the battery to two wires, and ran the wires out the window, down to where the calling card was usually deposited. Then he put a metal foot-scrapper wrapped in rubber on the wires to hold them in place on the pavement, then cut back some of the insulation on each wire, leaving the copper bare. The next day, there was no calling card, nor was there ever one again.
“That dog is probably still wondering what happened,” the printer said. I wonder whether they’ve heard of that trick over in the city.