John Hogan cleans up on Longbranch Avenue
  • John Hogan cleans up on Longbranch Avenue
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If anyone knows about having to shovel your car out after a winter storm, it’s a guy from Boston.

John Hogan of Ocean Beach knows the drill. Back home, where Hogan spent his childhood and early adulthood, it’s all about Yankee ingenuity and self-reliance. You don’t wait for a city work crew when you wake up and find your vehicle is inaccessible. You grab a shovel and get at it before the coffee is ready.

An East Coast blizzard is one thing. But California beach sand?

When the 64-year-old Hogan got ready to start a new workweek at Naval Base Point Loma on Monday, February 1, sand dunes created during the weekend’s El Niño winds surrounded his treasured 1965 Chevy Chevelle. From the rear, sand exceeded the height of the tailpipe.

By the morning of Wednesday the 3rd, there was still so much sand covering the asphalt and topping the curbs in the 5100 block of Longbranch Avenue (Hogan’s home since 1986), it was obvious the street-sweeper wasn’t going to make its rounds despite what the posted signs say. Hogan decided it was time to reach back to his youth and borrow one of its city’s most time-honored traditions: shoveling out a parking space and claiming it as your own.

“If I don’t do it, it’s not going to get done,” Hogan said, straightening up to take a break, shovel in hand.

Despite efforts to end it, the practice remains popular in Boston. You shovel out a parking spot, you keep it. Those who don’t honor the tradition and attempt to snake the spot for themselves risk a bare-knuckled brawl, if not a smashed windshield.

In Boston, folks leave a reminder on the curb — typically a piece of lawn furniture or orange cone — to mark the territory. Hogan wasn’t planning to go that far, but he expected others to respect his labor.

“My father got in some fights back East,” Hogan said, recalling the practice in his youth. “We all knew the game. There’s a certain code.”

Hogan remembers well the two previous El Niños but he can’t remember a time when so much sand picked up and landed at his curb. “I don’t know why it stopped here. It’s the first I’ve ever seen sand like this. That’s how strong the wind was,” he said.

By week’s end, the city’s approach to removing the sand seemed unclear. On Friday, one of the two days the city dedicates to sweeping streets that abut the beach, mounds of sand continued to top curbs, hem in storm drains, and stretch into driveways along Spray Street and parts of West Point Loma Boulevard and Abbott Street. Parking enforcement vehicles appeared to be observing a partial amnesty, bypassing cars on streets full of sand even when parked in defiance of the “No parking Friday 7–10 a.m.” signs.

A city spokesperson did not respond to multiple inquiries seeking information about the effort to remove sand and its effect on street-sweeping and parking-enforcement schedules.

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