Thursday, February 15, 2007

In the aftermath of the St. Valentine's Day Storm

Damn, it's cold.

So here's how things went after yesterday's post:

After a quick lunch (Lipton's Ring-O-Noodle soup, with added noodles) I went outside to mop up what had fallen since I took a break. It was about 4-5 more inches of what would be called "packed powder" snow on a ski slope, I think. (I've never been skiing.) The snowblower made quick work of this, though more snow was coming down the whole while.

As I cleared the driveway, and the sidewalks, and the street, the question of how to get over to my new house to clean the sidewalks played over and over in my head. The roads were too bad to drive my Tercel, and even if I could, I would almost certainly not be able to park near my house - even though it's a double-block with enough frontage to park three of my cars end-to-end, there are usually several other people occupying those spaces. And in this weather, parking spaces would be in even more demand.

Get a ride? There were still reports of emergency vehicles and snow plows getting stuck, and the only person I knew with a truck big enough to get through was deathly ill.

So how to travel this mile across town, to the house that used to be a milestone on my dogwalks with Haley? How?


After I was done doing as much as I could here, I grabbed my wallet and my cell phone (wrapped in a Ziplok bag), filled a plastic jug with over ten pounds of calium chloride ice melt, and began the walk across town.

It wasn't so bad. I took sidewalks where I could, but there were long stretches where sidewalks were not available. I wound up walking the last half-mile or so in the middle of the street, dodging the occasional person insane enough to be driving in a car (cars move with eerie silence under these conditions) or on a quad (quads are illegal on roads, even in these conditions, but nobody was enforcing that law yesterday.)

I must have made a strange sight as I walked across Nanticoke, my head wrapped in a black balaclava of sorts topped with my hardy Irish hat, the rest of me also swathed in black except for my white fleece sweat pants, carrying a jug with a picture of a cat on it, a jug full of calcium chloride pellets and topped with a paper towel since I lost the lid some time ago.

This is what my neighbor saw as I walked across the street to my house, snow whipping all around me. "You'd have to be crazy to drive in this weather," I said to him cheerfully.

And then a new problem presented itself.

My neighbor had very helpfully run his snowblower over the sidewalks in front of my house several hours earlier. Unfortunately, with the limited availability of frontage he had been forced to blow the snow over the fence towards my house. This meant that not only were my steps a solid slope of snow - something I expected - it also meant I couldn't open my front gate.

This was a problem. I analyzed my options. Hop over the fence? No, it's full of spikes that might puncture me in places I'd rather not be punctured - or, even worse, I might damage the fence. Cut through a neighbor's yard, exit their back gate, and enter my property though the spot where my fence is missing in the back? No. This would involve slogging through more than a foot of snow for about 100 feet, only to come to another stuck gate at the end. Walk around to the alley that runs behind my house and come in through there? Yes, that seemed like the only way.

My neighbor had a more elegant solution: reach over the gate with a shovel and clear enough space for the gate to open.

Once I was inside I had to feel my way up the buried steps to get to my front door and the snow shovel and assorted brooms that were within.

Clearing the snow was dull and mundane, but everybody was doing it so it was a bit festive. Nobody had a snowblower - it seems there's been a rash of snow blower deaths, including my neighbor's which had quit earlier in the day. The porch was easy to clear off, the steps were a little tricky, the sidewalks less so. Everything was complicated later when the wind picked up and began to throw the snow from our roofs down onto the sidewalks we had just cleared.

At one point I dug into some yellow snow where a dog had peed against my fence. I flipped this snow up onto the four-foot-high snowbank that I had built with the snow removed from the sidewalks. I laughed when I realized that someone might wonder how a dog had peed on top of a four-foot-high snowbank.

Then there was just the street.

The street was a mess. Cars were plowed in everywhere. The red car that had been parked in front of my house the day before was still there, and wouldn't be going anywhere until it was dug out. One other spot in front of my house was open but snow-covered. This is where the neighbor's tenant's daughter likes to park her monster truck. Why she prefers to park her truck in front of my house, especially when there are closer spaces available that are not in front of my house, I will never understand. But she wasn't there, and the street was.

I dug out the spot.

Not all of it, mind you. Enough for a Tercel, not enough for a monster truck. I'm not that much of a chump. But why would I do such a thing? Because if ever I do park in front of my house before this stuff thaws and melts and causes massive flooding in a week or two, and if ever someone comes at me yelling "Hey! That's my spot!", I can say to them with some justification "No it isn't. I dug it out."

As we worked on the sidewalks and the street the occasional quad or car or pedestrians came by. At one point a group of teenage girls with sleds walked by - most of them on the sidewalk, one of them on the street (independent non-herd-mentality potential innovator but engaged in following group not leading mark for future study). The one on the street looked up the hill that runs up the street in front of my house, the one that I watched a motorcyclist roll down towards a collision with a car a block from where I was sanding, scraping, and painting. "Wow," she said to her friends, who were ignoring her. "Imagine coming down this hill on a sled!"

I turned to look at her and caught her eye for a second. Do it, I didn't say. Have your friends stand at the intersections to stop traffic. Ask any guys on quads to help you block the traffic, and maybe tow you back up the hill after your run - you're a beautiful teenage girl and no guy could refuse such a request from you, I failed to add. You're young and alive, and how many more times will this opportunity arise in your life before you're too old and tired and burdened with responsibility to do such a thing?

The girls walked on. They didn't sled down the hill.

After three hours of shoveling I was done. I hung my clothes up near a radiator to dry. I crawled into my bed with its flannel sheets and listened to an interview with John Waters on Fresh Air (regardless of what you think of his movies, John Waters is one of the funniest, most thoughtful, and most insightful people you will ever hear interviewed.) I contemplated walking back so I could start the process again in the morning. Walk home, sleep, get up, clear snow, walk across town, clear snow, walk back.

Or I could just stay there for the night, in a house that I was paying to heat anyway, and cut out two of the walks across town.

After some deliberation I decided I would spend the night. I hadn't eaten supper, and I didn't really have any breakfast food aside from some orange juice and some cookies that had been in the refrigerator for many months. But I wasn't particularly hungry, the house was warm, the bed was comfortable, the wind was howling, and according to the news the area was in a state of emergency; the major highways were officially closed and were unofficially full of thousands of stranded motorists, and all of the local cities had ordered all vehicles off the streets. I realized I wouldn't be going in to work today, either.

On top of all that I was practically too sore to move.

This morning I woke up relaxed and refreshed. I drank some orange juice, cleared the sidewalks, steps, and porch (again) and then spent about an hour helping a group of neighbors dig out my elderly neighbor's car. "I don't know what's wrong with me," he said. "In my 70's I would have done all this by myself and cleared the sidewalks all along the house. Now..." Poles come from hardy stock.

Then it was time to hike back across town. The roads were better - the plows must have been out in the night - but the silently running cars sneaking up behind me were still unnerving. I got home around 10:30 to find that the stuck van was gone. I ate a quick brunch (actually supper from the day before) and headed back out to run the snowblower. By 2:00 I was done and taking my first shower in over 30 hours.

The highways are still a mess. They are partially officially reopened, although they are closing sporadically as accidents are causing random backups. We received well over a foot of accumulation, possibly the full 19.3 inches that had been predicted - though if the sleet had fallen as snow we would have possibly had another foot of total snowfall.

I will try to get in to work tomorrow. More snow is predicted for the weekend, so I'd better get more gas!

1 comment:

whimsicalnbrainpan said...

Sorry about all the snow but you seem to be taking it in stride.