December Tale

Many a social scientist would like to have witnessed the scene on our block this morning. Around 7:30, apartment-dwellers came out to face the task of shoveling out their cars, buried under snowdrifts. Getting them to budge a few feet out of their white tombs seemed an impossible task, much less climbing or barreling through one of the 3-foot banks at either end of the road, where overnight the plow had cleared perpendicular Dayton Ave and sealed us in. The sun was up, but cold wind tore at faces, rippled hoods. All of us were straight out of bed into snowpants, hats, jackets, gloves, boots, scarves.

Some were ill-equipped, in leather jackets or rubber wellington boots. Not everyone owned a shovel: some were borrowed from basements and garages, heavy and rusty. At least one broke. As many as three people used plastic buckets, scooping like sand-digging children at a beach.

At first, everyone attended his own vehicle, feebly scooping from under cars, behind tires, voicing frustrations and apprehension to neighbors in the wind. “How are we going to get out?” “There’s too much snow!” “This is crazy! It’ll take days.”

I was among the skeptics. “Let them tow us,” I said. “Good luck!”

The shallowest depth in any part of the street was two feet. In many places, written by the wind’s whims, it was four.

Well daunted, I hadn’t even begun work on my own car yet, when I spotted two people pushing the Smart Car out of its spot at the south end of the street. I say the Smart Car, because with its unique size, and the efficiency and frugality challengingly proclaimed by its appearance, it has a reputation on the block. It lends us all, in the 203 and 207 buildings, a degree of progressive good sense. With its blunt stature, it is best suited to the short parking space between the driveway to the garage and the stop sign, so in a nod of respect for its other sacrifices, we usually leave that spot open for good ol’ Smarty. “Let’s go help push,” someone said. I know for me, it was Smarty’s endearing pluck and underdog status that made me especially willing to get behind it and shove.

Four of us pushed, Smarty spun its tires, and crept a few feet. We shoveled a path in the middle of the street, Smarty backed up, and made a run, getting bogged again. We shoveled more, scooping and throwing onto the street-side banks, already 3 feet high. Another person or two came to aide, and pushing again, we got Smarty over the hump and into wide clear Dayton, where it was safe and legal to park.

It was 8:00 A.M. now, the official deadline to be off the side streets. About a dozen people had emerged from their beds and cozy apartments, and all were working in tandem. A green Camry capitalized on the path cleared for Smarty. Only five additional feet needed to be cleared. With a push and great revving of engine and spinning, steaming tires, Camry snaked away from the curb and down the path and onto clear Dayton. Arms went up in victory. “Whoo-hoo!” someone hooted.

8 or 10 shovelers cleared a path to the next entombed car. It wasn’t but a few minutes before black Nissan eased down the path with minimal pushing needed. My wife’s Geo was next. We were buoyed by progress. One of the most energetic shovelers didn’t even live here; he was a visiting friend of a tenant. Blue Geo departed its spot like a horse out of the gate, like it’d never been hindered. We did silver Civic, who had to reverse down the path and make many incremental, slippery sliding runs. In not too long, one whole side of the street was clear, accept for grey Audi, unclaimed by any among us. “Us” felt very much like the operative pronoun at this point. We were indeed a team.

We moved across to Minivan, who was wedged at an angle with lots of snow packed under her body. Minivan took extra shoving and clearing of snow-stuffed wheel wells. Around this time the owner of gray Audi appeared. “I got in here last night,” he proclaimed, into the wind. “I’ll be fine. I have four-wheel drive.” While we finished Minivan and moved on to black Acura, gray Audi’s independent owner scraped his windows, as if the only impediment was visibility. His entire front end was encased in a drift. When he got in and started it up, we stood back and watched. “He’s not going anywhere,” I said.

And he didn’t. He crept forward and back, and his alloy rims were impressive and stylish, and his engine revved with a sleek technological hum, but his tires spun just like the rest, making a capturing rut. He revved and revved and cranked the wheel left and right, but it was futile. Eventually we shoveled him clear onto the path, and he escaped with ease. Did the driver return to the fold and repay our efforts? No, he did not. Gray Audi was the audacious, ungracious outlier. He’s off the squad. Not a team player.

Meanwhile, we did black Acura, and a tan sedan, then my own. Despite my traction control and winter driving mode, I got stuck twice, and had to be freed by further shoveling.

After me was one other, then finally we were down to a single car, unclaimed by any among us. We wanted to move it as well, complete the whole street one hundred percent, but reluctantly we walked away. As if our backs weren’t sore enough, we moved to the driveway leading to the underground garage, where even those who paid for a spot free from the worry of snow emergencies, would have trouble mounting the ten-foot slope. That was shoveled clear in a matter of minutes. At this time, I saw a woman from a neighboring block standing atop the 3-foot drift at the end of the street, survey our block with her hands on her hips as if in awe and admiration. Finally there was nothing left to do. We said good job, and that was fun, stay warm.

“We eat snowstorms for breakfast,” I said.

“Let’s do it again real soon,” someone sarcastically quipped.

In an hour and quarter we’d done the impossible, with energy to spare. The teamwork and accomplishment, the good cheer in the face of adversity, was heartening. My burden, each of our burdens, had been lifted through collective will. To be honest, I wouldn’t mind doing it again real soon.