Plowing: the sophomore season (a.k.a. Another Winter of Sam and Snow)

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Stopped in my tracks

So, I'm headed to the fridge to grab milk for my cereal this morning and I look out the window and bam! It's snowing. A full-blown whiteout. 8:51 a.m., April 5. How crazy is that? I got on the phone and told Dad it's snowing in Somerville. He thought I was joking. He's now hot-footing it to Malden, but seriously, it's not going to amount to anything. It's not even sticking enough to my neighbors' rooftops to get a good picture.

Reminds me of some villian in a movie who's supposedly dead but opens his eyes for one last attack on the hero. Though winter isn't the enemy to me, of course.

Dad always says the season officially ends on April 15. Until then, as today proves, you've got to keep your eyes open. 9:05 -- still snowing!

PS - the stupid street sweeper just went by. In the snow!

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

What winter?

What can I say, other than that it's been weeks since I've checked a weather forcast and the only time I've driven a pickup in the past month was when my Tahoe died and I needed to borrow a truck for a night. Checking my last post, yeah, we never got a flake. Last weekend was very cold. In the upper 20s. But it was dry, and really, aside from Laura scaring me by saying we had a 10 percent chance of snow on my fantasy draft day, I didn't think twice about snow. Now we're in the 50s, heading toward 60 tomorrow, and April's just 3 days away.

Dad remarked to me the other day how he hasn't even moved Miss Samantha, the large loader, this winter. "She's all ready to drive across the yard," he said, or something like that. I think he'll take her for a spin anyway, just to shake out the cobwebs.

I forgot to ask Dad whether he wanted more snow on his birthday two weeks ago. I'll ask him for sure next time I'm in the office. Oh yeah - I did spend a few hours in the office last week finishing up the billing. Really - everything is done. Kaput. We're got about 5 delinquents, and that's about it.

I'll update again in April, but for now, I breaking out my shorts.

PS -- I'm kicking myself because one of the first signs of spring was my neighbor who put peeps on the tops of his fenceposts as decorations and I didn't get a picture. It was really cool.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Um... never say never

Well, it's 1:12 p.m. on Wednesday and a few flakes are falling outside my bedroom window. It was almost 60 yesterday afternoon, and now it's cold enough for snow again. We're actually supposed to get a dusting on Friday, St. Patty's Day. Today's flakes are unexpected, though I'm not convinced it's the real deal. More sobering: it's March 15, billing day, and I have no need to go into the office because we did zero work over the past two weeks. I spoke with Dad briefly, who said the No. 3 pickup's plow was almost dangling off the frame because a pin had broken. He said it could have happened when I backdragged something, but I just don't remember hitting anything that hard. I'll have to have him show it to me next time I'm in the shop. Will that be on Friday? We'll see ...

Friday, March 10, 2006

I think it's over

A full week since my last posting, and nothing to report but warm weather. It's supposed to hit 60 this weekend, and it sure seems like Spring is here. Dad remains skeptical, but I feel that winter is over. The forcast calls for temps above 40 for the next week, which would bring us to St. Patrick's Day. That doesn't leave much time for temps to dip again. Obviously, if we end now, it will be one of the weakest seasons in recent memory. More to come. I hope.

Other than that, I did some billing work yesterday. We still have about 6 customers who haven't paid us a cent all year. But Dad says that's normal. We have to bring two of the pickups into the repair shop because of a serious factory defect with the steering column or something. So Dad will do that next week. In the meantime, I'll probably throw on my shorts and go for a run today.

I think it's over

A full week since my last posting, and nothing to report but warm weather. It's supposed to hit 60 this weekend, and it sure seems like Spring is here. Dad remains skeptical, but I feel that winter is over. The forcast calls for temps above 40 for the next week, which would bring us to St. Patrick's Day. That doesn't leave much time for temps to dip again. Obviously, if we end now, it will be one of the weakest seasons in recent memory. More to come. I hope.

Other than that, I did some billing work yesterday. We still have about 6 customers who haven't paid us a cent all year. But Dad says that's normal. We have to bring two of the pickups into the repair shop because of a serious factory defect with the steering column or something. So Dad will do that next week. In the meantime, I'll probably throw on my shorts and go for a run today.

I think it's over

A full week since my last posting, and nothing to report but warm weather. It's supposed to hit 60 this weekend, and it sure seems like Spring is here. Dad remains skeptical, but I feel that winter is over. The forcast calls for temps above 40 for the next week, which would bring us to St. Patrick's Day. That doesn't leave much time for temps to dip again. Obviously, if we end now, it will be one of the weakest seasons in recent memory. More to come. I hope.

Other than that, I did some billing work yesterday. We still have about 6 customers who haven't paid us a cent all year. But Dad says that's normal. We have to bring two of the pickups into the repair shop because of a serious factory defect with the steering column or something. So Dad will do that next week. In the meantime, I'll probably throw on my shorts and go for a run today.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Swing and a miss

Channel 5's Dick Albert had it right. Every other forcaster was a moron.

Initially we were supposed to get an inch or less of snow yesterday afternoon. Then Dad and I saw Albert's forcast on Wednesday evening. He said Boston probably wouldn't get a single flake, as the storm would be coming from the south, through NYC and Connecticut, and dying out on the South Shore.

But by Thursday morning other weatherman were saying we could get 3 inches in Boston. The afternoon came and went: nothing. Then we were supposed to get an inch by midnight. I went to be at midnight: still nothing. I set the alarm clock for 4:15, looked out my window, and zilch.

I was snow watch for this storm, as unlike most, it was coming from the south. It stood to reason that I'd see snow in Somerville before Dad would in Lynnfield. If Somerville got nothing, than Malden certainly would get nothing. Indeed, that's just what happened.

A potential plowing storm and a full sanding down the drain. Let's be honest here: with winter winding down, missed opportunities like this are tough to stomach. It would have been some quick money. There's always next week (forcast, if you can believe it, calls for sun every day but Tuesday. Some light flurries then.)

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Neat stats


Normal Average high: 39
Actual Average high: 38.1

Normal Average low: 24
Actual Average low: 23.8

Warmest on Feb. 17th: 57
Coldest Yesterday: 7

Normal Snowfall: 11.3"
Actual Snowfall: 20.0"


Normal Average high: 46
Normal Average low: 32

Warmest Ever: 89
Coldest Ever: -8

Normal Snowfall: 8.1"

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

I'm getting long winded

Laura pointed out to me last night that this blog has basically become unreadable because its posts are soooo long. And I agree. I guess my purpose has changed this winter. Last year's blog was definitely a literary exercise, while this one is more of an instruction manual for what do to when it snows. Admitttedly, not as exciting. But I feel I need to pour all this out now, while it's fresh, and worry about style later. I can always go back and edit. Until then, I excuse all for not reading these long posts. I use the word all facetiously, of course, as there's only about 4 people who even know this blog exists.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Statement day

I offered to help Dad with today's sanding but he said there wouldn't be enough to do. He was right, as Sunday's sun dried up 80 percent of our accounts. Still, he passed through a dozen accounts in the bitter cold (again in the negative wind chills.) I came in after my dentist appointment - no cavities. phew - to do the March 1 billing, which included my first crack at account statements. I'd say about half the money we've billed for is still out there somewhere.

Dad's best quote was about how he used the snowblower to clear sidewalks at breakneck speed. "I do the work of two men in half the time, so I should charge double," he said, or something like that. You know, he's not kidding. Other than that, we talked about how other companies cheat with reckless abandon (another day's discussion) and how moving the on switch for the sander onto the dashboard has made it easy to stretch out a load. Dad caught a few mistakes I made on the bills, probably $200 worth. He's got eagle eyes when it comes to $$. But I'm developing them too.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

4 fluffy inches

Sucks to be this car's owner. But check out my cool shadow.

Over the Mystic River. The smokestacks in the distance are mesmerizing in person.

Auntie Rita gave me homemade muffins when I sanded her driveway. They were frozen, so I couldn't have any. Dad apparently had needled her about not baking enough, so she nearly ran with them toward me. I wish I'd taken a picture of her in her Russian parka instead of these, though.

The sander's three flaps. The one one the right was broken until I fixed it. See below.

Sleep? Not much of that this morning. After getting in from the Somerville Funny Songwriter's Festival at 11:30 -- the thing was 4 hours long! But Don White of Lynn was incredible - I sacked out by 11:45. But I was up at 2:30, then 3, then 3:20, the final time with Dad waking me up on the Nextel. I was very groggy and didn't make it into the yard until 4 a.m. We got a great little storm - 4-inches or so of the fluffiest powder of the year. I raced through the Eastern Ave. yards and was ordered into the sander at 6:20 a.m. Actually, I took Dad's No. 3 today because it had the heavier load. When all was said and done it was 9 when we finished, though. I don't know where the time went. It was very cold, with wind chills in the negative numbers. But daybreak was beautiful and the sun was amazingly strong -- so bright that I saw several Tufts women jogging as I drove back home around 11. I wish I could have joined them, but on about 3 hours sleep, I was beat.

Podcasts again saved my butt, as did Dunkin Donuts cinnamon raisin bagel and some oatmeal cookies from Auntie Paula. I had brought a bag of dried fruit and nuts from Trader Joe's, but the cranberries were too acidic for my stomach at that hour. Live and learn.

I had problems with the sander today because one of the three flaps in the back flipped down by accident when the chain broke. The flap, in the down position, blocked sand from being scattered past the right side of the truck. Dad diagnosed the problem as soon as I told him I was leaving a trail of concentrated sand in my wake. He knows all, again. He also pointed out that the lever (he used another word for it that I've forgotten now) that controls sand flow from the hopper to the till might have been raised too high. I tried manually pulling it down, but with sand on the track, it barely budged. Still, I hadn't even realized the lever was there, so it was a worthwhile lesson.

Being a Sunday, most of our sanding-only accounts weren't plowed, which means we lost out on some easy money. Really, my whole's day pay went poof because Asahi and Madison Garden weren't plowed. I was actually a little angry at the time, but looking back, we made enough.

For whatever reason, Dad was in cranky mood today. Really cranky. I plowed Auntie Rita's driveway when I saw her shoveling it and he cursed me out for probably 15 minutes, saying I'd damage the truck because of the steep hill her driveway is on. I got the message in the first five minutes, but he kept going on. Every little thing seemed to bother him today. I finally had to ask whether he realized he's just listed 15 negative things in a row on a very easy day with no breakdowns. He paused and apologized. Hey, we all get that way sometimes. Maybe it's a sign that winter is wearing on us. But we've still 6 weeks to go.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

"A breath away"

So, it's 5:24 p.m., and we have maybe an inch of fluffy snow on the ground. It may be all we get. Am I complaining? Well, not exactly. If we had more, I might be out plowing instead of going out to the Somerville Theater's Funny Songwriters Festival tonight with Laura, her mom and Auntie Diane.

The forcasters messed up yet again. At first we were only going to get a little snow (in truth, exactly what we've got right now.) Then the forcast changed to about 6 inches between noon today and midnight. That was the deal as of this morning. At 2 p.m., the National Weather Service went bust on the play, reducing the forcast to "less than an inch" for the afternoon and "1 to 3 possible" for tonight. There's really no way to plow an inch of snow, so Dad manned the ship by himself this afternoon. I spoke with him at 2ish and he'd taken a swipe through Bally's and Adams, but the exteremly light snow was barely sticking to the pavement. "I thought at 23 it's be slippery as hell," he said, but it wasn't. He knew then that this storm might be slipping away. "We're a breath away from a 2.5 inch storm," he said with longing.

If it doesn't snow another flake, we've got a full sanding for the morning. That's worst case. But we still could get that extra few inches. The plan is to wake up at 3 a.m., look out the window, see what we've got, and do a full plowing then if the conditions merit. Dad said he started all the trucks up this afternoon to make sure they're working properly and smartly turned the props - the propellers - on the sanders to loosen up the sand that sometimes becomes caked in them from disuse. "They haven't been turned in 18 days," he reasoned. That's a bit of an exaggeration, as our last time sanding was 5 days ago. Still, it's been bitterly cold - in the single digits! - and they most definitely needed to be loosened up.

Postscript to yesterday's false alarm on sanding. Dad did indeed get up at 3, 4, and 5 to check for icing in Lynnfield. Finding none, he slept in until 6:15 and got to Malden at 6:45. He said there were a few icy spots but he didn't bother with them. I asked about what I should do the next time I think we have ice in the morning (real ice) and don't hear from him. He said go in and sand without worrying about it. If we make a mistake, or are overzealous in the name of safety, we just don't charge our customers for that morning. "Always spend money up front, and you'll make it up in the end," he said. So, I did the right thing after all.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Carl and Tang

So this morning I thought I'd be all responsible and strike out on my own for sanding. Here's the background story. It rained some yesterday but not a flake of snow, so it wasn't exactly sanding conditions. But when my buddy Tom left after beers and pizza and Olympics (and Gretzksy ice hockey, at which he again kicked my ass), street was a sheet of black ice. It was actually tough just two walk to his car. I hadn't spoken with Dad about going out in the morning but figured if it was that bad at midnight, it would be bad at 5 a.m. So, I set the iHome for 4:35, slept through two snoozes, yanked myself out of bed at 4:45, dressed and popped on the laptop to check the weather conditions. said it was 34 degrees out, which of course is above freezing. The satilite images showed completely clear skies across Massachusetts, so I knew we weren't getting any more precipitation. The forcast was for gradual warming to a high of 38. I hesitated and tried beeping dad on the Nextel, but his phone was off, which told me just how concerned he was about the situation. Still, I headed out the door by 5 and kicked the street to see if my sneakers slipped. They didn't. Well, it was slick in a few spots, but nothing that would have required sanding. Certainly nothing our customers would want to pay for.

My neighbor Carl and his old rotweiller, Tang, were on the street as I headed to my car. It's always a bit unnerving to see someone out at that hour besides yourself, especially a dog that big, but I know them from my frequent neighborhood runs and I told Carl that I was pulling the plug on going sanding. Got back inside, crawled back into bed and was asleep by about 5:45, though I slept late and didn't rise til about 8:45. So, my day was off kilter. I'm curious to see if Dad even went into the garage and made the rounds. I'll find out at dinner tonight with Laura's mom. Hilltop or Prince? To me, they're the only standard-bearing restaurants of home.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

$$$ per Inch

It's amazing how much time it's taken to computerize the billing. Or rather, how long it takes to get the kinks out of the system. I was at the office another 5 hours or so today, generating a cool report on our total gross per inch count. For example, if it snowed 3.5 inches, and we plowed all 60-odd customers, what would we take in? If it snowed a foot, what would we take in? Unfortunately Quickbooks can't just pop out these numbers on its own (a shortcoming for sure), so I had to manually input the data for like 3 hours. But the result is very worth it.

I won't provide raw numbers here (my mom, who's reading the site, was surprised I've printed some earnings numbers in past posts) but percentages are just as useful.

So using a 2-incher as a base, we earn:

12 percent more for a 3 inch storm
41 percent more for a 6 inch storm
Just about double for a 12-inch storm

Amazingly, a 2-inch storm is almost identical to a full sanding. I mean, $1 seperates the totals!

What do these numbers mean? It means that we earn more with small storms than we do with big ones. Think of it this way: we have to plow six times as much snow to earn twice as much as we do plowing a 2-inch storm. So, a pair of 2-inch storms equal one 1-foot storm. But you'd still rather have two small ones because bigger storms mean longer hours, more wear-and-tear on the trucks and a bigger payroll, extras that aren't reflected in the prices. Dad's always said that through the course of a winter you hope you get enough small and easy storms to balance the big ones that are real headaches. That way, your earnings fall somewhere in the middle. (And that is today's lesson, class.)

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Black Diamonds

So I played hooky today and went skiing with Laura at Nashoba Valley. I didn't mention this to Dad because he gets scared whenever I mention skiing. He has every right, of course, as he tore cartilige in his knee the only time he ever hit the slopes. "Took me 5 years to recover," he said. He said he should have taken a lesson, and Laura nicely offered to buy me one today. This was my third time out, so I really skirted danger without instruction. My instructor, Jack, was fantastic. He explained the theory behind skiing in about an hour -- use my ankles to turn instead of my knees, sway the hips, push down on the big toe to put the ski on an edge, don't ski "flat." I'm still scared half the time, but with these simple techniques I was making it down the easier black diamonds by the end of the day, amazing Laura and myself.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Snow today, gone tomorrow

So we get a blizzard on Sunday, and by now, Friday, almost everything has melted thanks to temperatures in the 50s and even 60. Amazing. Dad's prediction was right on the money.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The Return of the Snow Moon

One year ago, I started blogging with the Snow Moon. It's late February, and it's come around again. On Valentine's Day, no less. I'll finish the post later but I wanted to publish the pictures. Even Gene (below) marveled at its beauty.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Podcasts to the rescue

THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Thank God for Lostcasts.

Before I get into the day's plowing (all 14 hours of it. A real marathon) I need to share a little secret: I'm addicted to the ABC show Lost. And to fuel my addiction, I've also become a Lostcast user. Podcasts - this is for you mom -are radio shows that you can download onto your computer and then onto your iPod. It's like on-demand radio: just hit a button and listen whenever you want. But podcasts are even better than radio because anyone with a home computer can make their own and podcast it on line. I've been thinking about making podcasts of some of my food reviews, for instance. Other people do comedy bits, movie reviews, sportscasts and the like. (Any major media outlet worth it's salt has podcasts available for their content. Oh, except the Globe. Oops! ) Well, a couple of guys named John and Brian put on a weekly podcast about the latest Lost episode, and the show couldn't be more fun to listen to than when you're driving alone in a plowtruck at 3 a.m. in Public Storage on Mystic Ave. Medford. It sure beats whatever else is on the radio, and it's just fun.

It wasn't the only Podcast I listened to this morning, either. I've gotten pretty savvy with my electronic toys over the past 15 months, moving from digital cameras to digital sticks to blogs to wireless routers to a new computer (Laura, Gateway does love me!) to ipods and iTrip and podcasts. (Though I'd need a class to make my own, I think.) There's so much great, great content out there, and it's all FREE! Well, for now that is. I'm sure within 1-2 years we'll be paying $1 or $2 for NPR's All Things Considered or ESPN's daily podcast. Anyway, for today's plowing run I loaded up my iPod with a slew of new stuff, from the Onion radio news to USA Today's weekly broadcast from the Torino winter games. It was like having my own radio station in the car, or like surfing on line with my ears. Anyway, the programs sure helped pass the time. I probably listened for about 3 hours, or just before daybreak.

As for plowing, it was more of the same. The walk up Buena Vista Drive to the municipal lot where I had to park. was very lonely at 2 a.m. (For most, closing time. Not me.) But somehow I had energy and was pretty awake on 4 hours' sleep.

>>>The Post-storm Punch List.

I'm going to skip ahead now to the most important part of this storm for me: the post storm punch list. For most of my plowing career I've been sent home to rest after a day's plowing. But Dad always stays on longer - hours or even days longer - to tie up loose ends. Here's how it works. You plow all your yards until you've got pavement. Then you sand all the yards. Then you send most everybody home. Then you shovel the Eastern Ave. sidewalks and Webster Street. And you drive around to the apartment buildings to plow spaces wherever people have moved their cars. And you push more snow than you should with your pickup because the owner or manager comes running out and tells you "You shouldn't have put the snow there!" And you get in the front-end loader and drive halfway across town to dig up loading docks at Triangle (if they're not done right) or make a huge pile in back of Carrier or Americana Condos or scoop snow from key parking spaces where a blade would only make things worse or clear out the dumpster in back of 200 Mtn. Ave. or grab snow from the sidewalk in front of Adams Plaza because we don't have an "in" with the city and the cops will ticket us, unlike some of our below-the-board competitors. Got all that?

And if you're Dad, you also check all the plows and batteries and order more sand from Georgetown sand and gravel and field calls from people wanting to hire us (sorry, we're booked) or complaints from customers (yes you, Crystal cold storage.) And then you go home and plow everyone's driveway at 8 p.m.

For my part, on this morning, I manned a pickup and ran advance for Dad in the loader. Zipping through Mountain Ave and the Malden Post Office and The Heritage and Malden Gardens, I plowing out a few dozen spaces where there were no cars and made piles for Dad to scoop away whenever he came barrelling down the street. My Dad is a maistro with the loader, controling it's massive 8-foot bucket (I think it's 8 feet) as if it were cupping his hands to pick up snow. I failed last year to properly describe how one drive's one of these beasts, and I'm afraid the explanation will have to wait for a future post once more. But suffice to say, you hands and feet are constantly moving, pulling and pushing levels and pedals to make the machine obey. Dad drives it as smoothly as a bicycle. When I drive the loader, is looks like the thing has the hiccups.

Anyway, I got to watch Dad to see just where he moves the snow, another skill I have yet to learn. Sometimes it goes over a fence; sometimes onto somebody's lawn; sometimes down the street and around a corner. I really wish I'd had my camera or written down all of Dad's hiding places for snow, because he's got it down to a science and it's not always easy to know where the stuff goes. And after every big storm, the snow has to go somewhere. (My other mistake was leaving to go home at 4 p.m. while he stayed out and moved snow at Carrier and Americana. Dam.)

I know this is a long entry - it was a long storm, after all - so I'll finish up. Gene, Buddy (who is a nice guy but has a kooky laugh) Dad and I hand-shoveled the 200-foot sidewalk in front of Adams, our biggest headache of the storm. But with shovels, a snow blower and the front-end loader (you can get some of the snow with it, but there are too many poles and hydrants to make a clean sweep down the sidewalk) and the four of us, we finished in under half an hour. And we got paid plenty for it. Indeed, there is big money in sidewalk shoveling, mainly because it's labor intensive and really, who wants to do it? Not me. But sometimes, especially for a good customer, you make an exception.

Dad's best quote was how "it will all be melted" by Friday. Indeed, as I edit this post a week later, he was right: it hit 60 by week's end.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Just a cool pic from the storm

I had to break this all off

The Big One '06

Sunday morning, about 11 inches with still lots more snow to go

I'll offer two descriptions of this blizzard. Choose the one that sounds best to you.

First, from the Globe (and Mike Levenson, the guy who replaced me what seems like ages ago.)

New England takes the season's first big snowfall in stride

The winter's first blizzard dazed and dazzled but for the most part did not destroy yesterday, as the skies unfurled a powdery, blowing cascade of white that tempted the heartiest souls to dance outside, sled, or marvel at thunderous waves pounding coastal seawalls.

Thankful for the storm's arrival on a Sunday, crews salted, sanded, and plowed roads that were mostly free of drivers, tow trucks hauled hundreds of cars, police ticketed thousands more, and trains ran smoothly as the state became a muffled landscape of blurred buildings and biting wind.

Authorities, crediting the light, fluffy quality of the snow, said that while there were many spinouts and fender-benders.

... and now, my Dad's quote, from the end of the storm:

"This was a boy's storm. A piece of cake, really."

They're about the same, I guess. Dad and Gene were on duty at about 6:30 a.m. when the snow began to fall, cleaning up St. Mary's Church and Avenue Video and Adams Plaza and Bally's, our critical accounts on a Sunday. We thought this storm would stick around forever so I didn't come in until later, about 11:30, which was fine by me because I got to sleep in with Laura, an absolutely rarity when it snows. It was also fine by me because the worst winds of this blizzard came before 11:30, when my Dad and Gene said you couldn't see 10 feet in front of you. I've been there before (see my flash blizzard entry) and while it's thrilling, you're just wasting time.

Admittedly I wasn't in full gear when I got to the building at about 11:30. I took out my sander because I thought the No. 4 pickup's battery would surely die on me. Naturally, Dad yelled at me that I chose the wrong truck, so I had to put the sander away and start up No. 4. Then it took forever to plow Maplewood Street, a tough lot when there's lots of snow and limited places to put it (we can't just plow it into the spaces we rent at the far end of the yard, like we would have done in years past.) So I really didn't get cooking until 12:30 when I left the yard, but after that, I was fine. In fact, I kicked butt on all my accounts. Dad had me stay on Eastern Ave, which meant cavernous Carrier, where the wind was blowing as much snow off the roof as was coming down from the sky.

I tried a new strategy: plow all the way from Eastern Ave. to the back of the yard, some 250 feet. I made pass after pass like this, dumping a good amount but not the majority of snow out back where it belonged. Eventually I relented and pushed some snow against the fence. Can't really tell if I saved time, which was the real goal, but the parking lot looked a lot better than any other time I've done it. So, I'll probably try it again this way next time I'm there.
(I need to diagram this out -- words aren't cutting it. )

These shots are from Carrier. It was crazy in the early afternoon. (Blizzards are snowstorms with 35 mph winds or something, so this sure qualified.)

Anyway, I kept at my yards (about 8) until 5 p.m., when Dad ordered everyone in except for Carlos on the Medford route. It was due to snow until late that night, and there was no getting ahead of either the storm or the winds. (I replowed some yards four times. Ugh.) The new plan was to go out at 2:30 when everything had quieted down. It turned out to be the perfect call.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Did someone say Blizzard?

So I've been really remiss about keeping up the blog. But in my defense, it hasn't snowed in eons. We had an all day storm on Jan. 23, and an icy morning/afternoon on Feb. 1, but that really that's it. Fortunately I taped my thoughts for storms that week, so my posts, which I'll get around to, will be authentic. As will pics I snapped (though the quality was lousy if I recall. Too many pictures in the dark.) Plus, got to add stuff about billing progress and how we tallied our earnings on Feb. 6. In short, we've grossed less than half of what we took in last year, which is by all accounts a lean season. If it didn't snow again, we'd make about $30,000. It's that bad.

But it is going to snow more. Maybe another 100 billion flakes tomorrow alone. Forcasts call for a Noreaster (Nor'Easter, Northeaster. I once read a great commentary on the right and wrong term. Where was that?) coming in sometime after midnight, with about 4 inches by the morning and 12 by the end of Sunday. That would make it our biggest storm of the season. It promises to be an all-day affair, so hopefully I'll be in be bed by 10:30 tonight. Though I've been lulled by all this inactivity. It's been a while since I've had to get up before dawn, you know.

Anyway, this is what it looks like outside right now, Saturday afternoon about 3 p.m. Rains have washed away almost every remnant of snow, and it might as well be March as opposed to the middle of February. This shot is of the bike trail, from my back porch. I'll snap a comparison show tomorrow or Monday.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Cold and dry

This from Channel 7 today... nothing too special ....

Yesterday was the end of our streak of at or above normal temperatures. After 15 straight days, we begin a new streak today. It's a cold streak that looks to last well into next week.

Despite all kinds of sunshine, temperatures will struggle into the low to mid 30s today. Tomorrow, it gets even colder with more clouds around and highs only in the upper 20s to low 30s.

Snow lovers may want to watch a couple systems slated for late week & the weekend. The first is a weak clipper that moves through late Friday. With it, I'm only figuring on snow showers & flurries. The second could potentially bring some small accumulations to Southern New England. It's a storm that develops and strengthens well offshore by late Saturday into early Sunday. It may back in cold north/northeast winds and just enough moisture to bring some light snow. Best chances look to be on the Cape & Islands and in SE Mass. That offshore storm also may bring some brisk weekend winds. I'll continue to monitor the possibilities.

Have a great day,
Meteorologist Chikage Windler

Wednesday, February 01, 2006


Not sure where to stick this entry, so I've picked an off day.

I got to thinking one morning just how ritualistic my plowing day is. To get comfortable in the truck, everything has to be just so. My long underwear has to be long enough so it doesn't ride up my back. My cell phone has to be in the cup holder. My water bottle has to be nearby. My backpack is opened with my digital recorder in the pocket. My camera has to be within arm's reach as well. I have to push the passenger seat forward so I can look out the window behind it to catch cars coming to my right. (the sander blocks the rest of the view.) There's my bagel, of course, in pieces because I can't bite into it because of my braces. I continually shed layers, shedding the reversible and warm Sam's Services overcoat first, then my LL bean wool sweater, and maybe another layer. The defrost is on high to start, then down to low within 20 minutes.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Deja Vu

As Gene and I walked to the garage about 4 a.m. with an inch on the ground I said to him "Deja Vu, huh?" He said, "Yeah, I know." Another all day storm, just like Monday's. Though this one hit an hour earlier. The weatherman said 2 to 4 hours of snow after we got the the garage. I need to talk with Dad about the logic of plowing half an inch of snow, how many men does it take, is it worth it? Maybe we should just come out when there's 2 inches on the ground at 7 a.m. I don't know.

At 7:19 I recorded this on my digital stick: "Reasons why I am so relaxed even though I've only plowed 3 yards. We have extra bodies out. Buddy is riding shotguy. Everyone is out. Two, it's still snowing. We only have an inch or two on the ground. It's not like if I'd gotten to these places earlier I'd be any better off. There wouldn't have been much to plow. No. 3, it's still snowing. Or is that No. 2. Jesus Christ, that's how lackidasical I am. It's my third day out in a row. I just don't feel as much pressue. I'm used to it. It's more a routine now. Four, because of the problems with No.4, I'm driving a pretty heavily loaded sand truck, so I can't go that much faster than what I'm doing."

Of note: I plowed St. Mary's sideways today.

New rule: no plowing Auto Zone until 2 inches are on the ground. They're going on the cheap, and they're not the only one. A handful of other customers now don't want us to sand more than once after a storm. I guess that happens whenever you get deep into the winter.

Double Duty, Strangers in the Night & the Super 88

The quick recap for today. Got up before the alarm rang at 4:15. Got dressed and left Laura in bed. The stupid iHome beeped as I tried to shut it off and woke her up. (Why did I buy that?) Got in No. 7 sander by 5 a.m. feeling great. I headed to Melrose where I hit the Post Office (which was blocked by a truck the day before) and then St. Mary's, where Fred Carleton pulled alongside me in his white pickup. We sand some of the lots he plows (Corey St.) He's a nice enough guy, but it's a litle scary when a strange truck pulls up alongside you at 5:30 in the morning. I guessed it was him - I'm glad it wasn't someone else. Moved on and replowed Archer, where this strange guy comes walking up to my window. Again, I'm not so high on strangers coming up to me before dawn. But I put on a happy face (that's my golden rule) and the guy turned out to be nice. His name was Ryan, a livery driver, probably Hispanic, and he offered to move his car for me. "I park here $100 a month. Better than parking tickets," he said. He's got a Cadillac. He said he lived in the house across the street with the wooden porch and would move his car anytime he hears my truck. If only Archer's owner would move his car. It's always there.

This reminds me of one of my all-time favorite plowing stories. About 10 years ago I was plowing behind Maplewood Savings Bank after a huge storm - like a foot of snow. There was one car in the middle of the yard, which irked me to no end, but I plowed around it as usual. It must have been there all night because it was completely covered to the point you almost couldn't discern its outline. About 6 in the morning, as I'm taking my final stroke, the car starts to move! The driver's door swings open and, like a vampire leaving a crypt, this lanky guy in a t-shirt emerges. He was even stunned by the sunlight. And I was stunned by him. Apparently he'd gotten bombed at the Maplewood Tavern across the street, shleped to his car and fell asleep. Then it snowed a foot, and when he awoke, he was buried alive. Well, I told his guy to hop in to my cab - his skin was blue he was so cold - and I brought him to Dunkin Donuts and gave him a couple of bucks for coffee. I assume he drove off soon after, but it was creeeepy.

Overall this was a good morning. We were buttoned up by 7:50 and I was on my way home by 8:30. It warmed up nicely, so lots melted. I took a nap from 10:30 to about 12:45, then spend the next nine hours typing two stories, one for the real estate section and another for calendar on custom motorcycles. Made for a very long ass day. It's the danger of taking on work in the winter, of course: either you've got no snow and no stories or too much snow and way to many stories. Well, I'm making a pledge to cut back on writing. Today, having to plow and write a pair of pieces, was just too harrowing. And not much fun.

I should note the new customer we picked up this week: the Super 88 Market on Eastern Ave. My dad had spoken with Jim the general manager and I'd sent a letter to corporate in Brighton with our sanding rates. We weren't supposed to plow it but the maintenance man's white pickup broke down after he'd done about a quarter of the lot. So we decided to be real nice to our new customer and I plowed the entire yard, including the back docks, for free. Actually, we did get a reward, because if I hadn't plowed it we couldn't have sanded it, could we?

A woman employee waved me down to ask what I was doing, as she'd never seen me before and thought I was at the wrong place. She was conscientious, I'll say. I told her that Jim OK'd it, and on cue he pulled into the yard. I introduced myself and what a grouch. He grunted hello and didn't even care that I was plowing for free. Anyway, doesn't matter. I helped out some guys in the back whose moving van was stuck in the snow. One guy started running and fell on the ice, but mostly on his butt. I hate it when people run on ice. I took my spill three years ago while covering that plane crash for the Globe and my back still isn't the same.

In other action, we dropped off No. 4 at Hub starters on Broadway. I left a note in the window explaining how it kept stalling. [We eventually learn that there was a short in the plow.] An interesting discussion with Dad on the way back from Hub. He said that Buddy should come in to ride shotgun with Frank this week as Frank was going on vacation to Florida in February. Buddy used to park his dump truck in Dad's yard in the 70s and 80s, so he goes way back. Then dad says, "And next week, you're in charge." It sounded a lot like Dad was going to Florida too. I've been dying to run a storm on my own. but with all this Globe work and the Nike ads due, the timing couldn't be worse. We'll see what happens.

Monday, January 23, 2006

My first break down of the year

When it snows during the day like today - it stopped at 1:35 p.m. - you've got all these other obstacles.

1) people in the roads, so you're slowed when driving between accounts
2) cars are parked, so you can't get a clear shot at the yard. Double the work
3) school is in, school is out

It makes it a joy to do it all at 3 a.m.

My day started in a panic. I got up at 5, looked out the window, and didn't really see much. But then at 6 we had a covering. I think at 5:55 we'd gotten a dusting of snow. I sort of freaked a little. Called Dad. He was calm as could be. He was having coffee at Frannie's deciding what to do. 'Yeah, come on in,' he said, as if there was a decision to be made.

Got in and and at 7 o'clock was in the garage where Gene had the hood open on my No. 4 pickup and a battery charger connected to it, saying it wouldn't start. He couldn't get his sander out because it was behind my pickup. That was a sign of bad things, and we should have just left my truck in the garage today. But Dad was optimistic. "Oh it will get going. Once it runs 20 minutes the battery will kick in." It will pull a charge - I think that's the term he used.

We get the pickup going but the battery needle on the gauge was dipping to precariously low levels - under "12." I guess you need to have it between 14 and 18. My first stroke at St. Mary's school and the needle dipped to like 10. I knew I was dead in the water, but I kept plowing. About four strokes later, the truck totally died on me. My battery pack was also dead, so Dad came out and rescued me. By now it's 7:30, and both of us have lost a half an hour at least. He gives me a jump and tells me to bring the pickup to Royal Battery at Vernon Plaza by 8 o'clock. Then he gets a brainstorm and has us switch trucks. "You take mine and do the Melrose route and I'll take yours back to Malden." It made an infinite amount of sense. I hadn't thought of it. He was thinking. So he takes mine, I start doing Melrose, and basically we don't switch trucks until 2 p.m., or 2:30 p.m.

His truck - an extended cab 2006 Chevy which I drove back from the dealership in Quincy this summer - took a little adjusting to. It felt bigger at first, but after a while I got used to it. It's the same same chasse as the other trucks, only the cab is extended. I ended up having a great day plowing. As I told Laura, I really just kicked ass on my yards. Couldn't do half the Melrose Post Office because a truck was there. Cars were zipping in and out of St. Mary's. Was lucky as hell to have plowed as much as I could have. Actually, I finished the lot at 2:30 almost on the dot, and that's when school gets out, so I learned. Fifty percent of the lot was filled with parents waiting for their kids to get out of school when I took my last stroke. I really timed it well. I stopped only at 2:10 to have a gargantuan slice of Sicilian pizza my dad had given me when we switched trucks. (It was like lead in my stomach. But them's the brakes when you're driving all dam day.)

So I did all the Melrose route, then all the Medford route, which was a pain in the ass, including Crystal Cold Storage. Did all the loading bays practically. Hit a manhole cover and swore like hell - louder than I have since I struck out in high school baseball. That jerk who runs the place was there, watching over me. Although he called my father later and said I did a great job (after which my Dad turned to me and said I did Too good a job. Figures.) I did all of Medford, came back, did all of Melrose again.

Today I met Dezi, nice guy, maybe Morroccan, who knows, at the Gulf station. At the end of the day I pulled my truck up and said, "Can you put in super?" He deadpanned: "No. No, I can't do that." He was a funny guy. Nice guy. Good smile.

Smith and Jenkie's putting up a new addition. There's an excavator in the yard. They've fenced in half the parking lot. Santilli Steel company is going there. Probably on wetlands. The whole building is built on wetlands, as my father pointed out last year when one of the owners was on his ass about moving snow further back into the wetlands. On Monday I was plowing the yard, the construction guys told me what was going on. The mailman was there and I almost hit him as he walked right behind me as I was backing up. But I was like, 'You know what?' I took a deep, don't yell at the guy, just say good morning. My window was rolled down. He comes up to it, huge smile, and says to me, "You finally got some, huh?" I said, "Yep. Sure did." He's a snow lover obviously. It was nice. He brightened my morning. Here's a guy who felt for me. I'm a snow-plow driver without any snow to plow. He was a good guy.

When I finished Melrose at the very end of my day I punched out some of Dad's yards. I even did 519 Pleasant and Pleasant Fuel, ended up the day really tired. Did the diner because it hadn't been done forever. Frank was kind of slow that day. Did Summer St., did Nana's, saw Philly for a minute. She looked good. Sharp as ever. I told her I liked her wine cookies and she said she'll make more. [postscript: she did.] Did Sabco's uneven crappy dirt parking lot, because dad didn't get a chance to get to it. He was really behind in this storm. In the morning he actually stopped plowing to show space in the building. It's not even his anymore! He'll never say goodbye to it. He also screwed with the No. 4 truck to get the battery fixed at Royal. So he lost probably 2 hours. I don't think he was out plowing until 10 a.m.

Saw this nice, short lady at Candlelight. Actually I didn't think she was nice at all. She waved me down as I'm was at Sabco. "Oh God," I thought. It's never good when people wave you down.

"Can you do a little more here near the door," she said.

I sighed. "What do you need done Miss?"

"Near the door."

"Well, you'll have to show me."

I remained polite. After all, she was like 4 foot 10. She backed out her humongous car and I made two backdrag strokes, pulling about three feet of snow from the door. But she was so thankful. "You're a doll," she said. So a nice lady, after all.

I finally, finally finished plowing at like 5:30. I punched out, went home and prayed that Karen wouldn't need my story on Dr. Hawk for the health/science section. And at 7 p.m. we finally connected and I found out she didn't. Thank God. That was the night. Picked Laura up at the South Station bus station, where she was coming home from Saratoga. Got to bed at 11 and got up again at 4:15 to go sanding.

I should add that Dad, Gene and Frank stayed on after I left, working until 7:30. Gene sanded and Frank trailed Dad in the loader. They're all way older than me, but they never stop.

Dad's amazing fix of the Day:

As I pulled out of the garage with the No. 4 pickup the tires are sticking on Waite Street Extension. Dad was watchign me from Candlelight Condos. I am pulling down Waite Street. He calls me on the radio and says: 'Is the emergency brake on?" I'm like "What?" Sure enough, the emergency brake was stuck. He had noticed that my headlights wouldn't go on, which is a telltale sign that the emergency brake is set.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Just when you thought it was safe ...

Well, my plan to tak on more work for the Globe could really backfire this week. Here's the forecast as of Sunday afternoon. Course it didn't help that I played Tom in Gretzsky ice hockey half the night.

Tonight: A slight chance of snow after 3am. Increasing clouds, with a low near 30. South wind between 3 and 8 mph. Chance of precipitation is 20%.

Monday: Periods of snow, mixing with rain after noon. High around 36. Southeast wind 6 to 13 mph becoming north. Chance of precipitation is 100%.

Monday Night: A chance of snow showers, mainly before midnight. Cloudy, then gradually becoming partly cloudy, with a low around 29. North wind between 8 and 13 mph. Chance of precipitation is 40%.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

No snow, but lots of work

So I've gambled that we won't have any more snow for two weeks and have taken on a ton of work for the Globe as well as my newest venture, writing Nike ads. The list:

Profile on a vet for Health/Science
Motorcycle expo preview for Calendar
Hellenic Hill purchase for Real Estate
Nike profiles of Michael Jordan, Freddie Adu, Michelle Wie and Paul Rodriguez
Table Hopping for City Weekly

Phew. The biggest one, of course, is the Nike thing, which Chris Ballard threw my way. It looks like I'll actually be interviewing Jordan, by phone. But no big payout, I'm afraid. The ad company is paying just $500-$800 for all five pieces, and we haven't even talked length. But it's a good in, and something I've been meaning to do forever. February's goals: getting Zach Warren into People Magazine, and writing that book proposal. If it doesn't snow, that is ...

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


So I'm still working out the billing program. I goofed on a few accounts - charged Dist. Corp for sanding when I shouldn't have, and forgot one sanding for 79 Waite St. Fortunately dad caught the errors, and I swung by the office for an hour to correct them and get off the Jan. 15 billing.

Dad quote of the week: "Get 'em, fix 'em, pay'em off, sock it to them. Whatever is it, the world revolves around money."

Monday, January 16, 2006

Dad rides solo again

If the overnight rain had freezed, we would have had a full sanding. But it was warm by morning, and Dad just did his regular thing, checking places like Avenue Video, Dist. Corp, Publics and Bally's for lingering ice. I woke up a few times to look out the window and kept my cell on for the sanding call, so all in all, another restless night. This is becoming a pattern: even on nights I don't go out plowing, I can't sleep.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Roller-coaster weather

Mark Twain sure had it right: If you don't like the weather in New England, wait a minute. So it hits 59 degrees on Saturday, and we're all feeling as if it's early spring. God I wanted to go running so badly, but my lingering cold was wreaking havoc on me. Couldn't feel my head from the neck up. Anyway, the temperature drops into the 20s overnight, and we get a light, light coating of snow before dawn. I call dad at 6:35 a.m. and ask what's up? He was sleeping on the couch at the office, waiting, he said, because the ground was too warm from the day before to allow ice to form on pavement. Even Brian Robinson, our nemesis, had called Dad to see what he was doing. "There are 10 trucks on the side of Route 1, all waiting," Dad told me. So I went back to bed. At about 8:15 it finally got cold enough for the ground to freeze - and freeze badly - so Dad raced out and sanded 41 accounts by himself. Gene called him at 9 but Dad was already halfway done, so once again, it was a one-man show, just my Dad. Fierce winds dried most of our yards throughout the day, so it was a real quick-hitter. But I found myself questioning why my Dad has to be the one on watch all the time. If I'm to run this company one day, I need to be the one sleeping on the couch in the office at 6 a.m. Hell, I was up anyway every hour, looking out the window for snow. Once my flurry of writing assignments ends (no pun intended) I need to tell Dad that he has to start switching off with me. Sometimes, I need to be the one on duty.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Happy Birthday, beard!

I wouldn't have called it an experiment. It was hardly that planned out. A year ago today we got walloped by a blizzard, and I got up so early that I didn't shave. I ended up rising before dawn for something like five days in a row, and at no time did I have the time or energy to grab the razor. And so, the beard began. My aunt, Diane, has told me since I was in college that I should try growing a beard, ala her good, old friend Sil. But the closest I'd ever gotten was a goatee, and usually, that happened after a breakup. This time, no breakup. Just a lot of early mornings. Laura kind of liked it, and so I let it grow. Plus, it made me look meaner, and I needed an edge fighting through traffic. I didn't shave a whisker for months, and by the time I saw Chris and Alexandra in New York, I was a regular Grizzly Adams.

"With this beard, and my bloodshot eyes at 5 in the morning, other drivers are scared of me," I proudly told Chris.

"Uh, Pete," he said. "You don't need the bloodshot eyes."

Controling the beard was a challenge at first. Until you have one, you just don't realize how much crafting goes into it. At times, it would have been easier to just shave. I ended up peeking at other men with beards (yes, I'm embarrassed), but I got with it by spring and bought a $20 beard trimmer at Wal-Mart (one of my best investments ever). Now people ask ME for beard-trimming advice, such as Laura's dad, and random people, like the woman in line at Diesel, tell me it looks great. Laura gets a nervous look whenever I mention giving it up, but I have no interest in going back to my clean face again. The beard, pun intended, has grown on me. Though some days I get up, look in the mirror, and don't recognize the person staring back.

Ironically, I think the person who likes my beard the least is Diane.

With Laura at Christmas 05 --- and beardless with Brian, at our 15th reunion in Nov. 04

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

More billing

I'm sick today - can't seem to ever make it through a January without a cold. One of these years I'll actually get a flu shot to see if that makes the difference. Anyway, dragged myself to the office today to take care of some billing issues. Entered checks into the computer, updated the route cards, printed some blank Auto Zone bills for dad (they want to pay after each storm. Crazy.), and wrote a letter to Oak Grove Condos apologizing for billing them twice. Also researched fuel prices - gasoline is at $2.32 a gallon this week, up from $1.79 a year ago at this time. That's about a 30 percent increase, which was what I told Oak Grove. Our fuel surcharges started at 8 percent, then to 6 and now we'll be doing a 4 percent charge with the Jan. 15 bills. Bills, I add, that I didn't have the energy to punch out today. Though I did win a battle with Quickbooks (the software) by finally figuring out how to get the word "subtotal" to print on bills. It only took 3 months!

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Grammy sitting

When I awoke at 8:45 this morning the ground was covered with a thin snow layer. But no call from Dad. There was an explanation, of course. Today was his last meeting as president of the North Shore Old Car Club, and I was supposed to be at the house by 10:45 to grammy-sit. Dad figured he'd just sail through the accounts with a sander by himself as opposed to having me try to both sand and grandma-sit. That didn't make a whole lot of sense to me because it barely left him with enough time to get to his meeting, but that's how it went down. We got another layer of snow around 1 p.m., but thankfully it stopped in time. Whatever we got melted by 5 p.m., so we caught a big break. He got to his meeting, I chatted with grammy and checked Medford Public Storage on the way home (99 percent bare pavement.)

More about my grandmother, who has dementia, later.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Corey Street memories

Suprise storm last night. Well, not really a storm - we probably had less than an inch in most yards. But that meant a rattling wake-up call from dad at 4:30 a.m., about 4.5 hours after I'd gone to bed. Somehow I snapped awake and was in my plow truck by 5. Some yards, St. Mary's (of course) and Archer, required a legit plowing. But most I just scraped because it was silly to spread sand and salt on even that little snow. We'll have to figure out how much to bill people. Still, I sailed through the morning pretty good and we were all wrapped up by 8:30, with Gene and I buttoning up as my father headed to NH.

An old red brick building on Corey Street in Melrose is on my sanding route. But today, for really the first time, I looked at the building and envisioned it as I'd seen it in a black and white photo taken 60 years ago. In the 1940s my grandfather, Dom, set up his ice cream cone factory in the building, and for years he and and his partner, an Armenian man named Gashgarian, made cones there for ice cream stands across New England. Grade A Sugar Cone Co. was the name. My aunts tell tales of how they worked on the cone assembly line as teenagers, and when the conveyor belt was running too fast everything would be thrown into chaos, ala that famous I Love Lucy candy factory episode. My dad worked at the factory too, sometimes as foreman I believe, but mostly as a salesmen, getting up before dawn (like he does for snow now) and driving to Bar Harbor Maine or Chatham or somewhere very far away to deliver a few cans of cones to a local dairy bar. It was a hard job but he loved it, mainly, I believe, because he loved his father.

The ending was very sad. Sugar prices soared from pennies a pound to dollars a pound after sugar-producing countries formed a cartel in the early 1970s. Larger cone producers with greater economies of scale put more local shops out of business. More than $100,000 in debt, my father sold Grade A for $1 in 1978 just to get rid of it. Then came the Blizzard of 1978, and his fortunes turned on a dime.

My father has a photo of the Corey Street factory in his office. All the men and their Grade A delivery trucks are lined up outside, posing for the shot. My grandfather, who died when I was 6 months old, is among them. Now, my grandmother Emma is gone too. Maybe she's the one who made me think of the past this morning as I sanded the parking lot at 6:35 a.m., right where the delivery trucks once parked. As I started home, I thought of how last year I would have stopped by her house on Home Street to say hello, and maybe have a pizzele or two. It made me sad to think I'll never do that again.

My grandfather, Dom, standing outside the Corey St. factory. 1940s

Wednesday, January 04, 2006


Same thing, different day. Dad said he might need my help sanding in the morning (we were supposed to get a dusting), so I kept my Nextel on all night and woke up every hour worrying I'd missed his call. But it never snowed, and he never called. I think I finally fell asleep at like 5 a.m., which screwed up my day of course. I would have been better off sanding this morning! Ugh.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006


It was supposed to snow 6-10 inches today, so the plan was for Dad and Gene and Frank to take the early shift and for me to come in later (7-8) and stay late (5-6) to finish up. Once again, let's hear it for the forecasters. They totally botched this one as well. It snowed about 2 inches, with the last flakes falling by 7 a.m. Then nothing the rest of the day. Still, I didn't get much sleep, as I kept waking up to see whether it was snowing. I was up at 3, at 4, at 5, and we had almost nothing. It was actually sort of nerve-wracking. In the end, I didn't go out at all, and got to snuggle with Laura and extra few hours.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

New Year, new storm

It always seems to snow when I'm out of town. There was that blizzard in 2003, when I was staying in Astoria and my Amtrak got stuck for 4 hours near Kingston. Last year it snowed when Laura took me to Canyon Ranch. And on New Year's, when I was at her folks' place in Chelsea, Boston got hit again. Dad told me it was a frustrating storm. 12 hours, but only 3 inches. Sounds like I didn't miss anything great. Here's a picture from an apartment window overlooking Madison Square. We spent New Year's there at a party thrown by the Levis' friends, John and Betty. Notice the Empire State building in green and red lights. Cool view.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Got one

This is a bookmark for the storm we had on Tuesday, Dec. 27. Lots to report, but no time right now. highlights: dad's sander small gear broke because of wet sand, gates locked at smith and jenkies, doe and public, me hopping the fence at publics because i was trapped, billing in the morning, davenport assholes (they cancelled service because "we didn't have enough equipment." "Oh, they're right," Gene exclaimed, facetiously, standing in the middle of a garage filled with $300,000 worth of trucks. Funny.), etc. But overall a really good day.

Caught Gene by surprise

This is me atop the sander, gassing up. My girlfriend think's this picture
is hot for some reason.

Monday, December 26, 2005

work again?

It's been 10 days without snow - a Godsend at this time of year - but the forecast looks promising. I've got to remember to fill up the gas tank on my sander, which I couldn't do after I tucked it into the hole last time.

National Weather Service
As of 1:25 PM

This Afternoon: Periods of showers. Areas of fog before 3pm. High around 52. North wind around 8 mph. Chance of precipitation is 80%. New rainfall amounts of less than a tenth of an inch possible.

Tonight: Periods of rain showers before 9pm, then periods of snow showers. Low around 25. Northwest wind 9 to 12 mph increasing to between 17 and 20 mph. Chance of precipitation is 80%. New snow accumulation of less than one inch possible.

Tuesday: A slight chance of snow showers before 9am. Cloudy through mid morning, then gradual clearing, with a high around 36. North wind between 14 and 20 mph. Chance of precipitation is 20%.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Christmas gifts

Our newest driver!

Patrick my nephew is more gung-ho than anyone about plowing. I'll relate a cute story about him driving a golf cart when I have more time (he's just 4.5 years old!) Here he is wearing my new Sam's Services jacket, a Christmas gift. Cute huh?

Friday, December 16, 2005

Snooze, and you lose (Alt. title - "The Hole")

I'm writing this posting more than a week after today's storm. Christmas shopping and friends in town from far-away places (John, London; Chris, California) have taken precedence. That said, I remember vividly getting up at 5:20 a.m. on this day because it was the last time before Christmas that I went out sanding. After two snowy weeks, we've hit both a dry and warm spell. It's kind of appropos, though, because of what Dad said to me today. "Get it while you can, because we may never go out in a truck again this year."

Were I running the show, I doubt we would have saddled up this morning. It was sleeting at best - no real snow - at 4 a.m. and the forecasters were all calling for a complete changeover to rain by about 7 or 8 a.m. Whatever we laid down would be washed away, I figured. But Dad got up as if he hadn't even heard the forecast and opened up at about 4:30 a.m. He called me an hour later, saying that there were some slick spots and he needed help. I crawled out of bed and made it in late - about 6 a.m. Indeed, about 50 percent of my yards really needed treatment. The others were filled with more puddles than ice, but I sanded most of them anyway. But everyone else was out in their sanders, making money. Still, I couldn't get it through my head why we needed to salt and sand when it was all going to turn to rain.

"What if it doesn't What if they're wrong and it turned to snow?" my Dad asked. "What are you going to tell the lawyers when someone falls? 'I didn't sand the yard because the weatherman said it wouldn't turn to ice?'"

He makes an absolutely great point. We can't gamble that the rain will be just rain when the temperature hovers around 32 degrees. Unless we err on the side of caution - which means we have to go out - we could get screwed if someone falls. You know, he knows what he's doing.

We did screw up in another way, though. The rains came hard just as we were in the yard to reload. Gene headed home because he'd caught a cold, so it was just Dad and me in the yard, loading three trucks. I had to back them into the right slot in the garage one after another, a task akin to backing up down a narrow alley. I've complained numerous times to my dad about the layout of the garage - if we just torn down the wooden paint-spray booth wall, we've have another three feet of clearance in the alley. But no, we have to keep it up because you can't replace it once it comes down, he says. As a result, you have to be absolutely perfect when backing the trucks up into "the hole." Dad is the ONLY one who can do it on the first try - not Gene, not Dom, not Frank. As for me, I'd never been asked to do back up all three until today. And yes, I missed too. Because I didn't back the first truck to the back wall (I left about 1.5 feet between the sander and the bricks) it caused a domino effect, with the other trucks sticking too far out of the alley. Because the first truck was 1.5 feet too far out -- 1.5 feet!!! - Dad didn't have enough space to back the loader in when he'd finished with the sand pile. So, typically, he blew up at me, yelling at me to get out of the way if I couldn't back up the trucks they way they were supposed to be. I barked back at him to calm down and walked away as he boiled over, then settled down finally. He's like that in crises sometimes, and though it's unpleasant, I've learned to ride out the storms, which are thankfully fast-moving and leave little damage behind. When we finally got the trucks all in he showed me just where I needed to align the back tire of the first truck to that everything would fit perfectly. This knowledge would have been most useful ahead of time, but when freezing rain is pelting down, and you don't want the fresh sand to get wet in the hoppers, and you've been up half the night, and it's a Friday, you don't always have that luxury.

But I still think its stupid to have the paint-booth wall up.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Props to Jane

After 15 hours on the computer to get the Dec. 15 bills out, I have this to say:

Jane is a billing goddess.

Jane is our secretary, who's been calculating the bills and hand-typing them for the past 25 years or so. This year I computerized the billing, of course, to make things lightening fast and far more simple. Well, the Quickbook system I set up works, and the bills look pretty professional (see below), but it took far, far, far more time than I dreamed it would to post them. This was the first time out, and we had plenty of snow for this billing period, including a tricky two-storm day on Dec. 9. So it will be faster next time, and faster still beyond that. But I realize now that there's just no way you can chop down the three days Jane would take to bill into an hour. I will need at least a full morning every two weeks to do the billing, and possibly a whole day. Why did I offer to do this again? Well, I'm kidding there. But as monotonous as data entry is, I can't imagine doing what Jane has had to do all this time: namely, figuring out every inch count for every storm for every customer on a calculator, hand-typing the letters, and hand-writing the amounts in the green ledger book. Talk about patience.

It was interesting to see Dad's reaction to billing on the computer. He actually stuck around the office and watched over my shoulder. He was shocked to see what we were charging some people -- he never does the bills, so he forgets when we undercharge or zing somebody. We went with an 8 percent fuel surcharge, which added to everyone's bills, sometimes by $100. After printing everything out Dad looked at the figures and said that we probably were too high. "We should have done 5 percent," he said. "We'll see what they say come Monday." He expected some people would complain about the surcharge, but I haven't checked in with him yet.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Sunday-Wednesday break

Dad and Gene handled the salt and sanding on Sunday and Monday, with "good runs" both days, according to my dad. The ice really didn't melt a whole lot after the sun went in early Saturday afternoon, and while it was warm on Sunday - warm enough for me to run outside in shorts at 3 p.m. - it iced up again at night. Monday was actually the worse day, Dad said. Though there was some ice in yards on Tuesday - four days after the flash blizzard - it was time to stop sanding. Our customers had had enough. Dad said the city was cracking down again on sidewalk snow, forcing him back into the loader to clear out Avenue Video and a few more places. Carlos also pushed too much snow into loading dock #1 at Crystal Cold Storage, so Dad had to drive out there too. The punch list following a significant storm is so long, including repair cards for each truck (my pickup, No. 4, needs new blades, Dad said. I hadn't noticed.) Looking back, I forgot to mention how much of kick ass job Frank did on his accounts. He did better than me! Nice going, Frank. And could I hit that manhole cover just one more time at St. Mary's?

On tap for Thursday: our first big computer billing. Dad promised he'd sit with me an hour, but we'll see.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Lots to learn

A 20/80 mix

Driving back to Somerville at 2 p.m. or so Dad beeped me on the Nextel. "You learned a lot this storm," he said. He didn't know the half of it. Got up at 5:15 on Saturday morning for a sanding run, only to find out there were still lots to be plowed, such as Public Storage of Medford. (Carlos, our new driver, couldn't get the gate to work. We've got a new code for it now.) But I didn't mind going back, as I swung by my place in Slummerville and plowed out a space for myself. Ah, the return of winter parking chess!

Having returned from a sanding run at about 9 a.m. I was about to reload when plumber Phil Buckley pulled into the yard and asked my Dad if we could add his shop as an account. "Go with him," Dad told me in a tone that implied I'd better hurry. So I jumped into my dad's truck, already filled with sand, and bolted out the driveway. Buckley's business is at the end of Clinton Ave, and it should be a nice pickup. (We've already lost Salvation Army, those jerks, and Commerce Place, which dropped service after more than 20 years because their landscaper is going to shovel them out. As my Dad said, it was pretty crappy of them to tell us this in December, after he'd turned down other work to take care of them. But that's how customers are, I'm learning.) Buckley's yards are about as big as Medford Public Storage (to mention them again), though I'm now remembering there's a gate on one of them that we might need a key for. Dad asked how much we should charge, but I'll need to check the computer. Anyway, there's a big boat in the yard, sort of like the one that Nana's neighbors would park in their driveway. I didn't have to plow Nana's yard this year, though I thought of it at least once. I should next time for Auntie Philly. Time passes.

The point of mentioning Buckley is that by the time I was on the road following him I'd realized that I'd left my cell phone in the other truck. Naturally, that's when Laura called, from a pay phone. She was irate that I didn't pick up the phone and canceled our late-afternoon shopping plans. Then, when I did get her on the phone at noon, she told me how she wasn't really sure she could deal with being the girlfriend of a plow driver. "The weather controls our relationship," she said, or something to that effect. She has a point, of course. My life isn't the only one affected by the weather, and as I tried to sort through how much of her anger was justified, I thought of my mother, and all the years that she's been "a plow widow." Maybe I need to ask her how she dealt with it, or how upsetting it was to her in the beginning. Course, as Laura said, I have no control over the weather, a problem that will likely not be rectified in my lifetime. How long will I do this? How long do I want to be a plower? These are questions Laura also asked. My answer is that I need to do this now, that I want to do this, and that I'm learning and that it is fun. More importantly, I need to find out if this life experiment I'm leading, of being a plowman for four months of the year and a journalist for 8, will in fact work. Will I be able to run my dad's business? Or hope to run it with even some of the success he's enjoyed? Will I want to in 5 years if I'm not making $100,000 a year? And what happens when I have kids and disappear before dawn and don't return till dark? As this flash blizzard showed me, the snow caters to no one.

das Buckley boat

Friday, December 09, 2005

The Flash Blizzard

snowy fingers

"Ok Rookie, how are you going to write this one up?" my Dad said to me as we ended one very long, adventurous day that saw not one but two snowstorms blast through Malden. The first was your garden variety (what does that mean?), a basic 3-inch storm that took us about 4 or 5 hours to clean up. I reported for work at 8:30 (Note: another daytime storm. And these seemed so rare last year.) We were pretty much wrapped up by 1 p.m. Every yard was bare - we really knocked them out. As I was finishing my last lot, Public Storage in Malden, the rain began to fall. The forecasters had it right up till this point: snow, then rain, then some late snow. Had it just rained, we would have been golden. Dad sent home everyone, though I stayed, thinking we might need to scrap up some yards if the temperature dipped again. We had lunch, I printed out new route cards (version 3 already!) on the computer, and settled in the office to make a few work phone calls (Fed Ex still didn't know where my computer was. Ugh.) when all of a sudden, the snow returned - hurricane style. Whipping winds and huge flakes combined for whiteout conditions within a few minutes. I imagined this is what Paul, my brother-in-law, experienced in the desert storms of Iraq this summer. Dad was out in the yard trying to direct a huge dump truck filled with hot salt into the bay when the shit hit. Couldn't have been worse timing for that delievery to arrive. I, meanwhile, had to finish my 10 minutes of calls or I'd be screwed for my stories. At about 3 I bolted for the garage, hopped in the No. 4 pickup, and headed out into the storm. My orders were to stay on Broadway and act like the city (a euphemism for plowing only an access lane through a yard). "Carrier - Auto Zone -Avenue Video" my dad barked out, listing off the priority accounts.

I've driven during blizzards before, but never was I the lone ranger. That added huge pressure, as I darted between Avenue Video, the Print House, Distributor Corp, Publics, and the Auto Zone as best I could. My mirrors froze, traffic came to Big Dig crawl and so much snow was blowing that my pickup's tracks were covered within minutes. At some point I just drove on instinct. Fortunately, my instincts were good on this day, as I was able to open my accounts at least enough for fleeing workers to get onto the roads. It was exhilarating, of course. A cowboy in a stampede. Though as the storm intensified, and nobody was moving, the pressure came off in layers. What did it matter if I couldn't plow out a yard: the street was even worse.

An hour later, it was all over, and by 4 p.m. or so I'd made my way to Bally's, fighting through a numbing traffic jam in Linden Square (the worst I'd ever seen there.) At first I thought the health club had closed, which Dad was saying it might. About two cars were in the lot. I went to town, plowing it clean by taking half strokes into the foot-high snow. With no cars, I can do a bang-up job there, and I hunkered down for more than an hour. But the place was still open, and by the time dad got on the phone and yelled at me for taking too long (apparently I was only supposed to do a 50-percent job, a fact that was never related to me, of course) I'd finished off about 70 percent of the massive yard. By then, the cars were streaming in. The flash blizzard was a bargain for most people, who probably got released from work early on a Friday because of the frightening look outside their office windows, then saw the storm disappear by the time they got to their cars, or the gym. It ended so fast for me, I forgot to snap a picture.

Laura had lost her cell phone at 3 p.m. in the snow outside another Bally's, this one in Porter Square. And this spelled misery for both of us. She was upset when she called to tell me, and grew even more upset when I told her I would be very late getting home. "What's the big deal? It wasn't that bad," she said. I laughed: she hadn't been in the thick of it, and couldn't see the vast canvas of snow before me. I'll spare you the details, but I didn't get to see her until almost 10:30 at night, at which point I was exhausted, and she was bitter. It didn't get any better on Saturday, as you'll read.

As for the rest of the storm, we went nonstop. I ended up plowing all of Melrose (though Dad saved my by clearing out Oak Grove Condos and Archer with the front-end loader.) Then hit autozone, public storage, and the diner on the way back in. It was kind of a blur by the end, and I was on autopilot. I can't even remember what I was listening to on the radio (the Celtics?) or when I ate a bagel (6 p.m.?) At some point I drove by Skip on the way to Diane's (alas, no homemade cookies). I remember a 15-year-old girl throwing a snowball at me outside the old Melrose Free Press office. I was stopped at the light and saw her wind up and fire from the sidewalk. I smiled - what else could I do - and lifted up my hands as if to say, "What was that?" She gave me an indifferent smile and did the same thing back. I drove off shaking my head. But If I'd had a quick wit, I would have said something like, "If you wanted my attention, you could have blown me a kiss." Though lines like that only works for George Clooney.

Also of note: my first encounter with Sevek Fishman. He owns 59 Summer St. and while I was plowing in the morning he came out to stop me. Whenever anyone comes out to stop you, it's usually bad. I rolled my window down and he explained to me in somewhat broken English how he wasn't going to pay Sam to do any loader work this year. (He didn't use the word loader, though I inferred.) He told me that I needed to plow the snow as far as possible into the trees and brush that border the back of his yard, and if I didn't we'd lose the account. But he was smart: he shuffled into the building and returned with a bottle of red wine for me. "We're going to be friends for a very long time," he told me as he forced me to take it. I was polite and said I'd only be able to do the best I could. I felt it would have been too rude to have refused the gift. And I wasn't reporting, after all.

Friends for a very long time

Monday, December 05, 2005

Can't anyone predict the weather?

The forecasters are batting just .500 this month after last night's non-storm, which is great is baseball, good in softball, but poor otherwise. They were calling for a few inches, starting about dawn and ending at noon. We didn't get a single flake. It was ludicrous. I was up every hour waiting, checking the window. (That chai tea at 4 p.m. didn't help.) I called my dad at 7:30 when I finally woke up, exhausted. "I was up all night too," he said, sounding exasperated. I wish a meterologist would read this site and tell me how tough it is to predict the weather. Last year the forecasters were horrible - horrible!. They blew at least 4 storms, and now, it appears we're in for more of the same. Mish Michaels, JC Monahan and Dick Albert, you're being warned. I'm going to keep track. (And why, why doesn't a single forecaster ever say "Yep, I blew it," the day after? They're about as accountable as the Prez.)

Saturday, December 03, 2005

And so it begins again

New season, same braces

My father's voice rang with panic: it was snowing again, for the first time in nine months, and WHERE WAS I!

I guess the start of the 2005-2006 season couldn't happen any other way. My dad becoming hyper when it snows is inevitable. He's in charge, so it's all on his back. The snow began falling about 9 a.m. -- a glorious time for it to start snowing, compared to 2 a.m., if you ask me. He was in a truck in no time, spinning about Malden and scraping yards with a scant 1/4-inch of snow. "I'm not going to call out the trucks until we have enough to plow," he'd pledged. But when I spoke to my dad at 1:30 p.m., he was already acting as if we were in a blizzard. I told him I'd be in in 20 minutes, and I was. But where was I? At the Nieman Narrative conference in Boston, of course. It's fitting that I literally had to jump from journalism to plowing in a heartbeart on Sunday. Or maybe it's fitting I did both. Laura came along for the unexpected ride, but thankfully we got things wrapped up in about 2 hours. Dad called everyone out at about 2 p.m., and with just three inches, we were finished by 4-4:30. A nice, nice little storm. Fun, even. We'll see if any more are like it.

Laura couldn't wait to plow!