Ice Ice Baby

Spring brings memories of Winters past. I remember 2007…

The “wintry mix” fell on Wednesday, Valentine’s Day, and eventually resulted in two inches of a slushy frozen mess. I waited for the afternoon “sun” to “burn through” and soften the mixture before attempting to shovel. Even still, the best I could do without suffering heart failure was the requisite sidewalk effort and a narrow path to my door for my friends Fed Ex and UPS. I glanced at the ice berm that the road plow had thoughtfully created at the end of my driveway and idly considered the macho joy I would get from blasting through it on Thursday morning.

Thursday dawned at 19 degrees Fahrenheit. This is up from the 11 degree overnight low, but still — according to AccuWeather — damned cold. Late for a meeting, I opened the garage, warmed the car, and prepared for the cinematic-quality explosion of snow that would follow as I hurtled towards the ice berm at roughly 15 MPH.

As you can imagine, the ice won.

The SUV instead partially crested the immovable berm, and then ceased its progress as the rear wheels came to rest 18 inches above the street surface and the front wheels wisely decided to rescind that whole “All Wheel Drive” marketing hoo hah. Stuck. Perched. The final photo in one of those interminable emails, as in: “two inches of ice — free. Berm created by snowplows — included in HOA fee. SUV left high and silly — priceless.”

I called roadside assistance, and was forced to hold for a few minutes while my Indian friend put the call on speaker for his colleagues to enjoy (Just because I’m paranoid does not mean people aren’t laughing at me). I was told to wait patiently for two hours while my Bangalore buddy shopped the YouTube rights.

My neighbor is a Real Man. By this, I mean one of those guys who never found out that the Revenge of the Nerds should be seen now as the presage of the Knowledge Age. The Nerds really did win. (A friend of mine graduated from Northwestern, back when they were horrendous in football. Successful teams would come to Northwestern to rack up an easy win, with taunting signs and chants. The Northwestern students eventually responded with signs that said, and I’m paraphrasing: “You should be nicer to us, you’ll be working for us after you graduate.”)

My Real Man neighbor chose a different path. Instead, he pursued a career that constitutes a Real Job. He’s an airline pilot, providing tangible value to clients every day. He ends each shift having helped people achieve their objectives, and I’m fairly certain he has never once used PowerPoint to do it. Can you imagine?

Meanwhile, the inside of my home began to get chilly. As my bride began to realize that her dinner plans may be disrupted, the temperature began to drop precipitously. Yes, I had a luxury SUV rocking atop an ice pedestal, but she received that news with relative calm. Once she realized that my failure to dig us out yesterday may interfere with her dinner plans — the conversation took an ugly turn.

I went outside to wait for the roadside assistance. Two hours in 19F weather was preferable to hearing bon mots such as “I notice our neighbors have not only cleared, but dry driveways.”

As I stood considered my SUV, tilting slightly to starboard, my Real Man pilot neighbor comes lumbering over with — I am not making this up — a pickaxe. Whereas I had been tickling the berm with my dirt shovel (I actually own two, what is that about?), RM arrived with the right tool. He began hacking into the two-foot ice berm, subduing it with each stroke. As he approached the car, I warned him back. After all, clearing the ice would re-introduce gravity to the equation, and I had no desire to see RM pinned under my menacing SUV. No problem, RM has another tool. He returns to his home, and reappears shortly (this itself is amazing, it would take me a few days to find most of my ‘tools’) with a “digging tool.” This is a five-foot iron pole that resembles a pike. The label said, “Digging Tool.” Which, I should add, is clearer than the US Army’s designation for shovels (‘entrenchment tool”). I asked why he had such a thing, and he responded incredulously: “I dig.”

Oh yeah. My Real Man neighbor also built his own deck. As he hoisted the (easily 20lb) pike, I hefted the pickaxe and tried not to think about the brick sidewalk that lay entombed under the ice monster I was manfully dismantling. My bride appeared at the door periodically, to thank him for helping and to remind me that I shouldn’t overexert myself. It’s entirely possible that I shared with RM the following: had he not shown up when he did, I may have been at his door requesting assistance with a more challenging, albeit shallow, digging project in my backyard.

She’s at dinner now, my slightly bruised SUV sits whimpering in its garage, and — as people have done throughout history — I sip my sauvignon blanc and thank the creator for Real Men.

[Originally posted in February of 2007]