We slept through the snow last night. I didn’t even realize it had snowed until I heard the plows scraping down Columbus Ave. By the time I got to the window it was all half-melted slush. It looked like there hadn’t been that much of it to begin with. They say a big one’s coming, but that it’s still a few days off. Everybody’s waiting.
Snow storms always make me think of the guys I grew up with who used to plow the streets and driveways and parking lots of our town back when we were in our twenties (I think some of them still do). In just a couple good storms, a guy with his own truck and plow could make enough money to get through winter, provided he knew the right people and could line up decent accounts. And a guy with multiple trucks and plows could make a killing. And man did those guys hustle.
They’d buy two or three cheap F250s and fix ’em up in the fall. Then they’d wrestle up as many customers as they could: rich people with monstrous driveways, and then doctors, restaurant-owners, and strip-mall collectives – each with their own icy parking-lots and litigious patrons to worry about. Then they’d pray that enough storms hit to justify the time spent. “Betting on the weather,” they called it. It made them anxious. Until the snow came, and then it made them giddy.
If it was a big storm, they’d be out all night, and maybe sleep in their trucks a few hours, and then be out again the next day. Even a smaller storm could mean 24 hours or more of continuous work, because the parking lots (especially) had to be cleared and re-cleared, as the snow fell. And if it was a blizzard, you’d be looking at three, four days of nonstop. Sleeping in the truck, etc.
And with every storm, a million things would go wrong: trucks would break down, and customers would get hysterical and make unreasonable demands, and every once in a while, a fight would break out on the side of some snowy backroad over some completely random bullshit.
Snow made people crazy. Then as now as ever.
So. Below is a short, fictionalized snippet of that. I wrote it as nonfiction for a class I took on fellowship, then went back and changed names and details so that I could publish it here. It’s growing into its own short story somewhere in the back of my mind. I figured today was as good a day as any to put it forth.
Joe and Chris were stuck. At the bottom of a very steep, very windy, very long driveway. They’d managed to take one complete pass with the snowplow, so that you could just barely make the black pavement out from the surrounding mountainside forest. But now their truck, a 2005 F-350, manual, had taken a shit and died, right in the middle of these rich people’s driveway, right in front of their three-car garage.
“The key is not to panic,” Joe said in a mock-serious tone. He’d already checked under the hood; it looked like the timing belt, but he couldn’t be sure. Now he was sitting in the driver’s seat trying to figure out his next move.
“These people are going to come home any minute,” Chris said, looking out the window. “They’re going to love finding us here.”
“Fuuuuccck,” Joe said, tilting his head all the way back and widening his eyes at the truck’s ceiling. He clenched the steering wheel and took a deep breath, then grabbed a Newport from the pack on the dashboard and lit it. The snow was still falling, and they had a dozen or so more driveways to get to before they circled back and did it all over again.
Chris giggled in the passengers seat. “Bro you’ll love this one,” he said, reading off his iPhone.
“Mike Griffin says we need to get there ‘right away’ because he’s worried their new deck is going to – get this – collapse under the weight of all that snow.” Joe rolled the window down and exhaled cigarette smoke.
Silence. Then he too laughed.
“Yeah, six inches of dust is going to drop the thing,” he said, taking another drag. “Maybe Big Bad Billy built it.”
Chris sniggered. Billy was a failed rock-star turned coke-head, turned hack-carpenter from town. He’d been handing out business cards all winter for his newest venture – custom made roofs and decks – and it’d become sort of a running joke. “How the fuck these people get so rich being so fucking dumb,” Chris asked, still looking at his phone.
“Bro, if I knew that, I wouldn’t be sitting in this driveway with you,” Joe said.
He surveyed the landscape: sparse snow-covered forest, dotted with three-car houses, as far as the eye could see. Winding black top roads and winding black top driveways snaked through all of it. The black top needed plowing. The people in the three car houses would pay good money for it – if not to them, then to someone else.
“We need to get this shit plowed and we need to get the fuck out of here,” Joe said.
“We can’t be stuck here like this when these people get back.”
“Call Vern? He’s –”
“Bro, he’ll –”
“Chris, fuck. If the old man finds out, we’ll never hear the end of it.” ‘The Old Man,’ had been plowing these accounts — driveways, and small parking lots, mostly — for 20 years or something. Three winters back, he’d started passing them down to Vern. This winter, Vern had finally passed some of them down to Joe and Chris. But he’d been a real dick about it – made a huge deal about how much the accounts were worth, how every jerkoff with a pickup truck was after them, how Joe and Chris better not fuck anything up. Last thing Joe wanted – even less than losing the accounts – was hearing more of that shit.
“No Vern,” he said.
“Then what? You wanna borrow some tools from this garage? I bet the side door isn’t even locked.”
Joe took a final drag off his cigarette and stuffed the butt into an overflowing ashtray.
“They probably don’t even have tools,” Chris continued in a mock-snooty voice. “They have Triple A.”
“Vern ain’t gonna be able to help us anyway,” Joe said. “He’s got all them lots up in Warren to clear. By the time he got here — ”
“Mike Griffin’s deck’ll be in shambles,” Chris interrupted, giggling. Joe shot him a look.
“C’mon, bro, ” Chris said. “At this point?”
“Wanna smoke some weed?” Chris asked.
Joe looked at Chris with raised eyebrows. “These people come home, find a spic and a brother sitting in a broken fucking truck, smoking weed, in their driveway that ain’t even been plowed… ” They both laughed.
“So, that’s a no on the weed, then?”
Joe rolled his eyes, lit another cigarette, and took hold of the steering wheel.
“Come on cream puff,” he said, staring down at the ignition. He turned the key again. Nothing. “FuuuCCCKK,”
“Calling Vern now,” Chris said.
He lifted his phone, paused, and looked at Joe. Silence. Joe punched the truck’s ceiling.
“Yeah ok,” he said. “Make the fucking call.”