Like death and taxes, an Ottawa winter is a sure thing. Our winters are filled with snow, iced over with freezing rain, and characterized by periods of such bitter cold that our nostrils stick together in protest; or, conversely, by balmy thaws that have us digging out our summer clothes in a burst of self-delusion.
But none of our winter woes is more despised or more aggravating than the inevitable driveway fill-in. You know what I’m talking about. You’ve spent three hours shoveling out your driveway, wrecking your back and butchering a few shovels, when lo and behold — here comes the snowplow. Perhaps, you foolishly hope, the driver will fill in some other poor sod’s driveway. Maybe, just maybe, today the driver will steer clear of your property.
Who do you think you’re kidding? That lovely shoveling job that took you an entire day to accomplish is ruined in a few short moments as a heaping pile of snow is plowed back on top of your asphalt.
You mutter various four-letter words under your breath, stomp about, scream into the wind, then, defeated, sigh, pick up your shovel and start all over again.
Well, not always, my friends. One recent shining day, shovelers of all stripes got a little of their own back.
So there I am, resplendent in my Wellington boots with non-matching sweater and mitts, hair wet from the snow and plastered to my head, shovel in hand. I clear off the porch steps and begin to tackle my half of the shared driveway. I’m almost done when I hear the familiar chug and wheeze of the snowplow.
Within moments, my pristine driveway is snow-covered once more. Being a New Year and having resolved to be more patient in 2006, I grin and shake a mock-angry fist at the driver. He gives me a sheepish smile, shrugs, and continues on.
But wait . . . what’s that I hear? The snowplow driver has turned his rig around and is coming back. Bloody hell, is he going to fill me in again? The heck with New Year’s resolutions. I think nasty thoughts in the hopes that my pseudo voodoo will divert his attention away from me.
I am immediately ashamed of myself because — and perhaps this is snowplow driver’s remorse — he has returned to dig me out! He motions for me to move my neighbour’s garbage can out of the way and as I do so, he begins to plow out the pile that he, not minutes ago, plowed in. This has never happened to me before, never in all the years that I have lived in this house. Oh neighbours with snow blowers have many times given me a hand digging out the heavy stuff, but a snowplow driver? This is unheard of! I am overcome with warm and fuzzy feelings of goodwill toward all. I have misjudged snowplow drivers.
I move the garbage can and, as I turn back toward the plow, suddenly realize that he is about to drive into the ditch. The street is lined with storm-water ditches but, with so much snow already piled in them, the unsuspecting snowplow driver has no idea that he is at risk of plunging into a three-foot trench.
All that shoveling has made me slow-witted and I am too late. The big left wheel sinks into the ditch, churning up the snow and the soil beneath it. Try as he might, on such an icy road, the driver can’t get the plow out. The back tires spin and spin and spin but the plow is well and truly dug in.
Now it is my turn to be sheepish as he opens his cab and I explain what has happened. We can do nothing but laugh at the situation . . . well, that’s not completely true. I can grab my camera and begin snapping photos since, although I’m sure the snowplow drivers’ union has many a tale of this nature to tell, I’ve never heard of a snowplow getting stuck in the snow. I feel the need for photographic evidence of the phenomenon.
He puts in a call to a fellow driver. After 20 minutes, some good-natured chit-chat, and a few photos, the second snowplow comes around the corner. The driver of the second rig jams his back plow behind the first for leverage and within seconds the stuck plow is free once more.
In his haste to exit the cursed ditch, the driver leaves a pile of crushed ice and snow in his wake — still technically a fill-in, but it blocks only a small portion of the driveway and I can handle that. We wave goodbye and off he goes to snowier pastures. As I watch him drive away, I hope that this incident doesn’t dissuade him from performing other good snowplowing deeds.
And, with my boots stuck in the bank of ice and snow, there is now only one thing for me to do.
Pick up my shovel and get back to work.
Published February 15, 2006, The Globe and Mail