Battle-weary shovelers rejoice in signs of life-affirming victory: bare pavement

SATURDAY'S HERO

January 13, 1996|By ROB KASPER

TWO WORDS have been sending shivers of excitement through us this week. The words are "bare pavement." That is snow-shoveler lingo for ecstasy, the big moment, victory.

I heard the words around Baltimore lately as people told how they had taken shovels in hand and recaptured a parking space, a stretch of side street or a section of alley that had been held in the clutches of snow.

The first snow on Sunday, 22 inches, was a challenge. The second, 4 inches on Tuesday, was a nuisance. And yesterday's mixture of snow and rain was dispiriting. Nevertheless, once you have experienced the charge that comes from exposing paved surfaces, it is a hard habit to kick.

Most shovelers got a taste of action on Tuesday. Some of us worked in groups, some worked solo. We might have started out with the idea of simply scraping off the top layer of snow, or making a navigable path, but once we got going, something changed.

The air seemed more invigorating than cold. The shovel was not a mere tool, but an extension of our will. The snow was the cruel world and we were fighting our way through it. Unlike so many forms of modern-day work, when we shoveled snow, we could readily see the progress we were making.

Before we knew it, that thick metal shovel, the one we worked with in the garden last summer, had made it below curb level. Then we gave that sturdy shovel a whack, and a chunk of ice and snow snapped free. We tossed the chunk into the air. We looked down, and there was a surprisingly fetching patch of asphalt. It was a "bare pavement moment."

It felt so good, we wanted to experience it again, and again,and again. After repeated bare pavement moments we had cleared a street, an alley, "our turf."

If we had a camera we took a snapshot. A few weeks from now people all around Baltimore will be showing off overexposed photos of bundled up shovelers standing over stretches of snow-free pavement. The fact that the faces of the shovelers can't be seen isn't important. We know who we are. What's important is that the pavement is bare and in focus. That is where the memories are.

The photo that I consider to be the pinup of the bare pavement art ran in The Sun Tuesday. It showed an entire block of North Symington Avenue in Catonsville that the residents had exposed. I waved this inspiring photo in front of a band of shovelers Tuesday morning before we ventured into the alley behind our house.

Our mission was to shovel a path, one car length from our hous to the end of the alley. The distance was about three quarters of a city block. By the time I tell the story in July, this distance will have grown to half a mile. Making the path would free our car and those belonging to half a dozen residents who had parked in parking pads behind our homes.

To undertake this mission I had assembled a crew of neighborhood boys, my two sons and six of their friends. There was Brian the older, Brian the younger, Brad, Ben, Matthew, Rob, James and Michael. They ranged in age from 17 to 10. They were motivated by some sense of duty, but primarily by the prospect of getting paid $20 each from a pool of money collected from neighbors.

I supervised and shoveled. I am not sure which task was harder. The snow was deep. There were limited places to toss it. The guys worked in fits and starts. I tried to both keep them removing snow and keep them from clobbering each other with their shovels.

The guys seemed to do their best work after taking a food break. We had several of those. While I was in the alley, my wife was working in the kitchen. She fed the shovelers hot pretzels, then graham crackers, soda, a spaghetti lunch, and some brownies.

Helped by two other adult shovelers, guys whose cars were also trapped in the alley, we cleared a path out to a street that had been visited by a snow plow. It took about three hours.

Battling the heavy snow changed my mental outlook. Rather than thinking about myself as a vigorous player in a fast-paced, ++ far-reaching world, all I was concerned about was my alley. When I saw bare pavement I was heady. For a moment or two, I thought I didn't need big government. I had my shovels and my neighbors.

But then I came to my senses and realized that despite my bravado, my area of sway ended at the corner. After that the "village" mentality faded and the task mounted. Beyond the alley I needed big government and its big plows.

Today we shovelers will resume our duties. We will take up our tools. The initial thrill is gone. We are tired. We are angry. We are worried about our roofs. Before we go outside we will open upstairs windows and gently push snow off any rooftop we can reach without walking on the slick roof. Then we will go outside to the street or alley. We saw bare pavement once. We vow to see it again.

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