Years from now, when I’m still telling the tale of what it was like to be a snowplow driver during the Blizzard of 2013, I might just begin at 11 a.m. Saturday morning, when I was driving down an unplowed Malden side street in my glistening red, white, and black pickup truck, the first vehicle anyone who lived there had seen all day.
Children who had climbed atop snowbanks as tall as their parents waved at me; a man with a long-lens camera took my picture as if shooting a lion on safari; others just stared longingly at me, their shovels held upside-down in utter defeat.
Suddenly, as if awakened from a trance, one of them started flailing for me to stop and plow his driveway. Within seconds, the entire street was in a frenzy, waving arms and shovels in my direction and calling out in desperation. Had I dared to stop, my truck might have been torn apart in a tug-of-war.
Or I could talk about the brunt of the storm, when I found myself thigh-deep in snow, in a dark parking lot, with 60-mile-per-hour gusts slapping my face and the world a fury of pure white. Holding an aluminum ladder in my hands, I hoisted it into the wind to lift a drooping cable line. When I gave a nod, Jimmy, one of our drivers, creeped forward in a 10-foot-tall front-end loader, squeezing under the wire that had trapped him in the lot.
Or perhaps I will start with the big hug I gave my dad, Sam DeMarco, when I met him at our garage at the very start of the storm. After two very lean winters, we were finally going to make some significant money, but it was more than that. For the past 35 years, I’d heard his legendary stories about being a plowman during the Blizzard of 1978. Finally, I, his son and now business partner, was getting a historic blizzard to call my own.
Of course, I might not have hugged him so hard, or at all, had I known exactly what was to come.
For the average plow driver, Nemo was a blizzard of complicated, exhausting, and, at times, bizarre obstacles that never seemed to stop coming. Customers demanded their parking lots be plowed by 7 a.m. Saturday morning, snow be damned. Accidents — a tractor-trailer jackknifed in front of me — held up traffic for what seemed like hours. Snowdrifts 9 feet high overwhelmed even the most powerful pickup trucks.
‘I’ll remember the cookies and muffins my aunts and girlfriend kindly baked for me – and forgetting to eat lunch because I was so busy.’
At the height of the storm, my cousin Gene, one of our drivers, had his truck break down. Stranded for an hour without heat or gloves, he couldn’t feel his hands by the time help arrived.
I was one of those rare people who was allowed to break the no-driving ban Saturday, and being on the roads before dawn that day was both scary (I nearly wiped out several times on barely plowed roads) and eerie, with not a car in sight on Interstate 93 for miles in either direction. But by midday, the ban was actually a joy, with city streets a racetrack for plow trucks and police cars, if one can call driving at 20 miles per hour speeding.
Victories during the blizzard were small, but always meaningful — a snow drift in your favor in a driveway, an open parking space to stash some snow. But whenever I checked the clock, I was behind schedule, with four or five accounts waiting for me to arrive at the same moment, forcing me to decide who I’d dig out first.
As the days passed, the tide eventually turned. On Tuesday, my dad, driving our biggest front-end loader, had to clear snow from a very tight parking lot.
There was nowhere to go but up, so that’s what he did, stacking it so high that children living on the second floor of an apartment building could step from their balconies and slide down the mountain he had created.
Day upon day of shoveling, plowing, lifting, moving, and trying to melt about 28 inches of snow and ice have blurred together, so I can’t remember which morning I stopped my truck to watch a glorious sunrise from the parking lot of the Assembly of God church high above Route 1.
I can’t say exactly when I showed up at a parking lot only to find another contractor already doing my job, or which afternoon I had to shovel almost a ton of sand into our spreader truck by hand because a front-end loader simply could not be spared.
I’ll remember the cookies and muffins my aunts and girlfriend kindly baked for me — and forgetting to eat lunch because I was so busy. And I certainly won’t forget getting slightly splashed in the face with gasoline from Nemo’s gales while fueling up; how much I sweated in the middle of the night on Saturday shoveling out my car and a path down the street where I live in Somerville to get to work; the overjoyed young women who took my picture when I took a pass through their driveway; and the old, toothless man who pleaded with his hands for me to plow out his car.
With his car buried behind 5 feet of snow, I told him it was impossible. He bit his gums, and shrugged.
Lastly, I’ll remember the entire crew of Sam’s Services — Frank, Mark, Jimmy, Gene, my dad, and me — in our parking lot surrounded by every pickup, sander, and loader we owned, their engines running and yellow strobe lights flashing as the dawn of a new day broke Sunday.
Was it as bad as 1978, I asked the veterans?
“Oh, no,” scolded my cousin Gene. “You gotta remember, 10 days before the Blizzard of ‘78 we had 20 inches of wet snow.”
“This was absolutely one quarter of that,” my dad concurred, with a chuckle.
“Absolute piece of cake.”
I rolled my eyes and hit the road once more.Peter DeMarco can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His Facebook page is “Who Taught You to Drive?” and on Twitter @whotaughtU2driv.