On snowbound streets, it’s plow, relax, repeat
George Flaherty had everything he needed: iced coffee in the cupholder, country music on the radio, and four tons of salt freshly loaded in the back of his truck. Twenty hours into his shift, he steered his 10-wheel Mack out of a South Boston lot and set his sights once again on the same loop of pavement he had been plowing since the storm hit Monday.
At 1 p.m., he had plowed Commonwealth Avenue from the stately brownstones of the Back Bay to the icy hills at the Newton city line so many times he had lost track.
With a growl from the engine, he nosed his truck around a few parked cars, the first of many hazards to come. The heat was blasting to keep the windshield free of ice, and the cab was so hot, Flaherty was dressed in a T-shirt. He rolled down his window, letting the 17-degree chill inside.
Giving a flick to a joystick, he lowered the yellow blade onto the pavement. Snow curled out the corner, leaving a swath of gray behind. A steady sprinkle of salt provided the finishing touch.
“See what a little salt does?” Flaherty said, admiring the clean pavement behind him. “It clears it right up.”
Along the 11-mile route, Flaherty navigated his truck past cross-country skiers, bicyclists, dog-walkers, defiant drivers flouting the travel ban, and, in Allston/Brighton, the inevitable college students carrying packs of Coors Light.
“Look at those idiots,” Flaherty said, and blasted the horn.
Back in the dingy snowplow office at the Frontage Road depot, Flaherty and his supervisor, Danny Nee, had been swapping stories of the dangers they had to contend with in the storm.
“On the last loop, we had a woman just stand in the street and look at us,” Nee said. “She had hot pink sweat pants and stood there for two minutes.”
“For the most part,” Flaherty said, “if you hit the horn, they get the hell out of your way.”
On this loop, many people greeted Flaherty warmly, waving to him as he plowed in front of their homes. When Flaherty got out of the cab to shake the snow off his windshield wipers near Packard’s Corner, a man walked up and warned him there was a traffic island just ahead, buried under a blanket of white.
A city employee who also does brickwork, maintenance, and construction, the 27-year-old Flaherty got his trucking license three years ago and said he looks forward to climbing behind the wheel of a plow when a blizzard hits.
“I think it’s fun,” he said, “especially when there’s no cars out there.”
It wasn’t hard to see why. Flaherty had the streets of Boston mostly to himself, and his truck easily cut through three-foot snowdrifts, sending snow cascading onto the windshield. When he saw one particularly large mountain of white in the Back Bay, he grinned like a kid about to pop a water balloon.
“Want to hit it?” he asked, and hit the gas.
Still, he said, plowing snow is punishing work. Each time the blade of Flaherty’s plow hit the curb, the Mack bounced sharply, jolting Flaherty in his seat. “You take a beating,” he said. After hours and hours of plowing, “your back, your legs, everything hurts.”
Plus, he had slept only four hours since Monday, on a couch in the depot. But he wasn’t complaining. “I brought a pillow,” he said with a shrug.
As Flaherty neared the end of his loop, his truck had spread so much of its payload on the pavement, it started fishtailing. “It feels like we’re out of salt, or close to it,” he said.
Pulling back into the lot after his nearly two-hour journey, Flaherty parked his truck and slumped in a chair in the depot office. He had only a short break before another four tons of salt would be loaded and his plow would be headed up Commonwealth once again.