The woman deposited a shovelful of snow beside her driveway just as we drove past, and it looked like she might collapse and deposit herself headfirst into the pile she’d just created.
“Man, she’s doing that whole driveway by herself with a shovel?” I said to the dog, who yawned; Memphis has little appreciation for the finer points of snow removal. Snow disappears from the driveway, food appears in the bowl, poop vanishes on our walks: the world is full of magic.
For most of the morning, drizzle had been falling on top of the snow, turning each shovelful into a sopping, leaden concrete approximation, the stuff that keeps chiropractors in business. I’d just spent the previous hour liberating my family with our trusty snow blower, and as soon as the driveway became clear, my wife, Kara, opened a window to let me know that she’d ordered pizza to be delivered to our house in a few minutes, by me.
When Memphis and I returned to our neighborhood with the pizza, we passed the lady again. Fifteen minutes had transpired, and she’d advanced about three inches down her driveway.
“You guys get started on the pizza. I’m going to take twenty minutes to go help this poor lady down the street. I’d want someone to help you if you were ever in that situation,” I said.
“If I were in that situation, I’d pick up a phone and a credit card, not a shovel,” Kara replied.
I was reminded of the time twelve years ago, when Kara and I bought our first house together, and we made a trip to Home Depot at the beginning of our first winter there.
“We’ll need a couple of these,” I said, pulling two snow shovels out of the bin.
“Why do we need two?” she asked, and we stared at each other. We’d each been making some assumptions about the other person’s role in the snow removal process.
“I thought you’d want some help,” I replied.
I parked my snow blower at the end of the woman’s driveway. She only lives about five driveways down, but we’d never talked, because learning your neighbors’ names only mattered before iPhones were invented and actual people became obsolete.
“Hi! Would you like some help finishing this off?” I asked, the idea suddenly striking me that perhaps my attempt at neighborliness was actually super weird.
“Oh, no, we have a snow blower, I just couldn’t get it started. Maybe you could look at it?” she said.
At the entrance to her garage sat a beautiful, bright orange, brand new, gas-powered snow blower. It was a parallel-universe version of my snow blower, with similar knobs but more of them, so it still felt like I was staring at the cockpit of an F-16.
“Hmmm, it can take a plug, just like mine,” I said, pointing to the electric-start receptacle.
“We don’t have a cord that’s long enough,” she said.
I checked the knobs and gave the starter rope a pull. Then another pull. Fiddle with a knob, pull again. Different knob, ‘nother pull. By the fifteenth pull, my credibility went PUTT PUTT PUTT silence.
Just as I was about to declare the situation hopeless, my eyes wandered to the garage wall, where a neatly coiled, 50-ft extension cord hung.
“That cord right there isn’t long enough to reach any of the plugs in your house?” I asked.
“Sure, but it’s not long enough to reach the whole driveway,” she said.
All of a sudden, I had useful information. You just use the electricity to jolt the engine to life, in case you don’t have access to anyone with muscle enough to start it the real way, like us. One minute later, the snow blower roared to life.
She clapped at first, then looked sad. “I just spent two hours shoveling for no reason,” she said.
The important thing, though, is that she could finish the driveway without flopping down face-first into it. But perhaps most importantly of all: the pizza was still warm.
You can build good fences between you and Mike Todd at firstname.lastname@example.org.