Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Big Dig

“You need a hand?” I’d call these the four most beautiful words in the English language, especially when spoken by a man holding a shovel and crossing the street to where I was digging out the Éclair. I had left work early to go to the hardware store and buy a shovel—a yellow plastic model with a steel-rimmed blade. It was not ideal—what I needed was a pickaxe—but it was all they had. The Éclair has been out on the street through two storms. She is parked on the right-hand side, meaning that the plow was angled against her. Not only was she buried in snow but tree limbs had fallen on her, and two of them were sticking up on the roof like antlers.

My new friend, Jose, knew exactly what he was doing. He told me to dig out the door first, so that I could get in the car and warm it up. Great chunks of crusty black plow leavings were barnacled to her side. We chipped away at them, tossing clunkers into the street behind us when there were no cars passing. He worked at the front end, and I worked at the back end. On either side of the car was a ten-foot mound. On the sidewalk, garbage bags were piled against the snowbank. I was parked in front of a gallery, and the two men inside, closing up shop, watched to make sure we didn’t throw snow on the sidewalk they had painstakingly cleared. A taxi-driver stopped opposite us, rolled down his passenger-side window, and laughed: "Hah-hah."

We cleared the exhaust pipe and the wheel wells on the street side. After a while, Jose told me to turn on the defroster. He dug a path through to the sidewalk, while I pushed the snow off the roof and the hood and the trunk and the windows. (I was relieved to find no parking tickets under the snow.) He had an excellent shovel, a garden shovel, squared off, the better to chop ice. He called it “my baby.” He kept showing me his technique, and mentioned that he was with the Department of Sanitation. When it came time to move the garbage bags, he said, “I do garbage, too.”

I wasn’t actually going anyplace—word arrived today that "Alternate Side Parking regulations remain suspended Citywide until further notice"—but the weather report was so dire that I felt I ought to do something. We are in for fifty hours of wintry mix: freezing rain, snow, regular rain, and then ice. Imagine that on top of ten inches of old snow. Jose recommended that I come out in the morning and start her up again, and I knew that would be a good idea. I paid him handsomely, and we parted, but not before I took time to admire what a handsome parking place we had carved out. Only then did I notice that the gallery I was parked in front of had in its window a hologram of the Taj Mahal.

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