I took the photo above on a February morning in 2011, standing in my garage, realizing that the drift on the right side of the photo was just under four feet deep. And thanking my lucky stars that “work” for me was a home office, just a few feet away, with a fully-equipped studio and a broadband internet connection.
Snow days are comin' again, my friends. Maybe sooner, maybe later, but they're comin'.
A few years prior to when the picture was taken, I’d have had to make the slog through my drifted-shut driveway at 2:45 AM, out of our huge unplowed cul-de-sac, up a steeply inclined road to get out of our neighborhood, connect via snow-covered streets to the Beltline, then slip and slide six miles west on the Belt - BEFORE the plows started work around 3 AM, get off, and battle another mile of snow-covered city streets to get to the broadcasting station.
That’s why for many years I've had an all-wheel-drive SUV with good ground clearance and the best set of snow and ice tires Tom and Linda Holmes could provide. When you’re a news anchor, you can’t call in. You have to get to work.
When I was doing the news anchor job up in the Fox Valley 30 years ago, on “blizzard mornings” the County Sheriff’s Office would call me at 2:30 AM and say “we’re going to have a plow and a cruiser at your home in 15 minutes to take you to work – no way you’re going to make it in on your own today”. They wanted experienced news anchors on the air, mainly to tell people to stay the hell off the roads until the plows had a chance to make a few passes.
I titled this post “Good Neighbors” because I have some of the best, in our little tight-knit neighborhood of 8 homes that all have driveways that let out onto a huge, round cul-de-sac. It’s been pretty much the same group of families for many years. We all know each other, we all get along with each other, and we all watch out for each other.
During those blizzard days before November of 2008, when I’d be battling the snowmeggadon at 2:45 AM to get to work, my wife would be left to fend for herself to get out of the driveway (which would likely have drifted shut again, about a half-hour after I departed) and get to work.
But I never had to worry. Either my good neighbor Anthony, next door to the west, or my good neighbor Sam, next door to the east, would trundle their snowblower over to our house and clear out the driveway so my wife could get to work. Or my good neighbor Dean, two houses to the west, would come over with his ATV and plow out our driveway.
Here’s a shot from a blizzard morning in December of ’09. That’s good neighbor Dean’s big red Dodge Ram truck behind Anthony's tree, half of which was blown down in that windstorm this spring - split the tree right in half! Dean's busy clearing out his driveway; and across the way Tim (there are two of us named Tim in this small neighborhood of 8 homes) and his wife are shoveling out their driveway. Tim is, among other things, a volunteer firefighter for our Township. He also manages a downtown entertainment venue. His wife is a teacher.
Here’s another shot from that morning, before I dug out our driveway. Because of the way our lot is landscaped, that’s one huge mountain of snow-covered decorative limestone on the right.
One of the things that inspired me to pen this post was a column written by my friend George Hesselberg for the State Journal a few years back, in which he talked about the partnership he and his neighbor established as joint owners of a snowblower. George put the column up on his Facebook page the other day, and after reading it, it reminded me of my own situation last winter. Or maybe it was the winter before – time flies, and all – when my good neighbor Anthony’s snowblower went out of commission right at the beginning of the snow season.
The first big snowfall, Anthony came over and asked me if he could borrow my machine – that he planned to buy another one to replace it, but that wouldn’t happen before he had to get his fancy long, low, black Lexus out of the driveway and off to work. I said “why buy a new one? I’ve got two – this new big-ass two-stage Power Max Toro, and my little two-cycle single-stage machine for those annoying little 2-3 inch snowfalls. Just come into the garage (I gave him the code for the external garage-door-opener thingy you can see on the vertical wall in the picture below) and take it whenever you want.”
Here’s a shot of my fleet of snowblowers and shovels.
Well, good neighbor Anthony said the only way he could accept that deal would be if he could use it to plow out his driveway and then do mine. I said that was absolutely unacceptable, and that if I was any kind of decent neighbor, I’d just blow out his driveway until he got around to buying a replacement.
We talked a bit more, but I could not dissuade Anthony from wanting to snowblow my driveway as compensation for use of the machine. Long story shortened, several weeks later Anthony had somebody look at his busted machine, and all it needed was a small, inexpensive part to fix it.
In my younger days, I moved around a lot, to a lot of different cities in a lot of different states, never living in one place for more than a few years; so I never really got a feel for what the phrase “good neighbor” means. We bought our house – which we refer to as The Morrissey Compound – in 1998. It’s the longest time – 16 years, going on 17- that I’ve lived in one place since growing up in my folks’ home in the Fox Valley.
Now, I have a clear understanding about “good neighbors”. The kind I have. The kind I’m thankful for.