Eyes bloodshot, city plow driver Mario Anez was back at the wheel Tuesday navigating the Hill’s narrow Frank Street and peering through yet more snow cascading from the sky.
Anez had worked a 17-hour shift the day before. He drove through Winter Storm Pax. Through Nika. Through Quintus. Through Janus.
Through snowfalls that keep coming and coming, piling up the obstacles for him and the city’s other endurance plowers.
Tuesday brought an unexpected 4 to 5 inches of fresh white stuff. That meant Anez and co., rather than digging out from the wrath of the four storms past, had new snow to keep up with.
Behind the wheel, Anez’s eyes were open wide, his manner even-keeled. Asked about that endless snow, about the drivers blocking the path rather than parking off-street, he offered a shrug.
“You’ve got to take it with a grain of salt,” he said.
That’s a lot of salt. Some 80 public-works drivers, including trash-collectors pressed into double duty on the plows, worked 16-hour days for much of last week. They got off at 4 p.m. Friday; Saturday saw just a skeleton crew on the roads. Then the full rotation started back up at 11 p.m. Sunday, beginning another week of double shifts.
Their boss, public works chief Doug Arndt, said the drivers have kept their spirits up. Kind gestures—a thank-you visit Friday from Mayor Toni Harp, for instance; a free meal served at Hillhouse Monday—have helped.
The plow-driver’s job has gotten extra hard this month because of the city’s failure to enforce previous odd-side-of-the-street parking bans. That has narrowed the space in which they can maneuver.
Anez’s plow had just inches of extra room on either side of still car-clogged Truman at Barclay. Much of the neighborhood was like that. Originally, public-works crews were supposed to tackle the accumulated mounds of ice and snow on five of those Hill streets Tuesday with a special removal operation; the city had to delay that operation a day in order to send a caravan of small plow-equipped Ford pick-ups like Anez’s to clear the new stuff and sand the slick roadways.
Anez, a 12-year public-works veteran of DPW, began Tuesday’s shift at 7 a.m. At 11 a.m., he made a second pass through narrow Frank Street (pictured).
“Our main goal is for emergency vehicles” to be able to pass, he said as he deftly maneuvered his Ford 550 pick-up.
Next stop was Hurlburt Street, which he saod posed more of a challenge. “An obstacle course,” Anez called it.
Near the intersection of Hurlburt and Spring Street (pictured), he slowed down his already slow pace.
Anez pointed out the mound of frozen snow on the right side of the street that was being powdered over.
“Sometimes it will make me move left,” he said. That unexpected lurch, however modest, can be serious. With little room to spare on either side of the eight-foot plow he was using, the movement can result in scratching or dinging or the sudden removal of a side-view mirror. (Like when fellow plow driver tried to get through Chestnut Street last week).
In storms gone by this has happened to Anez. So far this season he has batted 1.000 (or zero, depending on how you look at it). No dings.
Not all narrow streets in the Hill are potential ding-alleys. On Button, where parking is always limited to one side, Anez could lower the plow and move the snow to the open side with a lot less tension.
“We don’t have a problem,” Anez remarked as he moved along Button off Lamberton Street and then down to Rosette.
Follow the Plow
The Hill’s poorly cleared streets in particular have sparked complaints from neighbors.
“My goal is not to get angry, but to teach, to guide. We have residents who thank us. Some get angry,” Anez said. “We apologize. We can’t make everybody happy in a snow storm no one expected.”
Anez’s truck bumped and rattled as he turned back onto Truman and lowered the plow. The snow from the previous storm had not been removed. His plow hit the mass that had frozen.
“You see how the plow bumps. If we don’t get through [in time], the snow freezes, and then you have a problem, because the truck bumps, and you hit a vehicle,” he said.
So Anez and at least three other drivers, all piloting small vehicles, made second passes as the snow kept falling mid-day Tuesday.
“We opened a lot of streets. It could be better, if residents did their part,” he reflected.
One who had done his part is Alex Bermudez. He stood on his porch near the corner of Truman and Barclay streets as Anez passed.
Anez planned to hit Westville after completing the Hill. Beyond that? Who knows—when the snow will stop, and when the plowdrivers will return to something resembling a normal schedule.
Doug Arndt planned to send Anez and the other drivers home by 10 p.m. Tuesday. Then it’s back to work Wednesday morning, 5 a.m. for some of the drivers, 7 a.m. for Anez.
“We reminded them this morning that unfortunately it feels more like the third quarter, not the fourth quarter,” Arndt said. “We have to keep in mind we have a lot of winter to go.”