John Martin thought being a New Haven “Yeti” had something to do with Episode Five of Star Wars. In the latest snowstorm, he learned that snow boots and shovels are involved, too.
Accompanied by neighbor Caroline Smith, Martin made his maiden voyage as a Yeti Tuesday morning and afternoon as the day’s predicted blizzard dumped a mix of ten inches of snow, sprinkle-sized hail, and freezing rain onto the city’s streets.
For hours, the pair of volunteers fielded shoveling requests from neighbors and commenters on SeeClickFix, a New Haven-based communications site that relies on citizen reporting of local issues. (Smith works at SeeClickFix the staff “impact manager.”)
Martin and Smith started the day at Pearl Street, where Martin lives. Smith has been a “Yeti” since 2014, when she was a senior at Yale and wanted to meet New Haveners by shoveling them out, finding requests from the homebound posted on the website Snowcrew. She’d mentioned it to Martin on Monday; he responded that he was game to try it. Then they recruited his roommate Max Chaoulideer, a third-year grad student in Yale’s German department.
From Pearl, they made their way to Bradley Street, where Martin owns and runs the Bradley Street Bike Co-Op. Requests started coming in, the first from Ellen Pendergast, who works at CitySeed but was snowed in for the day, and waiting for a chance to take her dog out to the bathroom. Her husband was shoveling down the street, she said, but a single shovel made slow progress.
Martin, Smith and Chaoulideer surveyed her porch, still-snowy sidewalk and slushy street, and got to work. As he worked, Martin recalled shoveling out his family’s driveway up the shoreline near Madison as a kid. He’d discovered that the act had a certain meditative nature to it, and grew to enjoy it each winter. It helps people out, he said—and keeps a body warm in the snow.
As he looked up from the newly-cleaned sidewalk, Pendergast opened her curtains and cheered him on from a living-room window. After her porch and steps had been cleared, she came out in her parka.
“This is so helpful,” she said, looking at a sweaty-faced Martin and Smith from under her fur-lined hood. Martin grinned in return, and finished shoveling out the rest of the sidewalk between the Co-Op and State Street.
Ducking inside the Co-Op, he pulled up the SeeClickFix on Smith’s laptop as the three shovelers shook off their wet coats and tried to dry out. Smith’s eyes fell onto a request: a snow-related concern on Sherman Avenue, a little under two miles from the Co-Op.
The two assessed their transportation options. A city travel ban was still in effect; streets were empty, save a few snow plows and police cars out on duty. The slush and freezing rain created dangerous conditions for biking. Their easiest option was a 40-minute trek that would take them from Orange Street to downtown, and then to Sherman via Whalley Avenue.
They suited back up. Chaoulideer headed home to make crepes, waving goodbye. Closing the Co-Op door behind them, Martin and Smith grabbed a shovel each.
“OK,” Smith said. “Let’s go.”
The walk, they found, was less treacherous than they had imagined. Watching for snow plows, the two stayed in the street, nodding to occasional passers-by. Hitting Whalley, Martin discovered that the sidewalk had been shoveled—some of the way—and hopped on, Smith following suit. They chatted about bucket lists: Smith wants to publish a children’s book, which she wrote and illustrated last year during her holiday vacation, and produce a piece of electronic music. Martin said he plays the guitar and drums. As they rounded Sherman Avenue, the goal didn’t seem far off.
They redirected their attention to searching for the address: 227 Sherman, where someone had reported being “physically unable to prepare for and remove blizzard.” Two blocks in, they found the house. Smith ran onto the porch to knock on the door.
No one answered. Martin joined her, pounding a little harder on the frame. Smith bounded across the street, where a family was digging out a car. They hadn’t filed anything on SeeClickFix, they said. Smith headed back over, just in time to see the door swing open.
Co-Op High School Senior Ja’Leah Swift stepped out into the doorframe, thanking Smith and Martin for making the trek out. Her mom, Yvette Redding, had learned about SeeClickFix from a friend the night before, and filed the request early on Tuesday. She had just had surgery, and was housebound. Swift was taking care of her, and couldn’t leave their apartment for long stretches of time. Without the Yetis, she said, they’d be effectively snowed in.
“What do you need?” asked Smith. Swift motioned to the perimeter—the sidewalk, porch, and street, plus a little of the driveway, where several cars were parked.
No problem, said Martin.The pair re-gloved and dug into the wet, white mix outside. The snow, he said, was surprisingly easy to lift. Sweat trickled down his face, mixing with a rain that soaked his jacket and the tufts of hair sticking out from his hood. Smith asked if he regretted the decision to try Yeti-ing out. No way, he said, shaking his head.
Watching them work, Swift laid a plate of hot chocolate-chip cookies on the stairs. “To say thank you,” she said.