Eugene Buchanan: Fear and loathing with snowblowers
I approach it with trepidation every year. You never know what kind of reaction you’re going to get after ignoring it so long.
No, it’s not my dog after a long absence, or even a visit to my doctor or dentist. It’s something far more crucial to living in Ski Town USA: my snowblower.
Each winter, I put it off as long as possible. The first couple of storms, I’ll convince myself it’s good to have packed-down snow covering the driveway’s gravel. I’ll feebly compact lone strips with my car and shovel high-use areas, knowing I’m just plugging the dike with my finger. All the while, my wife watches the driveway’s height rise inch by packed-down inch.
I can get away with it for smaller storms — the two- to three-inchers. But eventually the Big Kahuna lands, requiring the inevitable visit to the shed. This year, I made it all the way to Dec. 13, a near record.
I’m not sure why I prolong it. It’s not like a visit to the proctologist. It’s just years of mismanaged upkeep, knowing I’ll pay in shoulder-dislocating cord pulls and, like the above doctor visit, sputtering coughs. Then, I’ll invariably load it into the car to visit to the repair guy again.
But not this year. This year, Charlie Brown’s kicking it out of the park.
Knowing I’ve lost the snow battle, I squeak open the door and peek inside. There it is, a dog chained to his leash, waiting to roar to life. Still, if history is any indication, I’m doomed. Most years, my lawnmower moves from the dance floor are all in vain. Or I’ll get the bait-and-switch — a false positive luring me to place it into action too soon, only to see it stall halfway down the drive. The culprit each time — just as you get from the holidays’ seven-bean stew — is bad gas.
But this year, I have a couple of aces up my sleeve. It’s only taken 20 years of living in Ski Town USA to learn that you not only need to drain its gas each spring, but also let it run itself dry. So said the repair guy during last year’s visit, a ritual as regular as receiving Aunt Daphne’s fruit cake. He also advised using ethanol-free gas to replace the five-year-old fuel in my can. (Which brings up something I don’t get: That same old gas powers our $50 lawnmower perfectly, without all the witchcraft involved. Why the surgeon’s gloves for my snowblower?)
So I’m rightfully apprehensive. But, lo and behold, after four delicate primer pushes, moving the throttle from the turtle to the rabbit emoji and turning the choke — a little, but not too much, then back off again — my Craftsman 5.0 roars to life on the second pull, glenohumeral joint intact. It’s purring like our cat, Rufus, and wagging its tail like our dog, Java.
Re-learning which lever is the auger and which is for propulsion, I concoct a plan of attack. Start in the middle, not the outside (duh), and don’t bother with the areas I already shoveled. Then comes deciding which bank to throw to first and angling the shooter, like a water balloon launcher, for the best trajectory.
Then, I start my first lap.
The first sweep’s snow won’t reach the far bank — which is a bit demoralizing, knowing I’ll have to re-blow it — but there’s no alternative, so I plug on. I also have to calculate how much to overlap each lane. Get greedy and scoop up the full width, and I’ll have to re-blow the leftover ridge. Only take half and it means more laps.
After a while, I get in the zone, cherishing the little engine that could. Admittedly, its 179 cc, forfeit-my-Man-Card size is grossly under-horsed for our 1,500-square-foot driveway. But a bigger one just means bigger problems, which I have enough of with this one.
Oops, sorry about that piece of gravel, little buddy, and that mangled tennis ball. Collateral damage.
I forget to re-angle the thrower away from the shed door, plastering everything inside. Sorry, rakes. At the bottom, I throw snow onto an overhanging branch, dumping more on my head. Then, I go too far into a bank, making our driveway look like Italy. But I don’t go too far into the street; I’ll leave that for the city.
Up top, I barely make the turn before careening into the porch steps, a scar I’d remember all summer. Then, I head back down, eventually sucking up every white stripe in site.
After the last plume flutters onto the bank, I steer it back into the shed, releasing the auger just before splintering the door jam. Then, I switch it off, and all’s quiet. I’ve done it. I’ve gotten the monkey off my back for another season.
I turn and look at my work with pride. But like the monks’ library mandalas in summer, it’s a fleeting masterpiece. The next storm’s snowflakes are already starting to fall.
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