Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Plowman Cometh

As we face another round of significant snowfall, I tip my woolen hat to a stranger who's brought a very particular kindness to the neighborhood.

For a while, this mystery good samaritan was known only by what you see in the photo above. These are the tracks from his plow, which he's been taking out once or twice a day after accumulating snow to clear about 10 city blocks of city sidewalk.

The city of Chicago, like most municipalities, offers snow clearing from the roadways as part of your tax dollars. The sidewalks, though, are left to the residents. I'm not going to linger over this inequity, but it's always sort of stuck in my craw.

This is why the plowman's act is such an amazing gesture. The guy doesn't seem to want credit or even recognition, just to make things a little easier for his neighbors. And not just his immediate neighbors, mind you, but a fairly protracted radius around him.

For a long time I never saw the plowman himself, only the fruits of his labors. One night a few weeks ago, though, as I was settling into bed beneath my street-facing window, there he was. Low hum singing from his plow (which looks like a riding lawnmower), pleasant amber light revealing a path in front of him.

It was like spying a deer in the woods. Or a UFO. Or Santa Claus. Or Cher walking down the street (not the present-day botoxy Cher, but a circa-1972 Cher in a Bob Mackie costume). Or an arrowhead. Or a yeti. Or Boo Radley leaving a pocketwatch in a tree.

You get the idea.

In times marked more by fear and intimidation, where ugly intent seems more plentiful than its opposite, it's especially moving to see such acts of generosity hit so close to home. I've lifted more than a few snow shovels in recent years, so I feel this man's kindness in both heart and body.

Some neighbors have sleuthed out a few facts about our samaritan. He apparently lives a block west of us. He's a Vietnam vet who hangs an MIA/POW flag proudly in front of his house, which is little more than a shotgun shack. There's been a For Sale sign in front of it for at least four years. He's divorced. He drinks a bit. He's a vintage car enthusiast, and he often drives a restored 1908 Oldsmobile around the neighborhood in the summer.

In short, he's one of the growing cast of characters of this neighborhood, and arguably its latest folk hero.


tracy said...

This makes me happy! Chicago!
Every neighborhood deserves a quietly heroic Boo Radley. What a guy.

Rosemary said...

Blessings on that man! I've been cursing my neighbors who haven't moved an inch of snow from their sidewalks, more than two weeks after our big storm.

berdawn said...

Oh, that brightens my day! What a nice contrast to your last post. I'm with you on the dumbassery of plowing streets but leaving pedestrians to fend for themselves; in C-bus, the plows push the snow BACK onto the sidewalk I'd just shoveled...grrr.