A Juneau city employee plows sidewalks along Seward Street with an ATV in February 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

A Juneau city employee plows sidewalks along Seward Street with an ATV in February 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Slack Tide: Let’s Get Plowed

To characterize how I once spent my winters as merely “shoveling snow” would be a misnomer.

  • By Geoff Kirsch For the Juneau Empire
  • Monday, February 10, 2020 8:37am
  • Neighborssnow

To characterize how I once spent my winters as merely “shoveling snow” would be a misnomer, sort of like calling the stuff that collects at the bottom of a porto-john “honey.”

By the way, this is a real “honey” of a freeze-thaw cycle we’re stuck in, huh?

Point is, I’ve got the driveway from hell … when hell freezes over. For one, it’s long, steep, twisty and unpaved — you need 4WD in the middle of summer. The guardrail bears many a scar of those who’ve failed to heed this warning, from Leafs to taxi drivers to the several-ton roofing truck that once ripped it halfway off its moorings.

If that wasn’t enough, my driveway’s natural fall line ends in a drainage ditch and, beyond that, an imposing-looking utility box with an alarm and a phone number to call in case it goes off. Like, say, if you’ve careened into it with a several-ton roofing truck.

Also, we live high up on Blueberry Hill, a neighborhood some smug locals refer to as “Snob Knob.” Whatever you call it — I prefer “We’ll-See-Who’s-Laughing-Next-Time-There’s-a-Tsunami” — we’re usually at or above snowline.

Not only do we receive 50% more snow than the rest of town. What’s rain at sea level tends to be slush up here — several inches worth, which ultimately forms a surface I can best describe as a glacier smothered in grits.

Now, for my first dozen winters, I ran my own snow blower. After all, I may drink Diet Pepsi and own the DVD box set of “Golden Girls,” but I love gas-powered machinery as much the next guy. Few things smell more intoxicating than two-stroke exhaust on a cold day, although that could just be the carbon monoxide poisoning talking.

The thing about snow blowers is they really only work on snow. The stuff you find yourself “blowing” up here is more like a dirty, gray Slurpee — like what you’d find at a Bulgarian 7-11. Honestly, I probably spent more time clearing the chute and auger than the chute and auger spent clearing my driveway.

So I considered it a blessing when the blower finally bit the dust, and another blessing that I was able to hoist its carcass into our Subaru to bring to the scrap yard without rupturing myself. In that same spirit, I decided to hire a plow guy. No more winter hernias for me!

I’m not usually one for luxuries. Ask my kids: we use one-ply toilet paper; I wear Kirkland brand jeans. But paying someone to handle snow removal? For that, I’ll be bougie. What took me two agonizing hours, the plow polishes off in under five minutes. And our guy is an artist. He’s like the Michelangelo of V-blades.

Of course, certain situations still force me to attack the driveway from hell myself. For this I employ three different types of shovels, an ice chopper, a pick-axe and a splitting maul. No wonder why I’ve been popping so many ibuprofens lately; that might also explain the mysterious tingling sensations running down my left arm. Those are normal, right?

Although, when temperatures climb into the 40s, I’ll enjoy a temporary respite. Letting the rain shovel your driveway for you is as idiosyncratically Juneau as hanging up Tibetan prayer flags even though you’re not remotely Tibetan.

Point is, my driveway is my daddy; or, to put it another way, I’m my driveway’s b*itch.

I will literally spread a ton of gravel this year (in addition to whatever the plow guy throws down). Without it, my driveway would be like a very slanty ice rink, Zambonied each night with a glistening layer of snain. At $13 and change, bulk pea gravel ranks as the cheapest consumer good I’ve ever purchased, at less than 2 cents a pound. I’m seriously considering serving it to my kids and telling them it’s granola, which, by contrast, can cost $15 for an eight-ounce box.

Anyway, I suppose I could always re-grade and pave our driveway — an excellent opportunity to run gas-powered machinery.

But then how would we deter potential home invasions or door-to-door solicitors? The driveway may be from hell, but watching would-be proselytizers stop, assess the icy, muddy path that lay before them and reconsider?

Now that’s heaven.

• Geoff Kirsch is an award-winning Juneau-based writer and humorist. “Slack Tide” appears every second and fourth Sunday in Neighbors.

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