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In Praise Of Snow Plows

I live on a state highway, so I generally wait to shovel my front sidewalk until after the plows have gone through. (Okay, the neighbor's been snow blowing my front sidewalk, having apparently taken pity on me. Something about those agonized groans and clutching at my back. The easiest way to make people think you have chronic pain is to actually have chronic pain.)

Technically there are parking spaces between my curb and the street, but I'm happy to say that doesn't stop the plows, unless there's something actually parked in them. Still, the state Department of Transportation trucks save those areas for last, and last weekend was no exception. The other day the Town of Albion got to the spaces first: I was sitting on the couch, doing that writing thing I do, when I heard heavy machinery slowly moving down the road. I drew back the curtain and saw a plus-size snow blower and a dump truck going slowly along the curb, picking up most of that snow in the parking areas.

It was a Sunday.

Snow plow drivers are one of those professions targeted by the arm chair quarterback. It starts with "they plowed in my driveway", and goes right on through everything else they do. And yes, they do plow in my driveway. They also once broke off a utility cap at the entrance to my driveway, which caused me to have two flat tires before I figured out what was going on. Oh, and they also allow me to get to work and the grocery store, reach the fire station for calls, take my kids to school, and just generally get out of the house.

Not that I want to get out of the house during winter, but still.

As is typical of such jobs, armchair quarterbacks have rarely actually done them. Visibility for drivers plowing snow is horrible even in their first hour at work, let alone their twelfth. They have to make multiple runs back to their base as their salt and sand run out. They have to put up with impatient drivers crowding them, and those trucks don't stop on a frozen dime. They have to work their way around cars abandoned in drifts, and often the car owners can't be found because they didn't bother to tell the police they got stuck. They go out, by definition, in the very worst weather.

But here's the specific thing that struck me that Sunday, as I watched the Town of Albion Street Department guys go by, and a short time after that an INDOT snow plow that still managed to deposit a layer of hardened slush on my sidewalk. It struck me that they were working ... and it was a Sunday.

I work in the emergency services, but as a 911 dispatcher it's shift work. It's very rare that things are so bad I have to stay over. If a snowstorm happens to hit during my days off, I almost never get called in. If the snowstorm is an hour out, and it's 7 a.m.--I go home. I don't have to brave the elements again until my next shift, unless my volunteer fire department gets called out.

But almost all snow plow drivers are on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. For most government entities and private snow removal companies, there aren't enough plows or people for the drivers to work eight hour shifts. When a storm hits, they don't get to watch it through the picture window just because it's a holiday, or a weekend. A snow plow driver works every storm, every time.

Okay, so they cover your sidewalk and block your driveway. Would you rather they lifted their blades as they go by, and leave the street covered? You would? Then you're an idiot.

Just sayin'.



I use this photo a lot, because it's the only one I have of a plow in action. Why? Because I don't go out in that crap if I can avoid it. Why? Because I'm not an idiot.

These guys, too.

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When I was supposed to be sleeping the other day I woke up with a stomach ache (long story), and went downstairs for some soda crackers and 7 Up. (They're called soda crackers, so you have to drink soda with them. That's the law.) Naturally I flipped on the TV, only to discover we were thirty second from launching a car into space.

By "we" I mean Elon Musk, the rather eccentric rich guy head of SpaceX, who I now love more than ever in a not creepy sort of way.

So I got to see it live, and it was so much fun I could almost forget the part about how I spent the rest of that afternoon in the bathroom, doing a little launching of my own. (Long story. Never mind, I'll write about it later.)

Musk was testing the Falcon Heavy rocket, the biggest space vehicle since the shuttle. He intends to use it to send people to interesting places like the Moon, Mars, and Uranus, which I understand is infested with asteroids. Since this was a test--Musk actually said pre-launch that the chance of failure was high--he decided not to put any important cargo on board. But he needed something to test its payload capacity, some weight ... and, looking around, he spotted the vast warehouse that contained his collection of over ten thousand cars.

I'm making that part up. All I can say is that if I had several billion dollars, I'd be launching stuff into space, and I'd also have a collection of antique fire trucks in a vast warehouse. Clearly he and I are virtual twins.

Anyway, he did happen to have a Tesla roadster sitting around, and also a mannequin dressed in a spacesuit. I'm trying hard not to judge, here. Besides, I'd have a spacesuit, too.

So he set the spaceman in the Tesla, a detail I didn't know about when I turned on the TV and found a giant spaceship on the pad. After launch the two booster rockets, in a display worthy of an Olympic event, landed simultaneously, ready to be reused. The main booster ... not so much, but two out of three ain't bad. Then the spaceship went into orbit around the Earth, and its roof retracted, and ... wow.

The last official Instagram from "Starman".

When Emily came in I got the footage online and played the whole thing over, still grinning ear to ear. It was just so cool. Elon Musk, in addition to understanding that the future of mankind lies in space, also has a great sense of showmanship and humor. When I grow up I want to be just like him, especially the rich part.

Musk sent the Tesla into deep space, having said there was a slim chance it might actually hit Mars, although apparently it wasn't aimed directly at the Red Planet. Instead the rocket overshot its mark, and is now on a long loop that will take it into the Asteroid Belt. I wouldn't be surprised if Musk did that on purpose, just to show off the capabilities of his rocket. I mean, the thing can haul 64 tons, so what's a sports car and an astronaut? Talk about an off-road race.

I applaud Elon Musk, and not just because I want him to send me seed money to launch my writing career. Space is still hard and dangerous, but it's also full of possibilities in resources, knowledge, innovation, and just plain being neat. One of the problems with the world today is that so many of us no longer have a sense of wonder, or understand the value of exploration for the sake of discovery. We need to get that back. And with our politicians busy infighting and backstabbing, it may be innovators like Musk who will take us into the next phase of the human adventure.

Or at least send me some cash.

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