We’ve had a rough stretch of snow over the past couple months. Since shortly after Christmas, it seems like we have gotten smacked with snow about every Wednesday. Our backs have taken a beating with all the shoveling we’ve had to do, but not as bad as the local street crews have by highbrows who fancy themselves armchair plow operators, filling in the comments sections on social media and writing letters to the editor.
You know the ones I’m talking about. The people who are convinced public works departments must not work overtime anymore, or have an arbitrary idea of how long it should take to clear snow from this neighborhood or that main drag. The people who somehow remember the winter of ’96-’97 as one of no snowbanks at intersections and streets so clean that no one could get into an accident if they wanted to.
Full disclosure: I worked for Fargo Public Works for a little over 10 years. I was there the winter of ’08-’09. I remember working some long hours. I’d have to look back to be sure, but I only remember having a few days off the entire month of January that winter. Then, we rolled right into the record flood. A flood season that saw yet another snow storm. We worked a lot. We put our lives on hold from mid-November until around the middle of May.
My daughter was born in October of ’08, and she would cry when I would finally come home and hold her at the end of a shift because she really didn’t know who I was. My son was 3 and he would scream when I left because he just wanted to play with dad.
Yes, we were getting paid. We made a lot of money that winter, but money isn’t everything. I have since left the department to pursue other things. My stress level is way down. My blood pressure is actually down as well.
People often talk about how easy city workers have it, but I’ll tell you – the numbers don’t lie. My blood pressure dropped considerably after I left. There is a lot of stress – like plowing snow in the middle of the night with people trying to pass the snow plows. There is a real danger of seriously hurting those people. It happens way more than it should.
Is it the most stressful job? No. But it wears on a person when you get home at 8 a.m. after working an 10- or 12-hour shift and read the nonsensical, “tough guy” comments from someone sitting behind a keyboard, drinking coffee, and fantasizing in their minds about how easy it would be to clean the streets of Fargo-Moorhead when they, in fact, have zero idea of what the first step of the process would be.
There are over 2,100 lane miles in Fargo alone, and it is growing every year. It takes time to clean that up. It doesn’t help that we’ve had four blizzards this winter, all within a four- or five-week stretch. Cleanup doesn’t happen at the snap of someone’s fingers.
I have to wonder how many times it is that same armchair plow operator who tried passing the pack the night before. Was it the person who left their car parked and running literally in the middle of the street so they could talk to their buddy about current events (or whatever it is those people are talking about) who complained on Facebook about how long it’s taking the street crew to clean the street?
Back to the present. I have a lot of friends who work in public works departments. They are working, putting things in their lives on hold. They are out there, and they are working to get the streets cleared as fast and as safely as they can.
They are doing the best job they can do. For what they’ve been dealt this winter, they are doing great.
Anyone who doubts that – you know who you are – should go and watch them work, if you aren’t too comfy in your bed at 3:30 in the morning. Do it at a safe distance. Give them plenty of room. You don’t need to be on the same block to see what they are doing. Watch them for a while. Sit there for an hour. Then, go to your keyboard and get on your soapbox about how lazy and inefficient they are. If you haven’t fallen asleep, that is.