I spent nearly an hour this afternoon digging my car out from a pile of snow and slippery ice. I had done the same thing yesterday, though it was less ice and much more snow. Winter in a cold climate tests one’s will to commune. All those hours holed up indoors means that you’re not interacting with people, nature, or the world in general.
This afternoon I was convinced that it was time to get out. Time to persevere (against a zero-degree temperature) and try, at least a little, to get something done. So I packed my side bag and headed out to the gym. That’s when I met my hurdle: digging out the car.
I started the activity the way I normally do: by starting up the engine (because if it’s too cold for that to happen, then there’s no point in the rest) and blasting the defroster. I then brushed and scraped the car, and checked the tires to make sure they were in a good position to free themselves. Everything looked fine, and as I waited for my windshield to fully defrost I thought positively about how I would get out of my spot. I pictured the car rocking gently back and forth and then, almost comically, jumping out of its spot and onto the nice, soft, well-plowed street.
The ease of my vision was not to be in real life. I rocked my car plenty, but managed to get myself stuck and re-stuck three times. Yes, that’s right, I said three times. Each time I ran into my apartment building and grabbed the steel-headed shovel, ran back outside and cleared as much ice as I could away from the wheels. And each time I found myself stuck again, only to repeat the whole process.
Finally, in frustration, I decided to give up. This was enough of a workout for the day. Shoveling snow is not as easy as it may sound. You have to realize that that soft snowy powder that you may be picturing eventually turns into big, heavy boulders of ice and hard rocks. (This is why there are many heart attacks during winter…people forget how difficult it is to shovel snow.) As I surveyed where my car lay, I realized I was blocking an alleyway. So not only was I stuck and ready to give up, but I also had to do something to get myself unstuck.
Luckily, a nice man from the next apartment over had seen my struggle and came outside to offer a hand. After a bit of pushing he was unable to free me from the predicament. We talked about strategy for a few minutes, and then another man showed up. “Easy on the gas, real easy,” he said. Another couple of heaves and ten seconds later my car was free.
When I returned home a bit later after a drive to cool my insides down I found a nice parking spot that should be a bit easier to get out of. As I approached my apartment I spotted a car with its wheels spinning. With the driver accelerating, I pushed the car out of its spot. A few minutes later when I ran to my car to pick up the forgotten shovel, I spotted the man I had pushed out helping yet another stranger. As I passed he waved and said thanks, and I relayed my story of just an hour earlier. We laughed it off and shared a, “yup, it’s finally really winter again” moment.
This is what it’s like to live in Chicago. It’s a city that’s tough as it is soft. It’s a place where people push past and look out for each other. A place where we don’t interact much in the winter, but when it’s needed, people are glad to lend a hand.
This is where I live and despite the tough parts, I love when the gentle, helpful side of this city emerges. It’s like no other place I’ve lived.