Stranger in the SnowThe blustering wind whirled large snowflakes across the ground and thrashed them across the windshield of my car. I parked in the garage of Lincoln's Public Works as I did every workday for the past eight years, but this was one day I hated to be there.
Before getting out of the car, I reached into the side pocket of my ski jacket for my cell phone. I decided to call my wife to find out the status of her condition. As I was about to press my home phone number, I saw my supervisor walking in front of my car. Anxious to speak with him, I dropped the phone on the passenger's seat and hurried out of the car. I remained calm, but the anger was building inside me.
"Jim, wait up!" I yelled, stepping into a pile of slush, thick and sticky like glue.
He stopped and looked at me. He could barely open his eyes with snowflakes lampooning in his face.
He appeared flustered and haggard. "What do you want?" He asked, impatiently.
"I can't work today, not with the way things are at home." I assumed he would understand, since he went through what was now happening to my wife and me.
"No," he said, bluntly.
"Mary could have the baby today. She's unable to drive to the hospital, especially in this crap." I found him to be adamant, opposed to my first fondness of him being serene, particularly after fathering three children. The man, I thought, had the compassion of rusty nails.
"I'm sorry, but with the lay-offs last month, there is a manpower shortage. I called everybody; this storm is paralyzing the whole town. The hospital is overcrowded. Ambulances and fire trucks can't get through the rural areas. I need all my staff, and that's final." He became flustered, threw up his hands, and walked away.
I returned to my car with my blood boiling. I unlocked the trunk, grabbed my lunch pail and thermal gray gloves. I slammed the hood and stomped through the snow to my truck. I started thinking about those pompous butt heads in city hall giving themselves fat raises last summer. Those weasels sniffed out the little guys, so then they stuffed their pockets even more. With our first baby soon to arrive, there was nothing I could do, but keep my mouth shut and do my job.
I climbed into my orange plow truck and drove to my assignment, which was Ballard Road. It was a ten-mile stretch of a two-lane highway that curved into the town of Lincoln. When I arrived, there were a few stranded cars that I plowed around them. Power lines were caked with ice, and branches of trees were toppled with snow. This storm had been the worst that I have ever seen.
I lowered the huge metal shovel attached to the front of my truck. The bottom of the steel blade began scraping along the wet asphalt. It pushed mounds of snow into the saturated grasslands along the edges of Ballard Road.
I worked three hours. However, the snow continued falling, and the road looked as though it had been barely plowed.
Feeling tired and hungry, I steered the truck off the road and began devouring my cold roast beef sandwich and my half of a bag of raisins. I suddenly realized much time had lapsed since communicating with my wife earlier that morning. I reached into the breast pocket of my jacket with my right hand for the cell phone. I moved my fingers along the nylon lining. Suddenly, I felt a knot in my stomach, as my fingers touched only a few pennies. My heart started beating rapidly, as I dived into a state of panic. I began searching all my pockets and looking everywhere in the truck. My hands were shaking, as my fingers fumbled turning the small latch of my lunch pail. I turned the pail over, spilling its contents, including the thermos of coffee that went splashing across the passenger door. I began cursing, throwing things, going through my pockets once more, until I realized I forgot the phone in my car. I grabbed the microphone and radioed headquarters to tell them to call my wife. They could inquire as to her condition and call me back.
"Hello! Hello!" I screamed into the mike. I heard a man's voice smothered by crackling sounds weaving in and out. "Is anyone there?" Then, I heard nothing, except the crystalline rain pelting off the windshield of the truck.
I rolled down my window and saw the steady accumulation of ice thickening on the pavement. I must go home. I tried transmitting to headquarters over and over again, but with the city's cheap equipment, I realized I had a better chance of winning the lottery. I turned the ignition key and gently tapped on the accelerator, slowly easing the truck back on to the road.
While clearing the road, my front tires started skidding on the ice. Slowly, I steered the wheels into the skid while gently applying the brakes until I had the truck under control.
Breathing a sigh of relief, I parked the truck on the side of the road. I began hammering the steering wheel with my bare hands, and crunching my teeth, as though I was a mad man. Everything was exploding inside me. I was full of rage. I tried calling the office, but the static worsened. I started turning the radio off when I suddenly heard Jim's voice. It was faint, but we could still communicate. I told him about my cell phone and wanted him to check on Mary.
"I'll have someone call your home as soon as possible."
"Better yet, get someone to relieve me, so I can go home." I snapped.
"I wish I could help you, but you got a job to do." He responded sternly.
"All the years I worked for you, I never asked for one damn favor. My wife needs me. I need you to cut me some slack. You said yourself; no ambulance or fire trucks could make it down side streets. At least with the truck, I could plow my way to the hospital. I'm disgusted enough to go home right now."
"That's your choice," Jim said tersely, "But, I warn you. You leave your post; don't bother coming to work tomorrow. With a kid on the way, I'd be careful making that hasty decision if I were you."
The radio went dead.
I slammed the mike against the dashboard and began pounding my fist on the steering wheel. I restrained myself from any irrational course, as I felt disparagement. A temporary discernment I would alter in the future.
Suddenly, I rendered my thoughts, as a silver Accord rode into view moving at a snail's pace.
What the hell! I thought. Only a person minus a few nuts and bolts would be out on a night like this.
I saw the car do a turnaround as the front tires skidded and the back tires glided along the thin ice, swirling the car into a ditch. I drove towards the vehicle, but hated to step out of my warm truck. Then I remembered the words my mom once said. "The worth of a man is judged not for the coins in his pocket, but the compassion in his heart." Mom was right, even if I had to trample knee-deep in snow.
I stepped out of my truck and approached the driver's side window. I saw a young woman. She looked frustrated and frightened when she saw me at the window. She hesitated in rolling down her window until I flashed my orange and white ID. Immediately, she turned her anxious glare into a friendly smile.
"I'm Dr. Greer," she said, then explained the ambulances were busy transferring victims of automobile accidents to the hospital. "I have a homebound patient in the middle of an emergency," the young woman added.
"Stay in your car, I'll do my best to get you back on the road."
I walked to the rear of her car and placed my hands on the trunk. With my feet planted into the snow and firmly on the ground, I pushed the silver Accord onto the road.
After she thanked me, I told her to follow me. I went back in the truck and pulled onto the road. With her car trailing behind me, I began plowing the snow, enabling the doctor to get a clear passage to the main thoroughfare of Lincoln. She honked her horn and waved goodbye. I felt good about helping a stranger. It even took away some of my bitterness that pained my day.
I continued plowing the snow that heaven kept dumping; I didn't receive any news, which I assumed meant Mary was okay. I thought of calling Jim, but I didn't want to cause another rift with him, maybe one that I wouldn't be able to plow myself out of this time; one storm a day was all I could handle.
A few hours passed when I saw a plow truck coming down the road. Bells of jubilation rang in my head. The driver signaled for me to go home, an offer I wouldn't refuse. Being around midnight, I decided to drive by the house and check on Mary, and later return the truck to the garage.
I pulled up to the front of the house and stared in disbelief. Momentarily, my heart stopped beating as I saw the silver Accord parked in my driveway.
I stepped out of my car and raced up the walk when my right foot slipped from under me. Quickly, my knees caved inward and my nose went diving into a blanket of snow. "Damn," I yelled, as I stood up and brushed the snow from my pants before storming through the front door. "Mary," I hollered, as I scurried up the staircase and into the bedroom. Dr. Greer stood over Mary, who was lying in bed. The doctor and I stared briefly at each other, as though we had both seen a ghost. My eyes quickly turned toward Mary. In her arms, she cradled a healthy baby boy.
I smiled, realizing the aid to a stranger that day not only warmed my heart, but brought joy to my life. "Thank you, doc."