Greetings from the great white north of Area Six!
I am a proud resident of Schuylkill County, PA. We’ve lots to brag about–coal mines and strippin’ pits, patch towns and Mollies, Yuengling and Mrs. T’s Pierogies…oh, the list is endless. Oh, yeah. We also have a Ruby Tuesdays in Pottsville. (That’s part of the reason why Pottsville is the county seat–it’s got Ruby’s eclectic salad bar.) It’s okay to be envious. Really.
Well, maybe the only people who could possibly be envious are the southernmost Area Sixers. Sorry about the snow. We got a fair share ourselves but we’re rather bred for it. Us northern folk keep things like gas generators and buckets of shearing pins on hand for the snow blowers. Heck, we keep snow blowers. My brother even has a mini plow on his ATV. How’s that for skooky?
A few days ago, I watched the Philly news and they did a charming piece on how people are saving their dug-out parking spaces with folding chairs. They made it sound like a good idea and implied that people should respect their neighbors by not swiping spots.
Obviously, the reporter has never been to Schuylkill County.
Just as I had nicknamed the Schuylkill Expressway the “Surekill” during my seven-year residency in Philadelphia, I’ve come to call my beloved home by the same dead-on accurate term of endearment. Perhaps it comes from living so close to one particular mining town, which I’ll refer to as “Mos Eisley.” (I was going to add “minus the cantina” but, after doing a mental survey of this unique city, decided it would have been a misleading description.)
Every winter we get tons of snow and, since the municipalities blow their budgets early on, snow removal becomes akin to survival in the wild. Every house in town has a special road chair in their basement. Although the Road Chair may appear from time to time throughout the year–usually sporting a handwritten sign reading “coal”–during the winter, the Road Chair is seen more often than the residents themselves. They stand guard over their precious spots with jealous rage, daring anyone to deposit their hunk of junk into their hard-earned parking place. (Kind of like the Sand People: Ururururugh!…you get the picture.)
By the time February drags its sorry behind in the door, the folks in Mos Eisley are at full-out war. Since most of the town is street after street of row house, parking spots are already at a premium. The number of available spots actually decreases during snowy periods due to the huge mounds of snow that get piled up between the cars. Streets that are signed as “snow emergency routes” at least get a total plowing but that only lasts until those residents come out and shovel off their sidewalks into–you guessed it–the street. That’s because fines are passed out for uncleaned sidewalks (and because slip-and-fall lawsuits are frivolously frequent.)
To compound matters, many streets are too narrow for two lanes of traffic–or a decent snowplow. As a result, snow gets packed into filthy frozen ruts that make the street look more at home in some Middle Ages Mos Eisley. These ruts last well into March and make driving thought town a harrowing experience for someone who drives a big ole pick-up (like me.)
The end result is that Mos Eisley becomes a frozen wasteland of daily Road Chair battles and unavoidable collisions. Once upon a simpler time, kids made snow forts to play in. Now the adults commandeer those forts to use as blinds and they lie in wait, shot guns and beer quarts at the ready, for the next fool who decides they’ll just move the Road Chair out of the way (or in some cases, run it over. Such great sport…)
I myself do not live in Mos Eisley. I live in the country where I have three driveways and a barn. I get mad if someone parks on the street because then the muni snowplow can’t clear the road. Unfair as it sounds, I disparage the townies for not being better people, for not respecting their neighbors, for not putting in their own backache (or getting someone to backache for them.)
But I love the Road Chair Wars.
I daydream about driving through town in my pick-up with a co-conspirator. I’d disguise the truck with scrap metal until it looks like Mad Max himself might be on board. We’d lumber through town and yoink every single Road Chair and toss it in the back. I’d sell the Road Chairs at a flea market. That sounds a lot like stealing, though. Maybe I’d settle for taking all the chairs down to the empty lot at the end of town and leaving them there.
If I get caught, though, I’d be a goner. I can just see the Mossy Oaked-up lynch mob, pitch forks and torches and automatic rifles held aloft as they came for me, eyes ablaze with bloodlust. The thrill of swiping all those chairs isn’t great enough to risk certain death.
Reminds me of a story I heard recently. A writer friend of mine spent a year in Poland teaching English during one of the coldest winters on record. The government, which was under Communist rule at the time, would put out shovels at regular intervals throughout the town. People would stop and shovel a couple of swipes before continuing on. As a result, he said, the sidewalks and streets were the neatest he’d ever seen.
I told this story to a co-worker who lives not far from Mos Eisley. She retorted that what he didn’t mention was that the Commies would shoot you where you stood if you didn’t shovel. That wasn’t community working toward a common goal. That was fear for your life.
Eh. Either way, the streets got cleaned. Maybe my lady friend should visit Mos Eisley once they get the main roads open. Fearing for one’s life is still alive and well this winter.
Hope our Southern Sixers are a bit more civilized than us north-of-the Blue Mountain folk. As for me, it’s time to go out and play in the snow.
Pushcart Prize nominee Ash Krafton is a speculative fiction writer whose work has appeared in several journals, including Niteblade, 42 Magazine, and Silver Blade. In addition to co-editing this blog, she maintains her own at http://ash-krafton.livejournal.com.