Snow Day

To all of you who got an email with a half formed blog post, I’m really sorry. I got the “preview” and “publish” buttons confused, and the idea itself wasn’t going in a great direction anyway….

Speaking of large blunders that I’ve made, remember all my rhetoric about listening to people and ensuring that they own the process of development? Well, I was at a birthday party tonight, and a certain event from about two months ago came up. Here’s how I remembered it:

It was the snowiest morning of the winter. We had gotten like 40 cm overnight and all the schools were closed. I was on my way back from a morning run when I saw a woman stuck in the parking lot in front of our apartment, wheels spinning in the snow.
Feeling pretty macho after the snowy run, I approached her to see if she needed assistance. She didn’t speak much English, but was pretty obviously distressed about the whole situation. She kept gunning the car, and so I got behind to help push. After a few meters of progress, another passerby joined the battle. By now we had the car around the corner and were facing the exit. As we pushed, another neighbor named M came out, one who knew me and the woman in the car. Despite a language barrier, we managed to work together to get the car through the lot and out on to the road. I felt a rush of adrenaline as we watched then drive down the street, the women waving thankfully back at us.

Just tonight, with the help of a translator, I heard another side of the story. It went something like this:

I wasn’t sure whether I was expected to be at school today or not, so I thought I would try and get to the college. I got into my car and my wheels started spinning, and I thought “I bet the roads are dangerous; I had better stay inside.” However, some people came behind me and started pushing, and I didn’t know how to tell them to stop, so I just drove over to your apartment building to see what my friend M was doing. We decided that we would just stay at her apartment. That’s when you came and started pushing my car. When M came out, we didn’t know how to tell you that we wanted to stay, because you were working so hard to get us to go. We felt obliged to drive somewhere, so we went to the library. It was closed, so we came home.


– Not only did I make an incredibly stupid mistake, I was the second person to do make it! The problem seemed so obvious, and I was so ready to be the hero that I didn’t think twice about pushing a car onto the road, an action which endangered the life of the very person I was trying to help!

– The application is so obvious that I am typing it out only so that it engrains itself slightly deeper into my brain. When I see a problem, the first thing I need to do is stop and listen, to find out what peoples’ goals for the situation are.
I dare not size up a situation from afar, run in, and muscle my way to a solution. It’s not that it won’t work, it’s that I might end up pushing someone out who wants to stay in the parking lot.

– I only heard this story because we happened to meet with someone who was: 1) able to translate and 2) willing to to be honest about a pretty embarrassing story for everyone involved. There aren’t a whole lot of people who would do that, and it takes even more guts to be brutally honest when money and power become a factor.

Tread carefully, the snow is deeper than you think.


4 thoughts on “Snow Day

  1. love it, this is exactly what i’m trying to figure out in the context of sociological research (who wants to be researched? who decides what the questions and methodology are? etc.)
    how exactly did you come to hear the other side of the story?


  2. What a great story and one with a great lesson too. And it made me smile, because I’ve really enjoyed being a winter time super hero in years past while out running. I’ll copy and paste a story from my website in 2008… (only because it’s part of a super long page about my marathon training where this story doesn’t have a usable URL)

    February 7, 2008

    There are days when you go running and think, oh gosh, I’m out here again, and there are days when you go out running and come back home laughing or with a great big smile on your face. Today was one of those days. I had gotten up early and headed out at about 7:00 AM after a night of very heavy snow fall. Mer and I woke up to the Chym FM report of which school buses weren’t running, but apparently some schools were still open.

    As I turned off of Fischer Hallman onto Roxton, an older lady was stuck trying to make it up the hill back into her driveway. She asked whether I could try pushing, but after a few runs at it we gave up and went to find some of her neighbors that were there shoveling their driveway. Even as a team of three, we couldn’t get the car up the hill. Fortunately, the snow plow came by and we were able to back the car into someone else’s driveway, let the plow go by, and then try again. This time it worked and she was home free. I waved goodbye and kept going.

    Five minutes later, I came across a more amusing predicament: A short school bus, stranded in a divot, spinning its wheels back and forth hopelessly. I ran up to the side door and it opened. “Looks like your stuck” I said. The lady replied that she couldn’t believe they’d send the buses out on a day like this. I told her that I had helped a car a ways back, but “A school bus is a little heavy to push”. She didn’t have a shovel either, so I apologized and kept running.

    As I ran up one of the highest income streets in Waterloo (Mike L. from RIM lives there apparently), I saw an old man snow blowing his driveway and stopped to ask whether he had a shovel. He did, and so I headed back the way I had come to see if I could help the school bus. By that time, the lady was out there with an axe, chopping away at the snow, all the while the kids sitting in the bus watching the action. I got to work with the shovel clearing snow away from the back tires, and then another man approached to help. We decided to try pushing, rocking the bus back and forth. As we heaved with all our might, the bus started rocking back and forth higher and higher, and eventually broke free of its divot. The lady thanked us and headed off down the hill.

    My run continued out of the neighborhood, up Erbsville Rd., and into Columbia Forest. And then there it was: An identical school bus, stuck. I had to laugh. Was it the same lady? No, it was another poor school bus driver, stuck in a divot just like the last. I went and found another shovel, cleared away the snow from the back tires, and then a group of three of us pushed and heaved it free and into someone’s driveway. The plan was for her to back the school bus out of the driveway and drive backwards down the hill, eventually turning onto the next side street, so that she should get going down the hill forwards. We had to laugh as this poor lady tried to back down the hill, unintentionally drifting sideways and almost landing the bus right into the high snowbanks. I guess she was a bit of a rookie. Anyway, she eventually made it as planned and headed off.

    After rescuing one more car, I headed home. When I got back to Erbsville, there was a steady stream of cars and absolutely no opportunity to cross the street. What to do? I noticed a crossing guard there and said “How on earth am I going to get across here?” at which point she smiled, raised her sign, and walked out into the traffic to allow to me run along. Brilliant!

    My short stint as Superman was over, and I made it home in time to quickly shovel our driveway, shower, and get to work by 9:20 AM.


    1. Thanks for sharing! The story is made better because I know those roads too!
      Winter roads are scary, but the feeling of running through the snow makes you feel like a hero….do you still blog often?


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