The irony is his name: South. Terry South. This is his sander. And in it he’s sprayed and scraped the city streets for the last 13 years.
It’s a large white truck emblazoned with the city logo, a small shovel underneath, light brownish gunk encrusted on the chute on the back. The sign says: Keep Back 10 Metres.
Do people?, I ask.
“No,” laughs South, who takes tailgaters in stride. When storms hit, he sprays a mix of salt and sand on the streets. When things calm down, there’s sidewalks to do, gravel to pick up and pot holes to repair.
I’m here at District 1, where downtown snow removal is centred: Sanders, blowers, Bobcats. But these machines can’t match freezing rain, or storms that begin right before rush hour at 5 a.m., or 2 p.m.
South and I stand in the yard’s ankle-deep slush. He’s clad in workboots, an orange safety vest, and despite plunging cold, he’s not shivering. “Our snow, it’s goofy,” he tells me.
Calgary weather is famously volatile. And so are the tempers of Calgarians.
The winter of discontent has arrived. December snows paralyzed the city and many residential areas are still digging out.
Truth be told, feelings are a bit raw. “We’re working as hard as we can,” says South, while his baseball capped colleague chips in: “We have families, too, we are citizens, we care about the roads.”
The snow guys have a few things to say: Firstly, they are bound by city council’s snow policy and as much as they’d love to be on your residential street, they can’t. Secondly, there’s only so many of them, with so many pieces of equipment and they get stuck at red lights, in traffic, just like you.
And when some driver with bald tires spins into another, our road crews are stuck in a logjam.
Expectations are high. The city’s snow budget went over by $6 million last year.
So now it’s official. Ald. Brian Pincott will lead a review of all snow-clearing this year. He’s done the right thing. “We’ve gone over budget 15 of the last 19 years, we can’t pretend it doesn’t cost what it costs,” he says.
The number crunchers should come down to the yards, stand in the slush, hop in the truck cabs and help sand a street or two.