Every time I venture out to shovel snow, thoughts of a Polish immigrant named Robert come back to me. With every scoop, I remember Robert saying, “Oh, me a-a-a-ching ba-a-a-ck.” with his thick accent. I was shoveling snow as fast I could in the winter of 1998-99 and was counting on Robert for his promised help. Instead, Robert was soon warming himself in front of the office fire place.
During the interlude between my Capital-Journal years and my full-time career at KU, I was doing contractual work for KU and scrambling for freelance work. Having never proven myself to be a good businessman, my freelance work was not thriving. My KU work was growing rapidly, but I still found myself short on cash and too long on time.
Discovering the Regency Park Apartments manager was looking for a part-time grounds keeper, I applied. So it was that in the late summer of 1998, I found myself doing a wide variety of work around the expansive property off 21st Street in west Topeka. Robert was my supervisor.
The work was varied. Cleaning their swimming pool was easy. Picking up the trash, including the daily pile of cigarette butts someone would dump from their car ashtray as they waited for traffic to ease along 21st, seemed menial. Painting exteriors was fun. I learned a lot taking care of the landscaping. I was outdoors every weekday and enjoyed staying busy doing good honest chores.
The grounds were mowed by a professional contractor, but the “pleasure” of raking leaves and shoveling snow was left to me. Time would fly by as I dragged tarp after tarp filled with leaves to the dumpsters around the property. Then came the snows of a rather nasty winter and Robert’s cries over his aching back.
Robert loved to cuss. He used four-letter-words that began with F and S with almost every-other-word regularity. It didn’t matter whether he was talking to me or residents. Amazingly, most simply laughed at the ignorant sounds, heavily dosed in Polish accent, coming from his mouth.
The morning of the first heavy snow I was profanely briefed on the importance of speed when it came to shoveling snow so that resident’s stairs, sidewalks and drives were cleared early before everyone left for work. It truly was hard and taxing work racing around the grounds with my shovel in hand.
That is why whenever I shovel snow, I also always think of my friend Mike Van Dyke. That same winter, Van Dyke told me about his “Big Scoop”, a unique human-powered snow plow that he swore would make my life easier. I never convinced the manager of the apartments to buy one. By the spring, my KU work had grown to the point I could no longer do both jobs. But, I never forgot Van Dyke urging me to get a “Big Scoop”.
Today, I bought one. What a revelation. I was moving the six inches of snow at our house in record time, and there was no “a-a-a-ching b-a-a-a-ck.” Seriously, a tool I should have purchased years ago and one everyone should own.
Since Robert was married to the sister of my girlfriend of the time, I never got the chance to tell him how full he was of one of those four-letter-words he loved to use whenever snow would fall. However, right here and right now, I can say thank you to Mike Van Dyke for his advice even if it is far too many years late.
With snows shutting KU down today, Laura’s and my day was filled with the installation of a new garbage disposer, major re-organization of our monstrous book collection and lots of fun with Rocket in the snow. I did some mountain biking which was way more anaerobic than aerobic. Rocket stayed right with me. His running since surgery is so spirited. He runs and looks like a pup again except for his ever-spreading gray hair.
On Tuesday, we have been graciously invited to go with the KU women’s basketball team to Colorado for their final game in Boulder Wednesday night. Coach Bonnie Henrickson is well aware of our love of Boulder, and we truly are thankful for the opportunity to visit all our favorite outdoor stores before photographing the game.
We’ll also enjoy the temperature expected to be 16 degrees warmer than Topeka along with no snow. Stay warm, Topeka.