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Boston Weather: 78.0°F | A Few Clouds

Snowplows Irk East Campus Residents

Guest column by Stephanie A. Jenrette

The winter of 1994 is special in my mind for several reasons. First, being from the South, I had never really experienced snow. Second, while living at East Campus, I had never experienced Physical Plant. Now some of you may be thinking, "This girl has lost her mind. She's reminiscing about Physical Plant." But wait! Before passing judgment, hear me out.

First, one must understand the philosophy of Physical Plant. It would seem that phys-plant workers adhere to two general rules when plowing snow: first, plowing the most traveled areas is unnecessary because pedestrian traffic will eventually trample down the snow anyway, and second, if plowing is necessary, scrape the ground clean only between Walker Memorial and the Great Sail and only between the hours of 4 and 7 a.m. This is the honest-to-God truth. Many a morning have I been awakened by the sound of a plow pushing snow from one side of the Great Sail to the other.

It also would seem that our intrepid phys-plant workers love to back up their plows. This revelation came in early February, when my roommate and I woke up to the sound of the alarm at 6 a.m. - except it was not the alarm, but the incessant beeping of a snowplow jammed in reverse. Annoyed, but too tired to complain, I just hoped that the plow would have to stop backing up sometime - a mistake commonly made by those uninitiated in the ways of Physical Plant. We may thus deduce the third rule of phys-plant: Whenever possible, put the plow in reverse, especially while letting the plow idle.

I know what you're thinking: Where does physical plant find these people? I took it upon myself to infiltrate the ranks of the phys-plant workers in an attempt to find the answer to this burning question. While searching through top secret files, I came upon the test Physical Plant gives to prospective snowplow drivers. Sample question:

41. It has just started to snow heavily and more is predicted for the coming night. As a snowplow driver, what is your first course of action?

(a) Check and warm up the equipment to ensure smooth running as you plow.

(b) Take out the plows immediately and try to get the area between Walker and the Great Sail clean.

(c) Wait until 4 a.m. and plow the area between Walker and the Sail, backing up whenever possible.

The answer, after applying the three commandments of phys-plant, is of course choice (c). If you answered this question correctly, you too can join the storied ranks of the Snowplow Drivers.

As the term wore on, we started having breaks between snowfalls and could actually see the grass again. When it did snow, it often warmed up enough to melt what little fell. The snowplow drivers, for lack of anything better to do, started other, equally useful tasks. One example: digging a hole outside of East Campus, creating a ruckus in the process, and then putting cones around it - all before noon. Perhaps they thought that the residents of East Campus missed the oh-so-soothing sound of metal scraping concrete at seven in the morning, and decided to give us all a special encore. Fortunately for us (and the pavement of McDermott Court), the snowing resumed.

Now the snowplow drivers, seeing the end of winter a paltry eight weeks away, decided to spend as much quality time plowing as possible. A fellow resident awoke one morning to find the plows going even though all of the snow had melted. After calling to complain, he was informed that Physical Plant was plowing to remove any stray patches of ice that might "damage the equipment" before the next snowfall, scheduled for that night (which subsequently turned into slush). Now I am not as knowledgeable about snowplow care as phys-plant workers, but it seems to me that scraping the blade against dry pavement would be, well, bad for the plow.

I have reached the end of my sordid tale, wondering what the future holds for East Campus and the snowplows, what new boundary of stupidity will be broken. Just this past morning, as I was ending my first all-nighter of the term, I heard the familiar incessant beeping of the plow coupled with the requisite scraping. There was no snow on the ground that morning, and I did not even look to see what the plow was doing - I did not want to know. I can only be thankful that the city of Boston doesn't adhere to the creed of the Physical Plant. I tremble to think what horrors would await us on snowy mornings, where the parking lot of the local Dunkin' Donuts is scraped as clean as a whistle while Massachusetts Avenue lies under a foot of snow, waiting for the traffic to trample it down.