Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Entrepreneurship and Snow

We haven't had a lot of snow this year. Nor did we have much snow last year. And it has been unusually warm. People notice these things and talk about them--how odd it feels, to have a winter without snow. Not to mention the fact of last summer's drought and the overall need to have our earth drenched in whatever way nature wants to provide it, snow being one option.
     Because we're in the Midwest, where snow used to be a given, we have all kinds of routines for dealing with it--the big plows that the cities own, the huge storehouses of salt, the shovels and snow blowers and bags of salt and snow boots that we civilians have. What happens to all that equipment, and the industries around them, if the snow goes away?
     Well, we don't have to worry about that today, because we are having a very respectable and commodious snowfall--beautiful and fluffy, clinging to the trees and pine needles and shrubs and everything in sight. Also, collecting on the streets and sidewalks and making difficulty for travelers of all kinds.
But at least it feels normal.
Anyway, in my neighborhood, when it snows, men go from house to house, snow shovel in hand, asking for work shoveling. Years ago, I seem to remember that it would be neighborhood kids going around asking to shovel, but for a long time now, partly because of where I live (on the border with the West Side of Chicago), it's grown men, and I think they need the money for more than comic books and movies. But because we haven't had any snow for a while, I hadn't thought much about that whole topic. And then today came, mid-morning, and the snow was falling, and my doorbell rang.
     I looked through the window, and it was a young man--really, I would guess that he was a teenager (why wasn't he in school?).
     "Can I shovel your snow?" he asked.
     "No, thanks. I'm going to do it myself later." Which is true. I actually kind of like shoveling snow--the exertion, the cold air.
     "I only charge five dollars."
     "But it hasn't snowed very much yet. It's supposed to keep snowing, so I'd like it to fill in a bit." This was also true. The prediction was for 10 inches, and we barely had two yet. And as a sidenote, this whole conversation was going on through the locked front door, so we both kind of had to shout. I don't open my door to strangers. And especially, I'll admit, not to a teenage stranger who looks West Side-ish (whatever that means; I'll let you hypothesize).
     "Do you want me to come back later?"
     "Ahhhhh. Let's see how it goes." Which I realize is a bit of a meaningless statement. And he left. And it continued to snow. And then mid-afternoon, I went out and shoveled.
But I thought about that young man a lot. I felt that he might have some kind of business sense (stating a price like that, right off; offering to come back later) and that perhaps I should have rewarded him for that, encouraged him. On the other hand, I hadn't asked what the $5 included . . . front and back . . . just the walk up to our house . . . the whole public sidewalk in front of our house? I wasn't sure what I would do if he didn't do a good job. I wasn't sure if I'd want to open the door to him to pay him even if he did. By the end of the day, I was questioning whether his business model made any sense at all. Why come out and ask to shovel before hardly any snow had fallen? Even if you're trying to beat the competition, when you're too early, the gesture can seem or actually be meaningless. Which was it for him--a meaningless gesture or an entrepreneurial heart? Good grief. Life is complicated.


Anonymous said...

First, good to see your blog!
It's sad (an over-used word) but true that what we did without negative thought, was to open our door upon hearing a bell or knock. But your doubts are well-founded, which makes "sad" even sadder.
While door-to-door solicitation is one more sign of a struggling economy, we can't put ourselves in the possible dangers we face going about our daily business and trying to be helpful to those who may honestly need some support. The days of leaving our packages on shelves in the foyer of the once beautiful J.L. Hudson Company and having no thought about them not being there to take home after shopping no longer exist, especially since imploding the building seemed to be a better idea than using it for homeless people, who would have had the convenience of 75 bathrooms on the 4th floor and a restaurant on the 13th floor, both of which could have been renovated.
Instead we must now be concerned with our safety even in our own homes. We must be responsible for ourselves, our families and our friends first. Just like the person wanting to shovel your snow, despite his unknown intentions.
Those who know you will assure you that you were smart to put your safety and doubts first.

Susan Messer said...

Thanks so much for reading. It's hard to keep up the blog along with everything else. When inspiration hits, I go with it.

It's true about Hudson's. It does seem like a waste . . . that huge building and so many homeless. But someone would have to maintain it and so forth, and who had the money for that, so . . . they just knock it down.

Patry Francis said...

So good to see your snow--and especially your blog. I love the way you continued to think about the boy at the door so long after he was gone. In the story you created in our minds, he was on the edge of many things--menacing, a little pesky, and then most likely what he became in your ruminations: determined and eager to work. I imagine you looking out your window in other storms and expecting to see him again. And now, I can almost see him through mine.

Susan Messer said...

OH, Patry. Thanks. I wish it was easier in this life to just be more human.