Meet Josh Horner, city snow plow and dump truck operator. He's been busy.
I rode with him on Friday morning in a growly yellow dumper. Naturally, I would have preferred riding in his grader with its giant metal insect body and its headlight eyes. Horner would have, too. But, plowing is a solitary occupation. A snow plow has no shot-gun seat.
Horner is a slight, polite guy in worn Carhartts who just turned 30. We headed over to Independence Park to pick up a load. The sky was clear. Horner likes that. Anchorage was just inches under a 60-year snowfall record. Horner has been working 60-hour weeks since Thanksgiving. A winter like this, the arduousness of trucking massive amounts of snow --one dump load at a time --out of miles of constricted arteries can demoralize.
"You feel like you just can't keep up with it," he said.
But on a clear day, in the spring light, a guy in a dump truck gets the feeling he's making some progress.
As you may have noticed, people in Anchorage have opinions when it comes to snow. If their road is plowed, they have fewer opinions. If it is not plowed, they have more. An important test for any mayor hinges on one question: Will he keep the roads clear? This explains why Paul Honeman, running against Mayor Dan Sullivan in the upcoming city election, shot a campaign ad buried in snow up to his neck. It's not everywhere that politicians sling mud over snow.
Horner said he doesn't pay attention to snow politics. I asked him if he felt pressure to get the streets clear. He said maybe, but not so much that he would rush through a job. We came up on a female operator at the wheel of a snow blower. A monster maw on the front that chewed into a berm as snow poured out the stack. We got in position and she let it rip, shooshing snow into our bed. Within a minute or two we were loaded with 20 yards.
Horner grew up in Anchorage, fascinated with trucks and machines. He likes best to be high above the traffic in his plow cab, maybe listening to a little Linkin Park or some Korn. He doesn't let his mind wander because operating something with so much power takes a lot of attention, he told me, especially when there are a lot of parked cars.
We headed to one of the city's snow dumps, a mountain of snow, six stories high, with an ice road corkscrewing around the outside up to the top. Horner lifted a couple fingers off the wheel to greet contractors driving by. Dump truck contractors are a motley crew. Their rigs have pirate flags and flame decals. We off-loaded atop Snow Mountain over by South Anchorage Target. I could see all the way to the BP building.
It wasn't until the trip for a second load that I noticed all the children. Every place we went, little faces pressed against glass. Little hands waved from back seats. Horner, who has two kids, nodded at each of them.
I asked him what he learned about people from his job.
" You definitely learn that people can get so upset about little things," he said.
Snow pile positioning can get people worked up. So can being stuck behind a team of plows. Or having to wait for snow removal. He's been yelled at.
"I try to tell people, "You got to look at the picture as a whole," he said.
There's something like 60 trucks hauling snow every day, he said. Plows work day and night. When he explains that, it usually calms people down. Plus, though it can be easy to forget, it's all temporary. All those snow berms fouling up parking and fueling politicians. The big piles burying mailboxes and working people up. Even snow mountain. A couple months from now it will just be a big puddle full of roadside trash, small change and missing car keys.
It's amazing, he said. All those hours of work and in the end, it just melts away.