Dan Conradt: Young entrepreneur braves the elements
His eyes were the only part of him I could see, and even they looked cold.
They peeked out from two holes in a black ski mask, which was framed by the fuzzy lining of a parka hood.
A bright red scarf covered his mouth and wrapped around his neck, the ends tucked into the front of the parka like an ascot.
Thick mittens were wrapped around the handle of a snow shovel, blade up.
It’s how “American Gothic” would have turned out if it was painted by somebody from Minnesota.
I pushed the storm door open, and the storm barreled into the house.
From somewhere inside the mound of winter gear a muffled voice said something that sounded like “Shmrfl.”
Louder didn’t make it understandable, and he must have seen the confusion in my eyes; he used his free hand to pull the scarf down, revealing a mouth hole in the ski mask.
“Hi, Dan! It’s me, Andrew! Can I shovel your driveway? I’m trying to make some money,” he said. “I want to buy a new bicycle next summer. My mom says I can get it if I pay for it. It’s a StingRay!”
Three snowfalls ago I promised myself that I would eventually get out and clear the driveway.
“Eventually” is pretty open-ended …
“That would be nice, Andrew,” I said. “But are you sure it’s not too cold?”
“No, I have all kinds of clothes on!” he said, pounding his chest to show that he couldn’t feel anything through the layers. He lowered his voice: “These are my sister’s snow pants. Do they look dorky?”
“Not if they keep you warm,” I said. A little smile peeked out from the mouth hole of his ski mask.
“How much?” I asked.
“Three dollars?” It came out as a question.
“That sounds fair,” I said. “But don’t get too cold.”
He pulled the scarf back over his mouth and jumped off the front step into the snow, and soon I heard the rhythmic sound of a shovel blade scraping concrete.
I knew it would get done eventually.
I had just pulled a mug of hot apple cider out of the microwave when there was a knock at the door. I opened it to two eyes that looked even colder than before.
Nope, not a clue.
He pulled the scarf down: “It’s REALLY cold. Can I come in for a minute to get warm?”
“Sure,” I said, backing away from the door. “Take your coat off or you’ll get too hot and it will feel even colder when you go back out.”
“Mmmm. That smells really good,” he said, eyeing my cup of apple cider as he uncoiled the red scarf.
“Would you like some?”
I filled my Snoopy mug and popped it into the microwave, gestured him to one of the living room chairs and placed the mug on the coffee table once the cider was hot.
He took a sip that ended with a sigh.
“How much money have you made for your bicycle?” I asked.
“With my birthday money … 17 dollars.”
“I think it’s great that you’re trying to earn money on your own,” I said. “You’ll take good care of your bike, knowing how hard you had to work to get it.”
Right on cue, the wind whistled through invisible cracks around the windows.
“The older I get, the less I like winter,” I said more to myself than to him. “But I think winters were even worse when I was a kid. We could go two weeks and it wouldn’t get above zero. And most winters we had snow up to my armpits.”
“Your armpits were lower then,” he said, holding the cup under his chin to feel the steam.
I held my cup under my chin.
“My grandpa says he had to walk three miles to school and home again,” he said. “And it was uphill both ways.”
“I went to the same school when I was a kid,” I smiled.
He finished his cider with a slurp.
“I better go shovel some more,” he said, slipping methodically back into his cold weather gear.
“Do you have much left to shovel?”
“Not too much,” he said.
I glanced out the window; he’d shoveled a patch about the size of my refrigerator, and it was already filling in with wind-blown snow.
“You did a nice job!” I said. “Let’s just leave the rest of it. It’s going to melt, anyway.”
In four months.
He seemed disappointed until I pulled out my wallet and handed him a $5 bill.
He tucked the money somewhere deep in his outfit, wrapped the scarf around his mouth, said a muffled “Tanksala!” and headed out into the storm.
I figured he earned his three dollars
The two dollar tip was for not rolling his eyes when I said “When I was a kid …”