Storm Pax hit my area today as we were just recovering, still a bit dazed and reeling, from Storm Nika. This brought me 14 inches of snow, and it brings you a tale of progress in small things and how odd the brain’s information-retrieval process can be.
My wife, perversely, actually likes shoveling snow. Which is a good thing because there was a shit-ton of the stuff on our driveway this morning. She carved a channel from the car to the sidewalk, which had been cleared all along our street by some helpful soul with a snowblower well before we ventured outside. But that left a ridge of snow, easily 4.5′ high and 6′ thick, between the driveway/sidewalk and the middle of the street. It was heavy, half-compacted spoil thrown by a plow truck; that happens a lot here after winter storms.
Contemplating that mini-mountain, I nearly despaired of getting our car out until the spring thaw. I knew that as bad as it looked, it was going to get worse – three inches or more of snow are due tonight.
Then I noticed that the new neighbor had carved his way through that ridge with what, by the way the snow was packed vertically around the cut, had to be a snowblower. Went over, knocked, introduced myself, and asked for the loan of the thing. New neighbor turned out to be an affable sort, a gray-haired blue-collar regular joe who introduced himself as “Gordo” and was quite cheerfully willing to let me use it.
That’s how I found myself pushing your typical American gas-powered snowblower out to the sidewalk. Two-stroke gasoline engine with a rope start, yup, seen those before, mildly dreading getting it to fire up. I never happen to have worked a snowblower before, but have childhood memories of my dad fighting for fifteen minutes at a stretch to get similar beasts started on push lawnmowers. Never had to do that myself; my generation got pretty spoiled by electric-starting riding mowers.
Hmm. Directions: Turn key to “Run” position, choke lever to full, press priming button three times, pull rope slowly until there’s resistance then quickly. My eyebrows rose. You mean they’re actually telling me I don’t have to yank as hard as I can as fast as I can? This is not yer father’s lawnmower. Progress in small things…
Damn me if it didn’t start second time (first time I hadn’t got the hang of where the resistance kicked in). This is the first burden of my tale; progress in small things matters. When was the first year that some engineer figured out how to make a two-stroke engine you don’t have to swear at and futz with endlessly to get to fire up? When was the first year they put actually helpful instructions in large print, located near the controls?
OK, so I went after the ridge with a roaring snowblower. Found out it was work; sucker carves and throws snow nicely but doesn’t push itself. Then I found out that this snowblower ain’t so happy taking on a ridge that overtops the blade aperture by a couple of feet. It’s a light-duty machine really meant for snow accumulations of less than a foot or so, not one of the monster-mawed things ski resorts use.
Time to invoke my wife and the shovel. If she knocks down the higher parts of the ridge the blower will be able to chew up and throw the results. Thinking to be economical with my neighbor’s gasoline, I shut the machine off and went inside to explain the situation.
A few minutes of shovel teamwork later Cathy and I had the ridge lowered and broken up enough for the snowblower to cope. Then…I found I couldn’t get it started again. Let the swearing begin…
Now comes the second burden of my tale, which is how odd memory retrieval can be sometimes. I’m racking my brain trying to figure out what’s different this time and how to get the engine restarted. And, all unbidden, an audio track starts playing in my head. It’s Pink Floyd’s Learning to Fly, from the 1987 A Momentary Lapse of Reason album.
I have very, very good auditory memory. It includes details like pick-scrape noise in guitar solos that a lot of people don’t even seem to actually hear. For this track, it includes stretches of near-unintelligible radio chatter between pilots and ATCs that are used as a sound-wash background for instrumental parts of the arrangement. This is running in my head, and out jump two words: “mixture’s rich”.
Aha! I go over to the snowblower and back the choke off about 15% from the high setting, pull the start cord, and it fires up instantly.
Did you get that? My unconscious mind found a way to tell me what my conscious mind hadn’t figured out. The fuel-air mixture in the snowblower was too rich; I needed to back it off and let the spark have more oxygen.
Now we can get to the street and I have acquired a minor life skill; next time I have to baby a two-stroke engine I’ll know exactly what to do. Thank you, clever unconscious mind!
Does this happen to other people?