Tyrone Blake, plowman, awakened at 4 a.m. yesterday, an hour later than he had the day before -- and in the same way he expects he will today.
He slipped on his navy blue jacket, which he had rolled up and used as a pillow, and shoved his feet back into the thick work boots he had kicked off before bedding down. For two nights he had slept there, in the heated cab of his truck, as it idled outside the Maryland State Highway Administration's Annapolis station.
He had been working round-the-clock since Saturday. Outside remained great mounds of snow left by the storm that hit the Washington area this weekend. Today, though the blizzard is over, his work will continue.
Ordinary folks call it plowing. With a hint of pride, Blake calls it "pushing."
Blake, 42, is one of the legions who have been running fleets of plows over thousands of miles of roads in Maryland, Virginia and the District.
For the most part, his territory has been Generals Highway, the two-lane roadway that served as the main route from Baltimore to Annapolis before Interstate 97 was built. From time to time he has been called off to help clear U.S. Route 50 and I-97, but mostly he has been leading a convoy of plows on Generals Highway, blazing a path in truck 058.
His is a yellow six-wheeler, which carries a ton of salt in the back. Icicles hang off the exhaust stack on the right side, and the tachometer is broken, but the truck runs just fine. Blake, wearing his uniform, a black skullcap and galoshes, quickly scraped the ice off his truck's windshield, revved up the diesel motor and issued orders to his convoy over the CB radio.
It was time to push some snow.
The diesel growled noisily as Blake left the station. Inside the cab, it was deafeningly loud, and hot, too, as Blake cranked up the heater. The windows fogged quickly as he turned onto West Street, one of the main routes into Annapolis. In the side mirrors, he could see the two trucks trailing him. The snow cascaded off their plows, like an ever-cresting wave, and piled up along the roadside.
The worst of the storm was over yesterday, but a lot of work remained. Improving conditions brought out more traffic, as some residents were determined to get to supermarkets and run errands. The civilian drivers irritate Blake, who can't do much more than 15 mph with his plow down.
"All these people driving -- where are they going?" Blake asked. "They don't care what you are doing; they know they gotta get there. I gotta get my job done."
He continued onward, making sure people could get to the important places on West Street. Countless car dealerships were set free. So was a Jiffy Lube, Mr. Wang's Hunan and a place called Annapolis Fun City Tattoo Land.
Pedestrians walked on the road in ragged columns. They waved. One woman in a yellow slicker pumped her arm at Blake. He obliged her with a friendly blast from his horn.
During the thick of the storm, the radio chattered with orders: Meet this truck here, clear this road, make sure you keep your plows up when crossing a bridge.
Back at the station, dispatcher Jim Williams was throwing up his arms. "Chaos," he said.
Blake and other plow drivers were diverted from their routes to help dig comrades' vehicles out of the snow.
One was a bulldozer that had been trying to push back some branches when it became stuck in the mountain of roadside snow along Generals Highway. Like a trapped animal, the huge vehicle thrashed savagely at the snow and appeared ready to tip over.
Blake hooked a chain from his truck to the rear of the bulldozer and pulled it out of the mess, his truck's engine straining with effort.
"Thank you, Tyrone!" two women watching the drama cheered.
Five minutes later, Blake himself became stuck. The bulldozer circled back and repaid the favor. "Thank you, sir," Blake radioed.
Before he took a job 10 years ago as a plow operator, Blake used to watch the heavy machinery and think, what a cushy job.
"I used to say, 'Them guys got it good.' "
Now he joked: "Our job is easy."
In places, snow buried the guardrails. A few times, the plow scraped something on the ground with a jarring crash, but Blake was not shaken.
Blake has been working all his life. He grew up on a farm in Davidsonville and still has a farmer's work ethic and attention to detail.
Nothing in particular drew him to plowing, he says, just the state employee benefits. The money is good, but he is coy about revealing how much he is paid.
"It depends on the weather," he said with a trace of a grin.
It would be late when Blake headed back to the station, which was bathed in the eerie, flashing yellow lights of the trucks. He made a lot of progress, but today he will hit the roads again. State highway officials wanted to have the interstates and major routes down to bare pavement by this morning but expected that entrance ramps could still be a problem.
At the end of the day, Blake's fellow workers would retreat upstairs to the dingy, gray-carpeted dining room, powering down the spaghetti and chicken prepared for them. They would crash in the barracks, where wooden-framed green cots were laid out for them.
Blake, though, was planning a real dinner at the Double T Diner. Then a few hours' rest and another day's work, pushing some more snow.