Most of us were inconvenienced to one degree or another by the snowstorm yesterday, but not many were “inconvenienced” like the guys who put in long, long hours clearing our streets and sidewalks.
Perhaps we residents of Forest Park are a bit spoiled and take this kind of service for granted. “The public works guys don’t get the credit they deserve,” said Mayor Calderone at a lunch the village put on at Healy’s on Dec. 16 for the fifteen man public works crew. “These guys operate without any fanfare. They are there every day making sure the streets and public properties are clean and orderly. I think the public has just come to expect it.”
“They’re the best around at snowplowing,” said John Doss, the Director of Public Works in Forest Park. “They sacrifice family time all winter long. When I call, they’re there. At times they work endless hours.”
Michael Marasco, who has worked on the crew for seven years, acknowledged that at the end of a double shift it can be hard to stay awake. A lot of coffee and energy drinks get consumed. “After working all night, you’re tired and hungry and there are no fast food places open,” he said. “Your eyes can be wide open but you’re falling asleep.”
Sal Stella has been plowing snow for fourteen years. “Depending on the conditions, it can get scary,” he said. “If it’s snowing, it can be hard to see. When you’re driving a big rig—an 18 ton Sterling diesel pushing a ten by four foot plow–there’s snow flying from the plow over the truck. Basically, you’re looking at tail lights ahead of you and hoping you don’t hit anything.”
Patrick Scollard, a five year veteran of battling the snow, told a story about when his truck went into a skid. “I was going over the Harlem bridge one time,” he recalled. “Sal was following me. The snow was coming down real hard, and it was starting to get slippery. Just before I was going to make a right turn, my truck started to slide in the direction of a car. I stomped on the brakes and luckily they caught. I came to a stop inches away from smashing the guy’s car.
“After that I said to myself, ‘You know what. I’ve been plowing all night. I’m just going to take a break, gas up the truck, get more salt and have a cup of coffee.'”
“On the whole, we handle it pretty well,” Marasco added. “We communicate a lot. We’re on the phone every half hour or so to the other guys saying ‘how you doing?” We watch each other’s backs.”
Doss said that his crew is motivated to put up with the long hours and interruptions of their family time partly by professional pride. ” They’re dedicated to their job,” he said, “because Forest Park has always had the reputation of being the best, and they want to keep it that way.”
Laurie Kokenes, the Executive Director of the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce and Development has worked with this crew at Summer Fest and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and many other events. She added, “The guys truly care about Forest Park and always go that extra mile to help out.”
Another source of motivation, said Doss, is that the crew feels like a second family. “I’ve been here 28 years and most of these guys have been here 20 plus years,” he said. “Some of these guys I went to Field Stevenson and Proviso East with. We’re like a family.”
The crew, you quickly learn if you hang around them for awhile, doesn’t express their feelings for each other in politically correct ways. During the lunch at Healy’s, the banter, the teasing and wise cracks were non-stop. During the hour they were all together, the crew didn’t say one thing nice about each other. “Look at that guy’s schnaz.” said Mike Loisi who has worked for the village for 25 years. “If he turns sideways you have to duck.” He then ripped on a co-worker with a receding hairline and they returned the favor, making comments about how much he eats and how well his digestive system works.
But if you listened to the music that went along with the words, the affection they had for each other was palpable.