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As a lifelong resident of Minneapolis, my experience with winter last year was the most brutal of my life. At this point in the season, all I wanted to see was a curb — specifically, the curb on the street next to my neighbor's house where I regularly park my on-its-last-legs car.

It was existential angst, straight up, wherein I convinced my exhausted self that, when the icebergs and mounds of snow that covered the curbs, streets and sidewalks of this frozen tundra I call home were gone, then I would be happy. Because the mere sight of that curb would mean springtime, warmth, renewal and, best of all, no more bleeping snow.

Only now during these snow-free days do I realize what's been lost here. Winter exhaustion comes from both frozen hibernation and shoveling, chipping, scraping and trudging away our days and nights. It gets to you.

But it also inspires you — to help and be helped. A time-honored tradition in this city is pushing friends' and neighbors' and strangers' vehicles out of the snow. Only now, during these balmy, climate-changed days, can I fully appreciate what comes with a winter's tale in the city, the kind you don't get when the livin' is easy.

It happened last year, around this time. I looked out my window to see an older man trying to push his daughter's car out of a snowdrift and on to the unplowed street. I threw on my boots, hat, gloves and left behind my coat, knowing I was about to work up a sweat. As the man's daughter gunned the engine, he and I pushed, pulled, shoveled. Our between-gasps-conversation went like this:

"Ike Reilly? Who's that?" asked the neighbor, checking out my Ike Reilly Assassination hat.

"Great songwriter from Chicago," I said, wheezing.

"Oh, I'll check him out. Chicago? Have you ever heard of John Prine?" he asked, panting.

"Yep. Loved him forever. Amazing." I said.

"Do you know how John Prine was discovered?" he asked.

"Yep, Roger Ebert wrote a rave review about him in the Sun-Times," I responded.

"You're the first person I've ever asked who's known the answer to that question!" he said.

"Right on," I said. More shoveling and gasping ensued. "This is some seriously heavy snow."

"Heart attack snow, be careful," he said. "Don't you just love that duet John Prine did with Iris Dement …"

And snow on and snow on and … we got her out! The three of us said our goodbyes. I got inside, kicked off my boots and thought, "Gotta love Minnesota."

The next day, after another round of the foot-high snow that fell seemingly weekly last year, I got my car stuck on the side street in front of the curb. I'd parked too deep into a street iceberg and was seriously jammed in. I was a beaten man. Nature had won. I sat behind the wheel and considered waiting for spring to thaw out my stupid car, but finally went to grab a shovel and start digging it out.


It was my neighbor Simo, looking out his kitchen window. "Need help?"

"Thanks, brother, yes!"

Simo and his teenage son Ilyas came out with shovels. We tried to push out my stupid car — a frozen hulk of metal and burning rubber — but it was not happening.

As we panted and pushed, a van came by out of nowhere. Simo flagged them down, and out hopped two older dudes with freshly lit cigarettes dangling from their lips and shovels in their ungloved hands. They went right to work, cigs going hard all the while, shovels pounding expertly, and we blasted my stupid car out of the iceberg ditch using ye olde you-rock-we-push method.

"Victory! Yes!" We all whooped.

As he was heading back to the van the older brother said to Simo, "Are you Muslim?"

"Yes, Morocco!" Simo said.

"Pakistan!" the older dude said, sucking hard on a cig.

We whooped it up again and I fist-bumped the brothers and thanked them profusely. Then, in a flash, they were off in their van, gone and never to be seen again. All four of those guys filled my heart with so much wonder and kindness and gratitude. I still think about them a year later, and probably always will.

Anyone who's ever lived through a hard city winter can tell similar tales, and at this snowless/iceless moment in Minnesota where I can see every curb everywhere in town, I (sorta) miss them.

Jim Walsh is an author, journalist and songwriter from Minneapolis.