During his 44 years on the planet, John Fankhauser has lived in a grand total of two houses, both in the North Hill area of Akron.
Until Sunday, he thought he had seen just about everything North Hill had to offer. But on that day, he saw something that almost left him questioning his own vision.
A city snowplow was roaring past his Woodward Avenue home, plowing the street — except there was nothing to plow.
Not a single flake of snow was visible on the entire street. In fact, most of the blacktop wasn’t even damp.
Soon the plow headed back in the opposite direction, still plowing nothing.
A few hours later, he says, he heard the plow approaching again. Correctly assuming it again would make a return pass in the opposite direction, he grabbed his cellphone and went outside to shoot video of the truck’s fourth dry pass of the afternoon.
He was rewarded with 26 seconds of footage of the same thing he had witnessed earlier: a big, orange city truck — blade in full contact with the pavement — plowing absolutely nothing.
You can watch his video by going to YouTube and punching in “jfank43.” You’ll have no trouble hearing the sustained screech of steel on blacktop.
Fankhauser was appalled. And why wouldn’t he be?
“It’s just a waste of money,” he notes.
“It’s a waste of wages. Why are they paying this guy to plow? It’s wear and tear on the truck. The fuel for the truck. The wear and tear on the street and the curbs.”
Wasting public money is bad enough. But Fankhauser also took this personally: Just two years ago, he and his neighbors successfully petitioned the city to construct curbs and sidewalks. As a result, Fankhauser pays a special assessment of $84.98 every six months.
And when he sees a city plow banging its way down a dry street, he wonders what kind of shape the new curbs will be in when the project is finally paid off in 2021.
“I’m happy they plow my street, don’t get me wrong,” Fankhauser says. “There’s people on Hollibaugh and Victoria [avenues]; they say the plows never hit those streets — ever.
“But when the street is bare, it’s just ludicrous.
“Thank God he wasn’t putting salt down. That would have really killed me.”
Fankhauser wasn’t the only one on Woodward Avenue rubbing his eyes.
“When [the driver] went by the second time, a neighbor called and said, ‘What is he plowing?’ I said, ‘I don’t know!’ ”
Fankhauser, who owns a business that supplies wholesale graphics to sign companies, wracked his brain trying to make sense of it. The best he could up with is that a city employee was trying to cash in on overtime pay.
“But if you’re just going to drive around, why not lift the plow up?” he asks.
Fankhauser knows something about the wear and tear sustained by Akron’s fleet of 52 snowplows.
“I have an uncle who works for the city repairing plows,” he says. “He tells [the drivers] all the time they’re tearing his plows up. They’ll go out and know there’s a sewer lid sticking up somewhere and they’ll hit the same thing three times in one shift and bring it back in for him to fix it.
“I know he’s struggled with them for years. He doesn’t understand it.”
Neither do I.
If anyone does, I figured, it would be Akron Service Director John Moore.
In this case, Moore didn’t have a clue, either.
“To be perfectly honest,” he said after the driver met with city officials Wednesday afternoon, “we don’t know what the hell he was doing. He does not have any excuse.”
The lowered blade clearly was not an oversight.
“I can tell you this: Having ridden in those trucks, when the plow is down, you definitely know it’s down.”
Moore said the driver “probably” would face disciplinary action but wouldn’t say for certain before talking with him. “Obviously, we’ve got to make some adjustments there.”
Although Moore said city records show the truck passed Fankhauser’s home only twice, Fankhauser remains adamant that the pass he posted on YouTube was the truck’s fourth of the day.
In any event, the service director says the driver had no financial incentive to keep plowing because he works weekends and was paid straight time for his shift.
But the clown did put a nick in the wallets of his fellow citizens. Those big steel blades — which cost $250 to purchase and install — last for only one 12-hour shift.
So what’s next? Mowing the sidewalks? Watering nonexistent flowers? Adding chlorine to empty swimming pools?
The possibilities seem endless.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or firstname.lastname@example.org.