From left: Tim “Crash” Wright, Joe “Lone Star” Perrotta, Dave “Ripper” Ripley, Jim “Big Jim” Aichele JOHN SWART

Much like Thin Lizzy stridently proclaimed years ago, the East End Boys are back in town.

Guess who just got back today?
Them wild-eyed boys that’d been away,
Haven’t changed, had much to say,
But man, I still think them cats are crazy

This would be the East End of Nursery Lane, and the Boys are the notorious local snowblower gang. No razor-sharp shanks or smuggled Brooklyn heaters for these cats—they’re armed with high performance, super-tuned, ear-splitting snow blowers, a mass of whirling metal teeth designed to shred each and every of Mother Nature’s gentle snowflakes that dare fall on their driveways.

How did I know we’d had a massive snowfall in the early pre-dawn hours of last Tuesday, even before I’d thrown off the covers and left the warmth of my bed? Neighbour Peter Halenko, aka Ladderman, had unleashed his vintage Sears snow blower upon the piles of snow, ice and dirty gravel-salt mixture the snow plow had deposited to block the end of his driveway. Like a synchronized swimmer gasping air before flipping beneath the water, Ladderman’s eager snowblower would inhale a massive mouthful of snow and ice, flag for a second while digesting the frozen snack, then spew the crystalline spittle in all directions.

My excitement was palpable, like the terrier that swirls in circles at the door when you reach for a doggie-walk bag. Today I would be freed from the confines of my basement workout dungeon, not condemned to watching my 126th pointless DVD while bending and stretching and lifting ugly, dead weights. I would wear my most stylish cycling sunglasses, my jauntiest toque, my new winter tights, and clear the snow from my driveway the old-fashioned, comforting way, one respectful shovelful at a time. I’d move this silky white bounty with love, placing each cubic portion in exactly the right spot on the lawn, in harmony with Mother Nature’s intentions. Each shovelful would be an excuse to flex and primp my athletic apparel and environmental values in front of the East Street Boys.

As I gulped down a steaming coffee and an incredibly nutritious breakfast, anticipating a morning spent communing with the snow, one flake to another in a white heaven, my wife screamed in horror, “Steve’s snowblowing your driveway.”

How dare he! I had started training back in September for this day. Months of shovelling-specific exercises. It’s not the arms. Shovel with your biceps and the game is over in no time. It’s all about the core, the obliques and the erector spinae muscles. Fifteen shovelfuls over the right shoulder, 15 over the left. Breathe deeply as you thrust the shovel into the snow, exhale forcefully as you swing it over your shoulder, and you can go all day with the rhythm of a Maasai warrior running down a wildebeest. When I heard the weather forecast Monday evening, I even carb-loaded on pasta to increase my glucose reserves. No matter how well intentioned, Steve was not going to snowblow my driveway and deprive me of my due.

“Crash” Wright preps his machine with a potent high-octane fuel mix before going mano a mano with The Flakes. JOHN SWART

But this is the insidious way the East Ends Boys spread their metallic tentacles throughout the neighbourhood, generously snowblowing neighbours’ driveways and walkways, determined to strike even before the Town’s sidewalk plow can rip the frozen sod from your manicured lawn. Any of the Boys would do your drive before their own just to stake their territory.

And that territory, the turf where they can exert their control on Nursery Lane, is dwindling. Of the ten homes settled along the east end of Nursery Lane, a mere three of us have resisted the soul-stealing, mechanical advance of snowblowers. But there are cracks forming. One of these tradition-bound neighbours had two healthy, helpful sons whom he had driven to hockey practices for an eternity. They, in turn, paid their dues by shovelling the driveway without fail — until this fateful day. One son had left for university, the other chose snowboarding at the pit over family chores this beautiful winter morning. The East End Boys could taste it, one of the few holdouts was ripe for the picking. They knew they could catch the owner of this driveway in a weak, snow-stacked moment, and addict a new user to their diabolical ways.

It would not happen to my driveway. Not on my watch. I pressed the garage opener in a panic, then jumped up and down at the edge of the snow, waving my arms and screaming at Steve with the determination of a madman marooned on a deserted island pleading to an airplane overhead. It was no use. His snowblower was roaring, and Steve was intent, directing the snow and ice missiles flying from the single, rotating metal nostril of his machine onto the cable TV box near the road, determined to bury it until April. I charged down my snow clogged driveway in Birkenstocks and T-shirt. Shouting over the blower, I thanked Steve profusely for his kind efforts (it’s Pelham and I’m Canadian), then bewildered him by sternly suggesting he and his snowblower leave my property.

Was it my fault? Had I been too ambiguous earlier in the season, just saying to Steve that I enjoyed clearing my own snow, rather than stating unequivocally that I didn’t want his or any of the Boys help?

No, it wasn’t my fault. Joe “Lone Star” Perrotta to the west, Dave “Ripper” Ripley to the south, these East End Boys and long-time neighbours had learned not to mess with my snow.

The damage was done — the Boys had had enough. I’d stirred up a hornet’s nest of unmuffled four stroke mayhem, and as garage doors on every side opened, I sensed my time had come. Lone Star’s massive John Deere raged as it emerged from its den, as might a grizzly bear looking to gorge on a run of spawning salmon.

The headlight on Ripper’s aptly named Brute pierced the sky like a U-boat’s periscope searching for prey—any driveway nearby that wasn’t cleared. You could tell by the steady rupp, rupp, roar, rrup, rupp, roar, that Ripper had installed a high performance piston and planed the Brute’s cylinder head in the off season. He was desperate to unleash all that newfound, ice- throwing power.

Was I standing in front of NASCAR’S championship starting grid, four souped-up snowblowers ready to ravage my driveway? After consultation with his crew chief, Jim “Big Jim” Aichele, piloting his vintage Craftsman ten-horsepower, 32-inch cut monster, had put chains on his machine. More traction to overcome any puny defence I might offer. Big Jim’s battle-scarred steel warrior hadn’t been in a decent scrap since leaving the snowbelt of Kitchener-Waterloo years ago, and would surely stop at nothing to attack the snowbanks of east Nursery Lane.

The smell of 104-plus octane filled the air, a blend so potent that it pressed the rules of engagement

Further up the street, Tim “Crash” Wright stealthily poured Race Gas, a high octane additive, into the fuel tank of his weapon of choice, a fierce dual-stage Poulan Pro. The smell of 104-plus octane filled the air, a blend so potent that it pressed the rules of engagement. Crash didn’t care, didn’t even try to hide, calmly staring me down as I peered his way. His sophisticated machine was all speed and strategy, Fonzie to Big Jim’s burly Potsie.

The four East End Boys lined up, side-by-side in an impenetrable, socially distanced phalanx, ready to remove every last flake of snow and ice from driveways and sidewalks within their turf. All that stood between what was left of the untouched snow on my driveway and these predators, was one short length of Town sidewalk from which the snow was as yet not removed.

Engines revved, blower augers clanked into gear, sparks flew, drivelines snatched and tires spun, except of course on Big Jim’s chained behemoth. Lone Star’s machine led the charge toward my yard, devouring the snow remaining on the sidewalk like Desert Storm took Iraq. I had crossed a red line in the snow, one I wasn’t even aware existed, and my driveway would pay.

A moment of indecision struck me. Were the snowblowers actually part of Mother Nature’s plan? Did she intend for those beautiful snowflakes—which had travelled so far on her harsh February winds, only to land on the street and be crushed beneath the tires of commuting SUVs and sporty imports on essential trips—to fly again? Were they destined to be scavenged from the ground like a drunk floored in a bar fight, then set free to fly in the crisp morning air from the maw of a snowblower…one last time?

My resolve stood firm as I summoned my internal Harrison Ford, and called those East End Boys’ bluff. There is too much great history in this neighbourhood, and thankfully cooler heads prevailed —this time. But I knew that the gauntlet had been thrown and they would come another time without mercy, perhaps when I was running an errand, away from home for an hour. Somehow, at some time, they would find a way to snowblow my drive.

Successful military strategists throughout the centuries have always preached, “The best defense is a good offence,” or was that a thousand Canadian house league hockey coaches.

The very next night the sky was a mass of fluffy falling snowflakes, with another 20 centimetres predicted. I set my alarm for 1 AM and brought my trusted snow shovel into the safety of the foyer. I told it to relax, that I’d never forsake it, and that tomorrow, before those outrageous machines were even awake, we’d have the last laugh.

Together, my shovel and I would silently slip into the midnight darkness and clear the driveway of every single East End Boy while they slept, and take our neighbourhood back. Not only would we clear the snow from their properties, we’d remove the street’s white blanket for five metres to the left of each driveway. There would be nothing for the plows to deposit as they lurched down Nursery Lane in the predawn light. The East End Boys’ metal monsters would go hungry until another day.