Unfortunately, you are looking at the state of my snow blower at approximately 7 pm last night.
The day before, I had noticed that this giant behemoth monster snow-thrower (that I bought with my approximate life savings two winters ago) was kind of laying down on the job and not so much "throwing" as it was "dribbling." Whereas it used to throw snow to the other side of the street, now what it was doing was more akin to what a baby does when it doesn't like its creamed spinach, or what toothpaste looks like coming out of the tube or -- well, I'll just stop right there because you are all perverted and you will take it to weird places in your collective heads. It seemed ok as long as I wasn't pushing it hard and it wasn't under load. As I was taking tiny little nibbles at the snow bank to avoid jamming the chute, I thought, Well, the snow is really heavy and sticky so what can I really expect? and then I realized I was making excuses for my man-machine. (It's not the first time, and it won't be the last.)
After about the 5th time the chute plugged up and I had to stop it and manually eject a solid tube of slush with my frozen hand, I decided that there was no way that this is how it should work, regardless of how heavy the snow was. Something was clearly wrong in the underpants of my snow blower. I sighed and broke out the wrenches.
I flipped it up into the sad position you see it in the picture, and unbolted some stuff. I've never had it apart before, but when I looked in there I could see that the drive belt was loose and partially shredded, so using all of my mechanical aptitude in one fell swoop, I deduced that was the problem. After a few more minutes of poking and prodding, I managed to get the old belt off. I knew that I didn't have a shot at finding an Ariens dealer that was open, so I did what anyone would do in my shoes. I went to Lowes. I reasoned a belt is a belt is a belt, and they sell snow blowers so what the hell. I planned on going there first, and then hitting the auto parts store on the way home if I didn't have any luck.
When I walked in the door at Lowes, it looked like a someone had chucked a cow carcass in a piranha pond. You'd think it was a one-day sale at Macy's or something. Apparently, there were a lot of people who had shitty snow blowers at home. Who knew? Lowes had a guy standing at the door acting as the Blower Greeter. As far as I could tell, his entire job consisted of asking people "Snow blower parts?" and then pointing them down the aisle to another guy standing in front of two metal shelving units full of nothing but shear pins and snow blower belts of all sizes. He took one look at me standing there holding my owners manual and old, cracked belt, and he just pointed and said, "See the guy in the red."
"The guy in red" was a little confusing since Hello? All the fucking Lowes employees wear red and there were about 4 or 5 of them standing around in this crowd of people. So I headed for the guy in red who was yelling like a short order cook taking orders on a busy lunch shift.
I walked toward him, and from ten paces away he made eye contact with me and demanded, "Belt or Shear pin?" I held up my disgusting belt in my blackened paw. "Manufacturer and Model Number!" He caught me off-guard so I said, "Uhhhhhh...." and that was it. He was on to the next guy. "Make and model!" "MTD! Model 2810, Tecumseh engine!" someone yelled back. The snow blower savant would then roll his eyes up into his head, and yell out things like, "V-groove, MTD28PD!" and one of the other guys would grab the correct belt and toss it to the customer. It was a sight to behold. He was the Rain Man of Snow blowers.
As I stood there with my belt in my hand and my thumb up my ass, I realized something: The belt supply was quickly diminishing. I ran over and started pawing through them like Tallahassee looking for a Twinkie in a sea of Snowballs. Since they were all made for models of snow blowers that I didn't own, I was really just hoping to find one that was close. I knew my old one was stretched out and too big, so I was trying to find one slightly smaller. I just eyeballed one from the dwindling supply, snagged it and decided I'd buy it since, at worst, it was head and shoulders above the one I had. As I turn to leave, Rain Man catches my eye and says, "Won't work! V-groove is different on the Ariens. It'll jump out. Definitely. Definitely jump out." OK, so I added that last part.
For a second I wondered how the hell he could tell I had an Ariens by looking at my crappy old belt, and was suitably impressed. Then I remembered I was holding the owner's manual in my other hand. I thanked him, and told him I was going to try it anyway. He said, "Auto parts store! Bring the old one!" and then turned away to help the next person waving a broken belt in the air. I was half expecting him to add something like "83 Buick LeSabre! Air conditioner compressor belt!" but he didn't.
I stopped at the auto parts store, and when I walked in there were two people behind the counter -- a bored, cynical, jaded looking guy on the phone, who clearly wanted to be anywhere else but there, and a young, clean-cut college-age kid bouncing off the walls. While I normally gravitate toward the assholes who know what they're doing, in this case I figured the kid was the better bet. I walked up to the counter and said, "Dude, you gotta save my life." then I tossed the snow blower belt on the desk and added, "Snow blower."
He immediately grabbed onto this challenge with claws and teeth, and I knew my snow blower was going to be working again shortly. We went through a few different belts until I found one that I thought was the right size. Slightly smaller than the one I bought at Lowes, but with the correct V-groove. He had a pretty good sense of humor, or maybe it was just late. At one point I asked him how much it was going to be, and he said, "Just give me all your money." We then had a five minute conversation about how it would be really funny to stand behind the counter with a gun and just rob the random people who came into the store to buy stuff. I'm sure the grizzled old dickhead he was working with probably hated his guts, but he liked his job and was friendly and helpful, so I give him +5000 JV points.
I bought the belt and headed out to my car to make the 20 minute drive home. By this time it was getting pretty late, but the rumor was we could get another 16" of snow tonight, so I knew I'd have to install it before I went to bed. When I got home, I measured the pulleys, and ended up installing the belt from the auto parts store. I flipped it back onto its wheels and started my man-machine up. It stunk a little bit like burning flesh, but I ignored that and immediately ran it full-speed into a snowbank -- and was completely amazed. Holy crap, what an improvement. It was no longer throwing snow like Richard Simmons in a snowball fight with a group of high school boys. It was throwing snow like...like...someone who throws baseballs really fast and strikes lots of people out. Yes, it was that good, and yes, sometimes I wish I watched sports just so I could use sports analogies effectively. Also, I've realized that any sentence that includes Richard Simmons and high school boys sound dirty regardless of what they're doing.
Winter can officially suck it. I am trying and failing to learn some rudimentary Spanish for our trip to Mexico, but I haven't learned how to say that yet. I'd like to, because they'd probably get a kick out of some pale white gringo running around screaming that phrase at the top of his lungs.
Lastly, my wife got this e-mail from her website "contact me" page today:
Me has sent you a message using your contact form at: www.ANNIESORIGINALS.COM
Senders email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject: WTF are you selling?
Message: Seriously? What is it you are selling, the little flower thing on the itchy hat, just the hat or both?
I would just like to thank you, whoever you are, for your constructive criticism. I'm guessing from the bogus return e-mail address you provided and the assholish tone of your message that the entire purpose of this exercise was to try to make someone else feel like shit, and in the process, feel slightly better about yourself.
I'd like to take this opportunity to say I'm sorry for your small, petty existence. Good luck in the future, and please don't jump in front of a bus. That would have the unfortunate consequence of making everyone on the bus late, and that's just plain inconsiderate. I suggest pills.
To everyone else, thanks for the kind words. She's doing it for the same reason I write this blog. It's fun, dammit!