HAMDEN, CT (SatireWire.com) – For 33-year-old Kevin Embree, it was the moment he realized his quiet Connecticut neighborhood was no longer safe. “I’m shoveling my driveway on Tuesday,” he recalled, “and five of my neighbors, pushing snow blowers, come up to me, grab the shovel out of my hands and say, ‘Stand still. We’re gonna blow you.”
|INTERVIEW WITH A SNOW BLOWER
We spoke with “Larry,’ a member of the Home Blow Boys, from the GlenWood Forest subdivision of Commack, Long Island, N.Y.SW: The Home Blow Boys. That’s… an interesting name.
LARRY: Why? We all have nice homes. We wanted to include that.
SW: No, the other part.
LARRY: Well Home Boys is a good gang name, but since we all blow, we thought we should include that too.
SW: Blow snow, yes. And how many members are in your gang?
LARRY: About 15. Less if somebody has a dental appointment. Or has to work late. Or on snow days, when the kids are outta school, some of us have to be at home to make the Spaghetti-Os. Cuts into gang time.
SW: How did you get started?
LARRY: It was the guys in the neighborhood with snow blowers. When the snow started coming down, and kept coming down, we realized we were like kings. People would do whatever we wanted if we’d blow their driveways. We had the power. Then some guys from a nearby subdivision, Shady Estates, showed up on our street. Started blowing a couple of driveways, “as a favor.” We didn’t like that.
SW: So you were united by a turf battle.
SW: How do you settle turf disputes?
LARRY: We blow each other.
LARRY: A bunch of their guys and a bunch of our guys get together on the disputed spot, and we blow each other off.
SW: Surely not.
LARRY: We blow snow at them and they blow snow at us.
LARRY: And after five minutes, whoever has more snow on their side gives up their claim. Our gang has blown, I don’t know, five or six dozen guys this winter.
SW: But what about claims that you terrorize your own neighborhoods?
LARRY: Who said that? What’s his address?
SW: The police. They say you threaten people who try to clear their own property. They say you will take their snow blowers if they don’t join your gang. You may even beat them.
LARRY: We don’t beat people. We blow them.
SW: There’s got to be a better way to say that.
LARRY: We blow snow at them. Because we clear the snow in Glenwood Forest. And if you have a problem with that, we’ll bury you in it.
SW: But what will happen in the summer, when the snow is gone and you’ll have to face your neighbors without your “weapons?”
LARRY: Got it figured. We have riding lawnmowers. We’ll do all the lawns on our turf. And if you get in our way, we’ll ride you. Cause we’re gonna be the Home Mow Boys.
SW: The Home Mow Boys.
LARRY: You got it.
SW: Who comes up with your gang names?
LARRY: Actually it’s our wives. Surprisingly they seem to get a kick out it.
Embree, like millions of northeastern U.S. residents, came face to face with this winter’s surprising new threat: “snow blowers” — gangs of heavily jacketed, suburban, middle-class men who have taken control of their own neighborhood’s driveways and sidewalks in the midst of the snow removal crisis.
“When they said that to me, I was like, ‘OK, thanks,’” Embree said, reliving the moment. “But later I realized they weren’t clearing my driveway for me. They were doing it for themselves, to show they were better than me; to show their control over me.”
In hundreds of subdivisions from Virginia to Massachusetts, during what has been a record-setting winter, police say the stories are the same. Snow blowing equipment is sold out in most local stores, and the people who already own the machines find they hold sway over their lowly, shovel-stuck neighbors. Suddenly, these middle-aged suburban males are no longer indistinguishable. They have status. They have respect. Right there in their hands they wield 4-cycle, 250cc power. And they mean to keep it.
The only threat is from rivals, outsiders who show up in their neighborhoods to help dig out a friend or relative. Instinctively, the locals form gangs to fend them off. And once together, under monikers like “The Blow Daddies,” “The Husky Varnas,” and “Ariens Nation,” they control all the “blow” on their turf. (See “Interview with a Snow Blower” at right.)
“There’s too much snow to shovel, and these blow gangs, they know that,” said Lt. Richard Hengele of the Hamden, Conn., police department. “People whose driveways are two feet under come up to them and they’re like, ‘Blow me! Blow me! Please please do me now!’ So they blow your driveway, or your walk, and now you’re in debt to them. They own you.”
Although there are reports of gangs receiving baked goods, and in one case, an Audi TT, for their services, most snow blowers don’t demand money. Instead, it’s the control that attracts them. And, if they can agree on a brand, the matching snow jackets.
In fact, Hengele said, most gangs won’t allow any shoveling in their neighborhoods. “It shows they’re weak,” he explained.
MY ENEMY, MY FRIEND
As with most crimes, the victims know the perpetrators. They are friends, neighbors, guys they see on weekends cutting their lawns. But any former relationships appear to be forgotten once they join a gang, as Westchester, N.Y., resident Tom Gardner learned on Monday.
“I’m getting ready to go out and do my driveway ‘cause I just got a brand new Toro Power Clear — 21-inch, single stage,” Gardner said. “Just as I start, these guys – maybe eight of ‘em, wearing ski masks and ski goggles and really nice black Spider ski jackets — appear out of nowhere and start clearing my driveway.”
What happened next sent chills down Gardner’s already wind-chilled spine. The gang, including Gardner’s normally affable neighbor Ed, declared the neighborhood was their turf, and that they did all the snow blowing.
“They told me to join their gang or I’d never see my snow blower again,” Gardner said. “ I’m not a gang guy. I’m a systems analyst for a payroll company. So they grabbed my snow blower and threw it up on the power lines.”
Police say snow blowers commonly do this to mark their turf and warn off rival gangs. Now, police fear, they may be doing it to warn off the towns themselves.
With many public works departments unable to keep up with snow removal, gangs like the “Straight Chuters” from Basking Ridge, N.J., have begun to encroach on the government’s domain.
“Last night I blew my whole street,” said “Mark,” a 42-year-old bank manager, father of three, and Straight Chuters leader. “Took me five hours and I was literally covered in white stuff. Way I look at it, everyone on my street owes me for that.”
But just what people “owe” is never made clear. The ambiguity of these blow gangs has proven frustrating for police, who can’t figure out if a crime is being committed, and victims.
“I’m not just intimidated, I’m confused,” said Gardner. “They said I’d never see my snow blower again, but I can. It’s right up there, hanging on the power lines. Am I supposed to not look at it or something? What do they want me to do?”
“I’m afraid to go to my mailbox in case I accidentally kick some snow aside,” added Connecticut victim Kevin Embree. “When will it end? When will this nightmare end?”
Probably in Spring, said Lt. Hengele.
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