Has shovel, will travel
If there was any time you could make a living shoveling snow, a blizzard might be that time.
But Marvin Pickett, 49, of Champaign, spent all day Sunday pedaling his bicycle around town in whiteout conditions, a long time with winds chills below zero.
He found only one customer – an elderly couple he's helped before, with limited mobility, who could get out to their car only with his hard work.
"Lots of snow, no money," he says of that day.
Pickett has four daughters, two granddaughters and two grandsons. Shoveling snow, he makes $100 on a good day, $60 to $70 on an average day, and zip zilch nada on a bad day.
A driveway is $20, a sidewalk is $15 more. "Sometimes I do the walkway for nothing," he says.
Thursday, Pickett was weaving his bike through the snow on Lynn Street in Champaign.
A customer, Denise Pelafos of Champaign, said Pickett is an exceptional worker.
"He does a great job, the full width of the sidewalk. He's very polite, honest and hard-working," she says.
He came knocking at her door.
"I was really happy to see him today," Pelafos said Thursday, out with a bad back.
Pickett doesn't get any sort of government check or other assistance.
"There ain't no unemployment in unemployment," he says.
Pickett does get some days as a University of Illinois extra-help worker, but it's not a predictable source of income.
"But in the holidays, ain't nobody giving up a day of work. People ain't giving up their slots – they're buying presents. I haven't heard from them in a while," Pickett says of the UI.
In the summer, for the last seven years, Pickett has gotten seasonal work at Collegiate Cap and Gown in Champaign.
"But all that's gone by August," he says.
He has no health insurance, and no health assistance from the government.
"They said I'm not eligible because I'm too healthy," he says with a smile.
So he was a little nervous working in Sunday's blizzard – "I can't afford to get myself sick." He dresses in layers to keep warm.
"When the winds pick up and it's hard to pedal, I get off and walk my bike," he says.
But he generally likes outdoors work and says it makes him stronger.
"I feel good. I cut grass. I also do leaves," he says.
Right now, he's working without a telephone. He's getting a new one soon.
If you'd like to reach him, you can call Pickett's daughter at 217 819-7372. Be prepared for very loud hold music.
Pickett grew up on Chicago's West Side – "not a real nice place" – and moved to Champaign 10 years ago, because a sister lives here.
He said he's always loved physical work. His mother taught him a strict work ethic.
"She said, 'if you want some money, you go get it for yourself.' There's work out there. It's cold, maybe, but there's work."
Pickett said he has a compulsion to work, and gets uncomfortable when he's not at work:
"Sometimes there ain't nothing to do and I have a beer. But that beer gets old real soon, and I need to get out."