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A Salute to the Early Risers

Jul 29 2020
Dion Dawkins
Buffalo Bills
Jul 29 2020

My first job ever was as a snow-shoveler.

I was 12 or 13 at the time, back home in Jersey. And it was three of us: Me, my best friend Giovanni, and our buddy Ruben. Here’s how it worked….

When a big snowstorm was headed our way, we’d all turn on our radios at night and cross our fingers for an announcement that school was going to be canceled. If that glorious news came through the speaker, the three of us would immediately spring into action. We’d get our thermals ready, and our waterproof boots, and set our alarms for 4:45.

In the a.m.

Like pitch black 4:45.

Then, when those alarms buzzed, we’d rub the sleep out of our eyes, layer up, throw on like three pairs of socks, and meet out in front of my house at five to hit the streets. Some nights, when our parents would let us, those guys would sleep over at my house so we could save prep time in the morning.

We knew that a lot of people in our neighborhood worked early shifts, and that their jobs weren’t getting canceled because of some snow. So we would literally knock on every door. We had a whole routine worked up, too, with tiered pricing and everything. It’d be like….

“Good morning, Mr. or Ms. so-and-so. I’m here with a couple of my friends and we just wanted to see if you’d like your walkway shoveled this morning.”

That was our introductory offer, our starter package … the walkway. But we fanned out from there. It went all the way up to a deluxe package where we’d shovel your walkway and your driveway, and also start your car.

Some houses would have two cars in the driveway and then one on the street that had gotten absolutely buried by the snowplow. Those jobs would cost more — it’d usually be $10 per vehicle, but for those snowplow-covered cars we’d charge $20. Walkways were $20, too. That was standard. Driveways were usually an extra $10 or $15.

If folks were feeling generous, we could make a good $60 at some houses, $75 if they hit us off with a nice tip. So it’d be $25 on the split.

Per house.

And I mean, let me tell you … $25? To a kid? That was like $500. Back then, you could still get new video games for around $30, or you could hit up GameStop and dig through the sale bin and get a bunch of $5 games. That money went a long way.

So we’d be out there all day with our shovels, like little entrepreneurs. And we did this all the way from middle school up until I left for college.

I made some real bank shoveling snow. Like real good money.

Courtesy of Dion DawkinsBut looking back on that snow removal business now, it only really worked because of the lessons I’d learned as a kid from my parents.

My mom and dad get up super early and go to work.

Every day.

Coronavirus or no, they are out there….

Working. Grinding. Getting things done.

And it’s been that way for as long as I can remember. My mom is in the United Airlines baggage department at the Newark airport, and my dad works as a brewmaster at the Budweiser brewery right across the highway. They’ve been in those jobs for more than 20 years. When I was a kid, they’d be out the door before sunrise. My dad would leave at six every morning, and Mom would follow soon after.

My mom would usually get home in the middle of the afternoon, but my dad?

Man … that guy.

He wanted to earn as much as he possibly could for me and my five brothers and sisters, so he worked loooong shifts. Most of the time he’d get home from work and have to go right to sleep. Some days, I wouldn’t even see him.

But he always made it clear to me that he was doing it all for us. He’d tell me that all the time. It’d be like….

“Even though I’m not always around, you need to know that it’s because I’m working as much as possible so the mortgage can stay paid, and so you guys have clothes on your backs and food in your bellies.”

I learned so much back then by just watching him and my mom grind at their jobs and do all that they could for us.

There’d be days when you could tell they would’ve loved to have slept in for a few hours, or just to have skipped out on work altogether. But it never happened. They always pushed through.

And I saw that. Constantly. Every day.

So, from a very young age, that drive and dedication … I truly believe it became a part of me.

I mean, that 4:45 alarm? That literally came from the fact that I knew my dad left the house at six, so I told my boys we had to be out there, shovels in hand, by five.

If I hadn’t seen my folks doing what they did, day in and day out, I probably would’ve been sleeping in and playing video games and building ice forts all day like my friends. And, I can admit, most days I absolutely wanted to be doing that stuff. But my parents taught me, by example, to see beyond immediate gratification and to understand the benefits that can result from hard work.

A few years after my snow removal business got off the ground, those lessons became all the more important when other kids in our neighborhood … they saw what we were doing. They noticed that me and my two buddies would always have the best PlayStation games every winter.

So one day, maybe around ninth grade, we looked up and noticed that other kids were out there in the snowstorm with their shovels, too. Early. Trying to beat us to the punch.

It could’ve been a huge threat to our entire business model. It could’ve ruined us.

Instead it was just like….

“4:30 alarms from now on, guys!”

Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images

The times we’re living in now … they’re definitely much, much more serious than a snowstorm. But there are actually some similarities that I see.

When there’s a big storm, most people, if they can help it … they aren’t trying to go outside and work. People just want to stay inside and ride it out and wait for everything to pass. But, you know … someone’s still gotta go out and shovel the damn snow.

With this coronavirus crisis, it’s kinda the same deal.

Not everyone is able to just stay inside right now. Not everyone can work from home. Some people gotta be out there on their grind, doing their job no matter what.

Sometimes it can be easy to forget about those people, or to take them for granted. But they’re out there. Working. And … it’s no fun.

My mom, she’s one of those people. She’s waking up early in the morning, driving 35 minutes to the airport, and then helping move suitcases all day — touching luggage, interacting with lots of people, coming into contact with tons of surfaces that could have germs on them.

She’s being very careful, and taking precautions. But she’s nervous.

And scared.

My mom’s seen colleagues she cares about get sick, and, in some cases, pass away from the coronavirus.

She does her best to try to downplay it all because she knows that we worry about her. But I can hear the anxiety in her voice when we talk. I know that she gets worried every morning heading in to work.

Yet, she still goes in every day and does her job.

I respect her so much. My dad, too — he’s going in to work, as well. They are heroes to me.

And there are millions of hard-working folks just like them out there right now putting in work that should not go unrecognized.


Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Sometimes, when you’re like me and able to quarantine at home, and only go out to get groceries or whatever — or when you have an office job and are able to work from home — it can be easy to kind of assume that everyone is in the same boat.

But lots of people don’t have those types of jobs. They have to go out and work. They have no choice.

So I just want to shout out all the people out there working hard in the middle of a damn pandemic. And I want to say….

We see you. You matter.

It’s hospital workers and police officers and other essential workers, obviously, but it’s also just millions and millions of everyday, blue-collar folks working in our cities and towns. There are people, real people — moms and dads, sons and daughters — working in grocery stores and pharmacies, or cleaning the streets, or delivering mail, or collecting the trash, or fixing the roads, or even just people like my dad out there making all that beer the rest of us are drinking during quarantine. It’s a whole army of people. And….

You guys cannot be thanked enough.

Because of you, our world continues to spin, and the rest of us are at least somewhat safer, and healthier, and more secure during this extremely difficult moment in time.

Without you guys — all of you — I honestly don’t know what we’d do.

So, a big salute to all the coronavirus-era workers out there. The no-nonsense, no-excuses folks. The early risers.

From an old-school grinder who spent many long days digging Camrys and big, old F-150s out from underneath mountains of snow, please know that you have my utmost respect and gratitude.

And, on behalf of all of us out here just trying to get through this time at home, please just allow me to say….

Thank you!

Dion Dawkins
Buffalo Bills