In the dark of night, as Tuesday’s snowstorm raged, Justin Lang grabbed a shovel and went house to house in north Minneapolis.
He dug in, clearing the sidewalks and driveways of strangers. Then he disappeared.
The 30-year-old Robbinsdale man was back at it again Wednesday night, clearing pathways for those who couldn’t or didn’t in the storm’s aftermath — just because he’s the kind of guy who believes in doing the right thing, hoping others will pay it forward.
He shrugs and shies away when others make a fuss about his good deeds. “It’s not a big deal,” he said. “It’s something I would hope someone would do for me.”
If only that were so. The reality is, few people would trudge through snowdrifts to shovel for strangers.
“I know,” he said. And then he sighed. “I don’t want to lose faith in humanity,” he said.
Lang is the guy who runs to a convenience store on a hot day to get bottles of water for a homeless man on the side of the road or hands over a sweatshirt to a man shivering in the cold outside a gas station.
He’s the guy who mows the neighbor’s lawn in the summer, knocks snow off his satellite dish, or shovels her walk.
“If someone in the neighborhood needs help, you just do it,” he said. “That’s your community. These are the people that if anything ever goes wrong and you need someone to lean on, you may have to lean on these people.”
Sure, Lang was a Boy Scout growing up. But he attributes his altruism to the “two very, very good people” who raised him.
“One of first things my dad preached to us was, do right by your fellow man. Be honest. Be loyal. Be trustworthy,” he said. “If you say you’re going to do something, follow through with it. Just do the same thing you would want somebody to do for you.”
His mother taught him compassion.
As a kid with a job, he would give a buck or two to a homeless person.
By his mid-20s, generosity became a lifestyle. “I didn’t want to live the next umpteen years of my life being [a jerk] to everyone and doing nothing for the people around me,” he said. “It’s OK to do good things, and it’s OK to do good things on a consistent basis.”
Lang noticed when the mom in a car filled with rambunctious kids pulled up behind him in the fast-food restaurant drive-through.
Watching her search for her wallet, Lang told the cashier to add the woman’s tab to his. “She looked like she was having a long day,” he said. “Now her day became that much easier.”
He does something like this every couple of days or so. “Whenever I get the opportunity, I try to seize it,” he said.
But sometimes his acts of kindness aren’t appreciated. When he stopped one night last fall in north Minneapolis to help a kid lying on the ground, blood pooling nearby, a guy brandished a gun and suggested in no uncertain terms that he get back in his car. Lang left and called 911.
And there are things he can’t “unsee” when he stops to offer roadside assistance, like the child lying in the street after being struck and killed by a car. But none of this stops Lang from lending a hand.
A plea to pay it forward
With a winter storm headed to Minnesota on Tuesday, Lang posted to social media that he would shovel for those who couldn’t. “I WILL NOT accept any type of money or payment, but I do strongly ask that in someway you pay it forward,” he wrote.
Done with work as the storm buried roads and walks, Lang threw an aluminum snow scoop in the trunk.
He never even considered using grandfather’s snowblower. “I’m 5-6, 130 pounds,” he said. “A big snowblower is way too big for this little guy to pick up.
“A shovel fits in the back of my vehicle very nicely, and it still gets the job done.”
He headed to Crystal and cleared the driveway for a disabled veteran.
In north Minneapolis, he worked his way down Victory Memorial Drive well into the night.
“I’m sure they appreciated it when they woke up,” Lang said. “Do they need to know who did it? No. They can have a little faith that it was someone around them who did something nice for them and that they’ll someday repay that favor back by doing something nice for someone else.”
On Wednesday, he returned to north Minneapolis after getting a request to his social media post.
Dressed in heavy snow boots, wind pants and a jacket, Lang cleared the path where the letter carrier left foot tracks across the front lawn leading from one house to another. While snowblowers roared nearby, Lang shoveled the front porch and then the driveway.
Marlene Kelley, who was visiting her daughter, cracked open the front door. “Oh, how wonderful,” she said as she looked out at Lang.
As he shoveled deep, compacted snow at the end of the driveway, sweat beaded on his face and he pushed his stocking cap up on his head.
“I just want people to be nice to one another,” he said. “Do you ever notice how people act around Christmastime? There’s goodwill toward your fellow man. There’s no happier time of the year for me than Christmas. … It would be nice if we could have it all year long.”