Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Really Stupidly Cold Adventures of Avalon's Powerless Apartment

When I moved to New Orleans, I was coming from a life lived in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. I knew cold, and this subtropic wet zone didn't have it. 

But then I learned about humidity, which is not a thing I had ever really experienced, and I learned how 50 degrees in New Orleans felt like 20 degrees had in Colorado. The air gets heavy and hatefully cold, eats straight to your bones and refuses to let you stay warm. I'll take a freezing night in the mountains over a freeze here in the South any day of the week and twice on Sunday; being closer to the sun means that, even though the air is cold, the light is warmer, and the lack of water in the air makes the frigidity completely bearable.

So when the polar vortex swirled its way through the country last month, New Orleans got pretty chilly. It got so chilly, in fact, that everything froze over, all the plants died, and those of us whose homes were built before insulation was a thing turned up the heat to full in order to keep warm. I happen to have a water bed (it's like sleeping on top of a hot water bottle) which I turned up to 95. I was snuggly and cozy in my footy pajamas, drinking tea in bed, warmed by 35 gallons of heated water and two confused cats who didn't understand why it was so cold inside and had decided to sleep under the covers to keep warm.

And then the power went out.

Now, power outages are not an uncommon thing in New Orleans. Most of our power lines look like they were planned by the mind of a madman and strung by a fleet of squirrels who got bored halfway through and just decided to make pretty webs instead. Bad storms fell lines with jading frequency, and sometimes there are just broken live lines laying in the streets, which everyone just steps around in order to avoid being barbecued. I'm used to outages. I took a flashlight and reset the breakers in the house, just in case they'd been tripped. The kitchen light came back, and I assumed all was well – but none of the lights or vents upstairs worked at all. So I contacted the power company, who sent a guy out to check. By this point, my house was brutally, incredibly cold. I was wearing two layers of pajamas, a ski cap, slippers, and a robe, and was still freezing. The cats had puffed up into two tiny balls of shivery fluff, and I piled every blanket I own onto my bed to try to preserve the heat in the mattress – because without power, the water was getting chilly.

The power company rep did the same thing I did, to no avail. Then he shrugged and advised me to call an electrician. 

"But it's 12:30 at night on the coldest night of the year," I explained, squinting past the light cast by my headlamp to see if he was joking.

Power Company Dude shrugged again and left me to the cold.

I contacted my property manager that same night to see if there was some awesome emergency electrician that comes out in the middle of the night to fix your heaters. Not only was there not that, but my property was now managed by some new, unknown person, and there was nothing to be done.

The cats and I settled into a cold night under three comforters, a sleeping bag, several fleece throws, some clean laundry, and two bathrobes. Despite being unable to move my limbs due to the weight of all the bedding, we three still shivered. (Several kind friends did offer to let me stay with them, but at this point, it was 2 in the morning, and I decided just to wait until dawn and then bring wrath unto my property manager's office.)

The next day, in slightly-warmer-but-still-really-surprisingly-cold weather, an electrician spent nine hours taking apart every outlet and light switch in my house. We discovered that two outlets upstairs were still working, though he couldn't repair the rest without getting into the attic. My apartment doesn't have attic access, and we had to wait three days for the denizens of an apartment that did to let him in. We wired my house on extension cords in the meantime, plugging my bed, phone charger, and a lamp into the one working outlet in the bedroom. The heaters still wouldn't work, but at least the mattress could warm to a cozy 90 degrees again.

It took over a week to restore full power to my apartment. I had to shower before it got dark because my bathroom becomes darker than the vast blackness of space once the sun goes down, and wander around my own apartment with a headlamp and a flashlight to make sure I didn't fall to my death off the landing or down the stairs.

There isn't a punchline to this blog. It's not a very funny story, unless you really enjoy stories about power outages and cold, which, if you do, is a very niche market and congrats on finding an example of such specific reading material.