It started Friday afternoon: The car could barely make it through the snow and ice and scraped against a snow bank. Last week’s 30-inch blizzard was still very much in evidence. The snow lay all around. Beautifully.
Late in the afternoon, Alice went upstairs. It was very chilly, so she checked the thermostat — the temperature hadn’t changed since several hours earlier (48º). Down to the basement. After making several futile attempts to locate the red button that restarts the beast, she called the oil company and for three hours heard nothing but the busy signal. It was far into the night before she got through. Her name got on a list for Saturday morning. “We begin at 8,” the receptionist said, “so if you haven’t heard from us by 8:15, give us a call.”
Alice called the oil company at 8:20. The person who answered had no knowledge of her call the night before and that she was already on the schedule. “There are seven pages to go through and we haven’t read them all yet,” the woman said. When she finally found the name, she told Alice what she already knew — that many people had problems with the furnace because of the cold, and they were attending to the customers with no heat at all first. That was only right, thought Alice. She couldn’t get a promise of a service call later that day.
Yet shortly afterwards, a busy but friendly repairman showed up to fix the faulty ignition in the furnace.
Meantime, her husband was trying to make a dinner reservation for Valentine’s Day. No dice. Well, no problem. They would stay in. The freezer was full.
Then came the next surprise, Alice told me. The room over the garage was 42º, dangerously close to freezing and burst pipes. “Close, but thank God,” she said, “no cigar.” The little gas furnace seemed to be working — she could hear it — but only cold air came through the register. Getting through to the gas serviceman didn’t take long, though at first the call-taker insisted that Alice wasn’t a customer. She straightened that out. A weekend emergency call is very expensive, so the call-answerer recommended that they first check to see if the exhaust was blocked by the snow (it wasn’t) and, perhaps they had run out of gas?
Alice pulled on her boots, donned her winter gear and tried not to sink too deeply into the snow. The cover of the tank wasn’t completely buried under the snow, but the gauge inside was deep down, dirty and small. She couldn’t read it. So Alice went back for a rag, a light and a towel to kneel on in the snow. Sure enough. The tank was empty.
Another call. Alice assured the gas company rep that she’d be home all day to wait for the fuel delivery. But surprise — the gas truck arrived within the hour.
Her devoted husband is a soccer fan. Italian soccer. Telecast from Italy on a special channel. Which wasn’t coming in. He is also a Luddite, so Alice spent the next THREE HOURS on the line with a tech at the cable company. If you find this hard to believe, you don’t know how long it takes to get behind these electronic marvels, then unplug, wait through rebooting, remove a card you can’t find because it’s so cleverly hidden underneath a decorative panel, unplug and reboot again, try something else, reboot yet again … And after all that, the tech gave up and advised Alice to call the maker of the device that the cable company hadn’t supplied. She drew the line. It was too late for soccer anyway.
Alice opened the freezer to pull out something for dinner and a big slice of ham folded limply in her hand. The ice cream was soup. She tossed the contents and made yet another call. This time she would have to wait at least a week for the repairman, so she and her husband set to work in the kitchen, and in due course the oven yielded a yummy dinner, including an extra-chocolatey Valentine’s dessert.
They finished the day by a roaring fire, thankful that their problems were resolved and especially, that they could have been much worse. Outside, the snow continued drifting down.