Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Hot Enough For You?


As a friend of mine (John Roach) said….”five days with highs in the 90’s isn’t an emergency; it’s SUMMER.” True dat.

The photo above speaks for itself. The digital thermometer is in my office, and the outside sensor is on the pool deck, in the direct mid-afternoon sun. I work in climate-controlled comfort. I posted the picture above as my Facebook status, and it engendered a score of snarky comments.

The media are full of the predictable “heat” stories. I shouldn’t make fun of this; I did a “heat” story for one of my employers (Public News Service) Monday, but I managed to elicit a bit of news from the UW cardiologist I interviewed: once past 50, our “thirst system” doesn’t work as well as it used to, and those of us who have passed that milestone are at greater risk of dehydration, because we don’t receive our body’s “thirsty” signal as well as younger folks.

When it gets this hot, and I have to be outside, I usually use a mental cooling system based on my memory of a January night back in the mid-70’s. I’m recording this story here for posterity, so my kids can some day know they weren’t the only young people who got out of scrapes that might have taken their lives.

My friend and former roommate Mike, who had decamped from Oshkosh to Eau Claire to be closer to the young lady who later became his wife (and to advance his radio career), invited me over for a weekend visit at his bachelor flat in beautiful suburban Altoona. We went out for beer and pizza when I got there Friday evening, and Saturday he invited me to go with him to a basketball game in Wausau between Newman High School and Eau Claire Regis High School. Mike was the play-by-play announcer for Regis, on WBIZ-AM in Eau Claire.

We piled into his 1972 Cougar XR-7 and made the two-hour, hundred-mile drive in the late afternoon, found a place to eat, and then went to the school to broadcast the game. When it was done, we packed the broadcast equipment back into his car and headed west on HiWay 29 about 10 PM. HiWay 29 runs pretty much straight as a string between Wausau and Chippewa Falls, where you take HiWay 53 south a few miles to Altoona.

I guess we didn’t realize how cold it was until we got a few miles east of Wausau. The XR-7 coughed a bit and slowed down, but then regained its stride. We both wondered what the incident was all about, but dismissed it and continued westward. As the night deepened, and the cold intensified, somewhere near the small town of Owen, the Cougar coughed and died. We coasted to a stop.

Mike took a deep breath, turned the key to “start”; the Cougar caught life and we continued our journey, now somewhat apprehensive, and cognizant that it was probably about 20 below zero. We made it a few more miles and the car coughed and died again.

We waited a moment; the car started again; we made it a few more miles, and then the sequence repeated. When we got to the small town of Thorp, we looked for lights on at any service station within sight, but it was late on a Saturday night, and small towns roll up the sidewalks around 10PM.

We did this stop/start thing for the next couple hours, hoping that the battery would hold out, knowing that if we got stranded, we were in very serious trouble. Somewhere around Cadott, we ran into a few miles of “ice fog”, and knew that our goose was cooked if the car conked out and wouldn’t come back to life. What we didn’t know then, but what Mike’s mechanic suggested later, was that the engine was stopping because the gas line was freezing. When we stopped, there was just enough heat from the engine to thaw the fuel filter and a few feet of the fuel line, allowing us to go a few more miles.

A journey that normally would take a couple hours turned into a six-hour ordeal, as we finally rolled into the parking lot of Mike’s apartment complex around 4 AM. The thermometer outside his kitchen window read 26 below.

The following Monday afternoon, Mike called me and told me what his mechanic had said. I went to the gas station nearest my apartment and put a can of “Heet” (gas line anti-freeze) into the tank, and thanked my lucky stars again.

When it gets this hot and I have to be outside, I think of that January night three and a half decades ago, knowing that being young and stupid isn’t always fatal.

No comments:

Post a Comment