Amblin' Alameda: The Coldest Night

Amblin' Alameda: The Coldest Night

Morton Chalfy

On the coldest night in Alameda this year our furnace broke. It took a little while to realize that fact as one minute it was blowing out heated air and the next it wasn’t. Probably an hour after its malfunction, after turning up the thermostat to no avail, after complaining about the rising cold in the house, we finally realized the truth. What to do? The furnace is located beneath the house and is accessible through a crawl space, but our days of crawling about are long gone. Theoretically I could get under there and inspect things, but then what? I wouldn’t know how to fix it and I’d have a lot of trouble standing up afterwards.

So we called PG&E who were very happy to come out and look things over … in a week. But of course we were cold right then and a week is a long time to wait for warmth. We found a company that could send a repairman the day after next and we took them up on it.

And then there we were. The interior temperature of the house was only a few paltry degrees above the outside temperature and suddenly we were back in the days when the house was first built, around 1912, but this time the fireplace was bricked up. For two and a half days we wandered around dressed in layers with a blanket around my shoulders and tried to keep warm while doing our usual tasks.

Fortunately we had a lot of baking to do for the holidays and so spent a fair amount of time in the kitchen hovering around the oven. When the sun warmed things up in the afternoon we repaired to the back deck to soak up a little. We walked with our shoulders hunched against the cold and frequently blew on our fingers to keep them limber enough to type.

The cold was like an unwanted guest in the house. Unwanted but firmly planted. Electric heaters were employed but they were only effective for a radius of three feet and so limited our abilities to get things done. Only in bed at night, (early nights these were) together under the quilt where our body heat finally gave us some relief were we comfortable.

How different life appeared after the technician arrived and fixed our problem (a blown fuse) and restored us to the 21st Century. With the house at a comfortable 72 degrees our bodies relaxed, the hunched backs against the cold were replaced by our normal postures and our fingers returned to their usual pink color.

It truly made me think, how thin is the wall between civilized comfort and exposure to the elements. How little it takes for the hardships of the days of yore to return. When power is lost our civilization comes to a halt and circumstances revert immediately to raw nature and our efforts to deal with it. Thank heavens for replacement fuses and technicians willing to crawl under houses to replace them.

And all of it just in time for us to enjoy a happy holiday.