Roughing It

John and I had a taste of our childhoods this weekend – a weekend with but a single car and no air conditioning.

Since the beginning of the month, we have had a/c issues. A few days after the Big Storm of June 4th, we discovered that our a/c wasn’t cooling the house properly, and when the HVAC guys finally arrived to take a look, they informed us that our elderly unit was leaking freon and should probably be replaced. They charged it with four pounds of freon (at $100 a pound, thanks so much) and left us to deal with the problem. We decided it was probably time to bite the bullet and replace not only the a/c unit, but the furnace downstairs. After a week’s worth of getting estimates and interviewing companies, we got a deal we were able to live with and the whole works will be replaced this Wednesday. Meanwhile, the old unit seemed to be working fine.

On Wednesday of this past week, I was driving home from a rehearsal and realized that my car was making an odd thumping sound which seemed to be coming from the rear right quarter of the car. At first I thought I’d gotten a flat tire; I pulled over to have a look but no, the tires were fine. I got home and called John; he advised me to look for rocks caught in the tire tread – nope, no rocks. When he got home from work we took the car out and drove it around so he could hear the thumping sound, and he concluded that something was wrong with the brakes. I remembered that I’d set the parking brake while I was at rehearsal (something I rarely do, but I was parked on a sharp incline) and John surmised that the parking brake was somehow stuck. He called our trusty auto mechanic, who advised us to try driving in reverse to see if that would release the brake. That didn’t work – the car began making that awful high-pitched squeal one associates with faulty brakes. We called the mechanic again, and naturally he was slammed and doubted he’d be able to look at the car before Monday. To add to the problem, John was driving to Pennsylvania first thing in the morning and wouldn’t be back until Sunday, so that meant I’d be without wheels while he was gone. Since I wasn’t going to drive my car with faulty brakes anyway, we decided that we’d drop it off at the garage on the off chance that they’d be able to look at it before the weekend. We toyed with the idea of me renting a car for four days, but the price was just silly, particularly in light of our upcoming Major Home Purchase. I made a few calls to arrange transport to a couple of appointments, and resigned myself to hanging around the house by myself most of the weekend.

John left bright and early the next morning, and I fiddled around the house most of the day. My friend Chan was kind enough to drive out to take me to lunch, so that made a nice break. I caught up with some housework and some gardening and felt very June Cleever. That evening, however, I noticed that the a/c didn’t seem to be cooling right – in fact, I’d heard it kick on in the late afternoon and by evening it was still cranking away. The house’s internal temp was sitting at 80 degrees even though the thermostat was set for 74 degrees. In fact, the vents seemed to be pumping warmish air into the house. Uh oh.

I turned the system off, opened the windows and set up fans. Have I mentioned we have a lot of fans? I don’t know why, because we’ve always had central air, but we own three oscillators and two big box fans. I got those cranking and went to bed, and in the morning when John called, gave him the bad news. He suggested I call the HVAC company that’s installing the new system and ask them to bring us some freon, but I was reluctant – it would just leak out again, and we’d be throwing money away and adding more pollutants into the atmosphere into the bargain. So I told him I’d tough it out.

The next morning I had to go to a reading. One of the participants kindly gave me a ride, but since it turned out that the creative team was going to have a work session after the reading, I opted to walk to a nearby Metro stop and take the subway home to Vienna. Fortunately my house is less than a mile from that station; unfortunately I hadn’t worn shoes conducive to walking. I arrived home hot and footsore. The internal temperature of the house was around 87 degrees so I changed into a few clothes as possible, parked myself in front of a fan and wondered how my parents had done it back in the day. Not only was the house hot, the humidity levels had stepped up as well. Any activity drenched me in sweat, so I spent most of the day watching TV, reading and surfing the net. I did find this helpful article, which gave me a few tips. The garage called and told me that my car’s parking brake cable would have to be replaced, but the part wouldn’t be in their shop until Monday. Damn. On the upside, late in the afternoon John called to let me know he was coming home early and to expect him sometime around 10 PM. I gave him the update on my car and told him to expect the house to be hot.

I have a resourceful husband who also has a genius for hanging onto odd things that turn out to be extremely useful. When John got home, he unearthed an old attic exhaust fan that he’d scrounged somewhere during his bachelor days. This same beat-up old fan was helpful during the Great Basement Flood of ’07, and now he set it up in the doorway to the deck and turned it on so it would draw the hot air out of the house. And it worked! The house temperature dropped down several degrees, and then a helpful thunderstorm blew through and cooled things down outside considerably. We reversed the direction of the exhaust fan so it drew the cool outside air in, and by morning the house was at a comfortable 74 degrees. That didn’t last, of course; as Saturday warmed up, so did the house, but at least we now had a method for dealing with it.

It’s Monday morning now, which means we just have to rough it for two more days. It’s not been too bad, actually. We’ll probably have my car back tonight, so I can get where I need to go, but we managed with just one car for five days and could probably do it longer if we had to. We’ve survived without air conditioning, too, although the weather has cooperated by cooling down from the 95 degree days we were having last week. The exhaust fan is currently pulling the morning air into the house but it’s already getting warm outside; when I finish writing this I’ll shut the fan off, close the deck doors and draw the blinds against the sun. And we’ll carry on, in the old-fashioned way.


  1. Joan L.

    I understand cherry pie is helpful in situations such as this. That’s what I hear, since I don’t HAVE any cherry pie…sniffle, sniffle

  2. Donna Migliaccio

    Hey, I’m not heating up the oven to bake cherry pie until the new system is in. In fact, since this happened we have a moratorium on oven use. If it can’t be grilled outside, cooked on the stovetop, microwaved or eaten cold, we’re not having it. Or at least, we’re going to a restaurant to have it.

  3. Carolyn

    it is VERY difficult to force yourself to cook without air conditioning. I spend many a day sweating over the oven only the look regrettingly at the sink remembering there is yet another modern-day luxury I lack, a Dishwasher.ahhh the good ol days 🙂

  4. Julianna Mahley

    Donna, I don’t know where you live in Vienna but it can’t be more than a mile from us. And I don’t know how to phone you. But the next time you are in this state, let me know. You can come to my house. Or you can borrow one of our cars.

  5. Donna Migliaccio

    It hasn’t been awful, Julianna. I actually woke up cold this morning!When I was quite a bit younger, a gentleman I worked for told me I was “an independent cuss.” I think that’s probably still true, and it goes double for John. Thanks for the offer of an assist, though!

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