Starting the New Year Off Right

Mary Katharine Ham
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Posted: Jan 02, 2006 2:22 PM

I arrived home from work Friday night to find the apartment not filled with the smell of my roommate's Chicken Voila! and impending supper, as is usually the case. This time, it was filled with the smell of natural gas and impending explodey death.

So, I got to ventilating. Back door, windows, frigid air wafting through the living room. Then I got to sniffing. I couldn't find anywhere the smell was particularly strong. I asked the gals in the apartment upstairs if they had cooked anything and left the burner clicked on just a little. Nope. I knew our burners were all the way off, but I was pretty sure the smell was coming from our apartment.

So, I called the gas company around 10 p.m., pushed 1 for the emergency line. While I was on hold, I picked up the gas range handbook to hunt for troubleshooting clues. Under, "Tips for When Your House Smells Like Gas," No. 1 was "DO NOT, under any circumstances, talk on a phone." Oops. I was torn, but I stayed on hold.

Operator: This is the emergency line. Do you have a natural gas emergency?

ME: I think so. My apartment smells very strongly of gas.

Operator: Yes, that's what we call an emergency. I'm sending the next guy out there.

She couldn't say how long it would be, but assured me, almost as an afterthought, that if I ventilated the apartment and managed not to light anything, there was little to no risk of combustion. I settled in for a long night of not lighting stuff.

The gas guy showed up around 1:30 a.m. I walked with him around the apartment, listening to his gas-sensor, which behaved like a metal detector but made a soft clack sound instead of a beep. But the clacks never got any faster in my apartment or around the stove or the hot water heater.

Where they did get faster, speeding almost to a clacky hum, was near my downstairs neighbor's door (I live in a house split into three apartments). What I had not taken into account was that natural gas rises, which is why it smelled so strong in my apartment.

The gas guy and I couldn't wake the downstairs neighbor up, which concerned me, but didn't seem to bother the gas guy, who just said he'd turn the gas off to be safe. Sounded good to me. I told him I'd just call back Saturday.

I called back Saturday, pushed 1 for the emergency line. It was a holiday, so that's the only number that worked. I was ready for some heat, a hot shower, a hot meal. But it was not to be.

I talked to the guy downstairs and determined that he had left his burner slightly flicked on. There was no gas leak. I explained this to the woman on the line.

Turns out turning the gas off? Emergency. Turning it back on? Not so much. But we could schedule an appointment for Tuesday, after the holiday. Tuesday? I've lived through ice storms and hurricanes that took less time to recover from.

I tried by turns to be angry, despondent, shivering and pathetic, and sweet. I had the other apartment tenants try the same tactics. Nothing. So, I changed tacks. I thought I'd pull some strings.

ME: Ma'am, I'm not sure if you're aware of this, but I was recently named Rookie Blogger of the Year.

Operator: Blog-who?

ME: Oh, it's true. I can send you the permalink and everything.

Operator: Perma-huh?

ME: Well, you see, a blog is like an online journal...err...new media...new frontier...um...breaking down barriers...oh, nevermind.

That's really just my silly way of saying thanks to Hugh for the kind words. Even if the honor didn't get my gas turned back on. I anxiously anticipate the day when being a blogger will elicit immediate respect and utility-reinstatement for all of us. That day will come. Until then, I appreciate Hugh's confidence in me. It has been a true pleasure blogging for his readers.

Until Tuesday, I shall blog with cold hands. I won't say anymore, lest John Edwards use me for his next, sad-jacketless-little-girl-story-of-America's-promise-unfulfilled.

Oh, and this is Washington Gas, in case you ever have to make a decision about a gas provider in the area.