When I was a kid, I used to do a lot of powerboating with my family. My Dad is a very gung-ho kinda guy; anything he thinks is worth doing is worth OVERdoing (which is sort of the unofficial family motto). When he got interested in boating, he didn’t just buy a boat – he bought a boat and took every course the U.S. Power Squadron and U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary offered. Seamanship, Navigation, Meteorology – you name it. He took it. (He got interested in shrimping, and ended up with a commercial pilot’s license to take people out for hire 50 miles out into the Gulf of Mexico, but that’s a story for another time.) Anyway, once upon a spring vacation, we were cruising along the Intracoastal Waterway in South Louisiana. Dad had us on a boating cruise looking for the grave of the famous pirate/War of 1812 Hero Jean Lafitte – and the location of his secret hideout known as the Temple.
As a kid, the treasure hunting aspect of this fascinated me. The cruising down bayous at about 5 knots (5 nautical miles per hour for you landlubbers) interested me a lot less. Boring doesn’t begin to describe. But I digress.
That part of the country is populated by “Cajuns” – native people that speak not only English but a patios that is a mixture of Acadiana French, English, a little Spanish here and there, and a bunch of words that are to French, what Yiddish is to Hebrew.
Cajuns live in a world all their own – practically a country all their own. They don’t just have unique cooking and music traditions – their entire culture and way of life is different from the rest of America. They tend to look at laws and regulations that impinge on their way of life more like “suggestions” than rules. And nowhere is that more apparent than on the water in Cajun country.
The FCC regulates two-way radio communications. Power boaters have used radios for years for commuincation, of both non-emergency and emergency in nature. “Uncle Charlie” has some strict rules for the use of the public airwaves, not the least of which is that all users are required to identify themselves over the air, with a call sign.
To put it mildly, regulations like that chafe the Cajun soul. Besides, a lot of what goes on out there on the Intracostal, Bayou Teche, and the Gulf is not the kind of thing you want to broadcast in public, especially when they want you to put your name on the line. Things like smuggling. Drug-running. Poaching. You know. Illegal stuff. Cajuns have developed a clever way to skirt the call sign requirements. They whistle. Like bird calls. Each and every one, a unique sound, that identifies one Cajun to his buddies.
I bring all this up because (A) I like to tell stories, and (B) it actually has something to do with my topic here. We were down on the bayou one day, boating to our little hearts content, when my Dad had the idea to try and use his two-way radio to help in his Jean Lafitte search. However, two Cajuns were busy talking up a storm on the channel used for initializing communications, and they showed no signs of letting up. The term “two way radio” is kind of a misnomer. It’s two-way, alright, but not full-duplex – in other words, two people can talk, but not at the same time. All one needs to to completely muck up a channel – and a conversation – is to hold down your transmit key, which effectively holds the channel hostage. One of the reasons the Cajuns use whistling instead of call signs, is that they can tie up channels with impunity. When my pater familias grew frustrated in trying to get a word in edgewise, he crafted a cunning plan. During a momentary break in the conversation, he keyed his microphone, and…whistled. It was a charming call…something like a cross between a cardinal and a whippoorwill, as I recall. He did it a couple of times. Dead silence was the reply, then “Who dat? Who dat on dat radio?!” My Dad whistled again. The Cajuns panicked – they assumed, apparently, that we were Fish and Game wardens, out to snag a couple of Cajun poachers. At any rate, they skedaddled, and we had the airwaves to ourselves, for a while, at least.
Still, this prevented my Dad from getting any directions over the air. Then we came upon two Cajuns in a pirogue (a kind of Cajun canoe), fishing. He asked them for directions. Both obliged. Neither agreed. We ended up with two guys pointing two different directions up and down the canal. After giving it careful thought, one of them shrugged and said “Well, char…I guess you can’ get thar from here.”
I kind of felt that way here at the Captain Digital Secret Lair for the last few days. I knew something was hinky when our weather finally turned from teasing about this cold stuff, to full-on blustery. Sort of a preview of coming distractions, if you will. Foreshadowing regarding this Old Man Winter nonsense. (I’m a firm believer that the only reason for it to get cold is to provide snow. The only legitimate reason for snow is for skiing. Amarillo is flat and windy – not idea for skiing. Ergo, there’s no reason for it to get cold here. My sentiments are NOT shared by the populace.)
With the cold comes a need to fire up the old furnace at night. It’s all well and good to save by turning up the temp, but when your heater is not working, all that “take one for the team” drivel goes right out the window. I attempted to use my meager skills to reboot the heater – to no avail. (HVAC is something of a mystery to me, much like a light bulb would be to A Neanderthal.) So when the weather started getting rough…um, cold…I called our A/C & Heater guy. Due to bad timing on my part (these appliance emergencies always seem to happen on a Friday or weekend – never during the week), we were unable to get a house-call until today. I’ll spare you the play-by-play – suffice to say that it turns out that the problem was that a gas line valve had been turned off.
Before you automatically assume it was me – it wasn’t. A few months ago, our hot water heater died. We hired a guy that worked at Lowes’ to come out and install it – he wasn’t on their approved union guy list, but he seemed to know his stuff, and was a LOT cheaper than the union guys.
Due to a difference in the sizes of the heaters and the fact that the previous installation had evidently been done by a blind marsupial on a three-day bender, he had to re-plumb the heater. The good news – he added niceties like cutoff valves. The bad news – much of his work ended up on the wall behind the heater – well out of reach to me, the HVAC guy, and anybody else outside of Reed Richards.
After testing our heater, partially disassembling it, and puzzling over it for a half-hour, the HVAC guy realized that we weren’t getting any gas to the unit. Turns out the hot water heater guy had turned off the supply line to the heater, and forgotten to turn it back on. Once we figured out a way to reach the inaccessible valve and turn it on, the heater responded like a champ.
I was ready for my victory lap, congratulations all around, and perhaps a little thank you from Mrs. Digital for NOT having to buy a new heater. Not so fast…now the bloody water heater wouldn’t come back on.
I figured, “Hey – it’s a new, state-of-the-art water heater. How hard can this be? Unfortunately, this heater was designed to be installed an used by a family of circus contortionists, wintering in Sarasota, Florida. In order to follow the obtuse instructions on the unit (no doubt written by that infinite number of monkeys sitting in front of their infinite number of typewriters, all infinitely aggravated by the fact that the aren’t using laptops), I had to lay on the floor, head cocked to one side, and perform a chording maneuver that would make a left handed bazouki player envious. After two calls to the HVAC guy to assure me I wasn’t going to blow up the house, we determined that there was air in the gas line. The solution? Disconnect the gas line from the water heater thermostat, and bleed the air out of it.
Pause with me for a nanosecond.
Natural gas is safe, efficient, (relatively) inexpensive and clean. It can also blow you to Kingdom Come, if you don’t know what in the Sam Hill you’re doing.
I don’t know what I’m doing.
So, naturally, I allowed Mr. HVAC to talk me through this delicate process, where the next spark who strolls by could be my one-way ticket to the Pearly Gates. Fortunately, it worked. No fingers, toes, or lives were lost during the relighting of the heater.
Of course, now I was doubly-proud of my ability to Get The House Working, without having to Call Somebody In to Fix Things. (Never mind about the HVAC call – he was as mystified as I was, so it’s not like I screwed up or anything.) Of course, my triumphal entry into the heart of my domain was somewhat dampened when I discovered Mrs. Digital and our offspring curled up in bed, rapidly drifting off to sleep.
You can’t get there from here, char. You just can’t.
So here I type, in my lonely writer’s garret, nursing my dreams of being viewed as the Mighty Breadwinner, Slayer of Household Problems, King of All He Surveys. Instead, I think about what will be keeping me awake tonight, I’m sure…what’s gonna break next?