Published On: Mon, Mar 13th, 2017

What’s a Couple of Nights Sleeping in the Cold?

Several years ago when Najwa first started attending DC Prep, at the end of each day the students did an end of day reflection.  It was a moment for each to share with their classmates what they learned, or their favorite part of the day, or whatever was on their mind.  I copied this concept at work, doing an end of day reflection in regards to where we are at the moment, where we want to be, random thoughts I had at the moment.  I haven’t done it in a while, and perhaps I’ll get back to it, but I did want to transfer the concept to the blog.  So, the first end of day reflection; let’s hope I remember so that it’s not the last.

Perspective Is Everything

What I was doing in the basement escapes me. Looking back, it’s immaterial. But in the middle of last week, I smelled gas. It was faint, and the scent went away about as soon as I smelled it, so I ignored it. The next day, I caught a whiff of it again. Faint, again, but definitely gas. I checked to make sure the carbon monoxide sensor near the furnace worked. It does. Only carbon monoxide sensors don’t sense natural gas.

So, I asked Nduku, whose olfactory powers exceed mine, if she could go to the basement and let me know if anything smells funny. No need. She said she smelled gas for the past couple of days and that it was probably why she kept getting headaches when she was in the basement.

Then I had this image flash through my brain of three charred bodies in a house decimated by a gas leak that we ignored because, well, I’m not sure why it didn’t set off alarm bells.

I texted Bill, our contractor, to see if he knew how to detect a gas leak. Or if he knew someone who could come by this weekend and take a look at it. He texted back immediately:

Call the gas company immediately.

Again, I’m not sure what we were thinking. Of course. The smell of gas comes from gas leaks and gas has the propensity to explode when the fumes reach flame. Conveniently, the furnace is next to the water heater with a little pilot light dancing just feet away.

When the Washington Gas technician [I think they’re called technicians] came out at 10 pm, I had a tinge of guilt. I envisioned him at home, binging on the Netflix series Occupied [OK, it was me who was binging on it recently], when a call comes through to inspect for a gas leak for someone who smelled it for the past couple of days, every now and again, and was ready to go to bed.

Somewhere deep inside of me, not wanting to waste anyone’s time, almost hoped there was a gas leak. But when poked around the furnace and hit pay dirt, his gas sensor sounding like a klaxon, that’s when it dawned on me that the image of three charred bodies might not have been so far-fetched.

All good. I was thankful he helped us figure out the gas smell. Cool dude actually. When I confessed that I a part of me hoped there was a gas leak so as to not waste his time, how I almost waited until the morning when our contractor said call the gas company, he reiterated, quite animatedly, that that thought was ridiculous. Gas leaks are nothing to dare. They always win when they find the pilot light.

Cool. Glad it worked out. I was feeling satisfied, knowing with certainty that it was a gas leak instead of my imagination. It felt like vicotyr and I realized he was turning the valve to the natural gas line.

Me: Uhhh…
Technician: You have a gas leak.
Me: But that’s the heat.
Washington Gas

Long story short, the ladies and I spent a couple days watching the temperature on the thermostat nosedive.


Bill recommended someone who recommended someone who came through to look at the possible cracked burner that was leaking gas. Frank, the HVAC contractor, confirmed that it very well might be the burner. Or maybe the chamber that holds the gas. Maybe something else, but whatever it was, as old as the furnace was, he wouldn’t be able to find the parts to replace it. So, you know what that means.

The descending numbers on the thermostat was going to look like they were falling in slow motion when compared to what was about to happen to my bank account!

But after sleeping two consecutive nights wrapped in a hoodie, jeans and socks, what choice did I have. And all the following week was going to be in the 30s with a major snow storm brewing on the horizon? No brainer.


Now, it was cold.  So cold Nduku let me walk around the house in my shoes.  I almost went to bed with them on, but didn’t want to test her goodwill.

But, we worked it out.  Space heaters kept the main level comfortable.  Relatively speaking of course.  We have a couple of heated throw blankets that helped as well.  On our bed and Najwa’s, we have heated mattress pads.  And plenty of blankets.  And my hoodie of course.

The pipe that carries the natural gas splits in two.  The furnace is at the end of one pipe, where the technician shut down the valve.  The other pipe continued to the water heater and the kitchen so we had hot showers and could still use the stove and oven.  So, no need to check into a hotel for a few days.  We would survive.

And then, while rubbing my hands together, hoping to get some circulation of warm blood into my fingers, I had another image flash through my brain.  The hundreds of homeless people who have nowhere to go when the temperature drops.  Well, some make it to shelters.  Others may squat in abandoned homes.  But there are many who simply have to weather the cold.  It’s not only cold out there, but the ground or sidewalk or bench doesn’t have a sleep number.

As I walked around the house, nose starting to sniffle, toes started to cramp up from being so cold, body shivering when I sit on the cold leather furniture, I kept wondering how do people do it who sleep out there in the cold.  I mean, I was cold, but I was comfortable.  I was still grateful for my pillow top mattress with memory foam, a hot @ss shower in the morning, some bacon for the stomach, UberEats delivered my lunch, and to get away for a moment, I took Najwa to the Brewmaster’s Castle.

Anyway, I’m not going to go Bread For The City on anyone, but it did cross my mind that maybe, when walking past the panhandlers at the Metro to go to work, maybe they slept at that corner the night before.  And maybe giving them a dollar could help them get a cup of coffee, a small victory in a cycle of cold nights with no plausible end in sight.

Our two nights sleeping, comfortably, in the cold, was nothing more than just an inconvenience.

Life is short.  Appreciate what we do have and anytime something doesn’t quite go our way, just remember that there are many others who’d trade their predicaments with ours.

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About the Author

David Gaines

- David Gaines is a Washington, DC, resident transplanted from North Carolina whose dream career was a newspaper writer but settled for the recruiting industry and simply blogging about whatever thoughts crosses his mind.


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