When the Heat is Off

Ford truck

Anyone who has seen or ridden in my truck knows that I’m not overly concerned with aesthetics. No one would describe me as “meticulous” about the condition of my vehicle. Ambivalent and neglectful would be much more accurate, although I do try to stay on top of the go/no-go items.

One notable exception is the heater. Last summer, I noticed the interior of the truck was starting to smell like antifreeze. That was odd because it normally smells like mold and fish bait. Reluctantly, I took it to a shop where my two most troubling suspicions were confirmed: 1) that the heater core needed to be replaced and 2) that replacing the heater core is very expensive.

Keep in mind that it was August when I was having this conversation, so I was sweating profusely in the midday heat when the mechanic explained that for a fraction of the cost, he could simply redirect the lines and bypass the heater core altogether. The only problem, he said, is that I wouldn’t be able to use the heater.

Foresight has never been my strong suit, so I went cheap. And I celebrated that decision all the way to the first real cold spell.

On December 20, I drove from Pensacola to Apalachicola. I had to leave well before daylight to make it on time.

From Pensacola to Milton, I was okay. In fact, I was feeling a little smug about the decision that had saved me hundreds of dollars. About Crestview, however, I started to notice a little draft. Surprisingly, my 17-year-old truck isn’t sealed as well as it used to be.

When I got to Bonifay, I stopped for coffee. It was piping hot when I got back in the truck and ice cold before I got to Chipley. By now, the draft made it feel like I had the AC on high.

At Marianna, I got off the Interstate and hit Walmart, figuring that store certainly would have a 12-volt heater I could plug into the cigarette lighter.

Nope. The clerk explained that they do make heaters like that, but “there’s not much demand for them in Florida.” I resisted the urge to put my icy hands on his neck. Instead, I bought a 10-pack of the chemical hand-warmers I sometimes use for hunting. By the time I got to Blountstown, I had eight of them opened and stuffed in various places in my clothes.

When I hit Port St. Joe, I was on my fourth cup of coffee and shaking profusely. At that point, though, I’m not sure if it was from the cold or the caffeine. I stopped at an auto parts store hoping against hope they would have something, but I got the same story there as Walmart.

There was one last glimmer of hope. I did have a converter, so I stopped by the dollar store and bought a small 110-volt heater. Unfortunately, it took me just a hair too long to do the math. I plugged the converter into the cigarette lighter and then plugged the heater into the converter. The fuse blew immediately as I put about five times the rated amperage on it.

I drove the rest of the way to Apalachicola with my hands numb, my eyes watering and with a frown frozen on my face. When I walked through the door of Downtown Books, my eyes were immediately drawn to the thing I wanted most in life right then: a big space heater by the wall.

The store’s owner, Dale Julian, greeted me as I walked in. I remember her saying, “Thank you for coming.” And I remember thinking, “Dale, I may never leave.”

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