The coolest friend I could ever have - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

The coolest friend I could ever have

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Mark J. Scarp is a contributing columnist for the Tribune. Reach him at

Posted: Saturday, July 14, 2012 6:31 am | Updated: 6:00 pm, Sat Jul 14, 2012.

I recently received unwelcome news, and although it wasn’t a surprise, it’s something you’re never fully prepared to hear. No doubt about it, I was told, the days of an invaluable member of my household are numbered.

Don’t send flowers or cards. I could use a couple of ceiling fans, though.

It’s my air conditioning unit.

As a journalist, I’ve already writing a draft of its obituary: “HVAC, 28, died during last week’s excessive heat warning of complications of old age and nearly three decades of Arizona summers atop Mark Scarp’s roof. A brief memorial service will be held at the sanitation truck’s next pickup; the later in the day that the truck arrives, the briefer the service.”

That Salt River Project, which provides electricity to a large chunk of the East Valley, just announced a proposed 4.8 percent rate increase doesn’t help matters. But paying a higher electric bill would be the least I can do for a terminally ill friend.

Its annual summer checkup — OK, bi-annual; I forgot last year — involved the usual look-sees and a particularly thorough coil cleaning as the result of last year’s sky-darkening dust storms.

Then the service technician put the refrigeration equivalent of a stethoscope against its steel casing.

To his credit, when he came down the ladder he didn’t engage in that whistling sound the people with the wrenches make to express the cost of the task ahead. Depending on how much that is, its pitch drops from a few notes to an entire octave.

Well-practiced at phrasing such things that discourage the customer’s sweating any further, he said that while there was no evidence of imminent cardiac arrest, the patient is definitely seeing twilight.

“The compressors on the newer units operate around 50 or 60 percent of capacity,” he said. “Yours is around 80.”

He anticipated my next sentence, something about giving it to me straight and that I can take it.

“I’d say it’s got one to three years.”

Then he gave me a compliment, which soothed me as I contemplated my last bank statement. Even though I had only known it since it was age 9 or 10, he said that my unit having even reached its advanced age was evidence that I’d taken as good care of it as if I had bought it brand new.

I have resisted the temptation to turn the thermostat down to “arctic.” I use fans, sunscreens on the windows. In the summer I use the stove and clothes dryer during cooler parts of the day. I have a programmable thermostat that raises the temperature inside my house when I’m not home. I’ve been good at changing the filter on time.

And why not? It’s easy to ignore your air conditioner except when it’s not air conditioning. But I was quite aware of its lonely post up there, braving the elements, looking straight into the sky every day, daring the sun to do it in, all while I was a few feet below, enjoying the tons of cool air it blew down over the years without even one breath of it for its own relief.

Yes, only in Arizona do people write paeans to air conditioners. We all know what life would be like without them.

If only evaporative coolers were around, the entire desert Southwest would empty every July and August. If people and San Diego think there are too many of us Zonies hogging beach space now, they could only imagine traffic on Interstate 8 if Willis Carrier hadn’t invented the darn things.

Anyway, as we wrapped up the consultation, my service tech outlined the options. Essentially, today’s units are far more energy efficient and one’s monthly electric bills drop noticeably by installing a new one.

Then again, while the old geezers could be coaxed into 25 or 30 years of life, the new models have a life expectancy of about 15 years.

Translation: Don’t pull the plug on your older unit. Allow it to live out as long a natural life as possible. Start saving for the eventual new unit you will need.

And when the inevitable day comes, resist the temptation to spend your monthly electricity savings, because, well, time marches on.

Now that we’ve had our conversation, I’m already starting to imagine what my service technician is going look like 15 years older, riding his little hovercraft down from my roof to ask me why I haven’t considered moving to San Diego.

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