Seven Bored Firefighters

Amtrak Adventure 23/31 (about October 22nd, 2021)

Yesterday was day 2/3 on the National Mall! There’s enough there for solid months of exploration; it still feels like we were touching the surface.

Bright and early, up we got! (Me much more slowly than Mattea). Before work, we headed to the Library of Congress for a scheduled visit. The public-accessible interior was similar to any other public government building; lots of marble and sandstone, lots of murals, very high ceilings, various exhibits tucked into every corner.

Most memorable were museum-like sections on the Suffragette movement, on Rosa Parks, and on Thomas Jefferson—after the original Library of Congress was sacked by the British in the War of 1812, he sold his personal library (which was the most extensive in the whole of America) to Congress to replace it.

As the library grew and moved on, they don’t really need his volumes anymore; so they were put in an exhibit for public display. It’s crazy: we got to see his 200+ year old copies of Plato, Aristotle, Seneca, Smith, Machiavelli, Euclid, and so on. Everything is leather-bound, and in incredibly good condition (thanks to literal survivorship bias).

There’s also a reading room—nestled under a giant cupola, with ornament all around. It’s only accessible to researchers, though, and not the general public—so we sadly couldn’t visit. Doesn’t it look magnificent, though?

Eventually, we had seen everything, so we left to walk around the Capitol building. I took my first meeting of the day in front of it (“nice Zoom background!”), and sat around working for a few hours, occasionally switching spots to follow Mattea while she explored the Smithsonian’s Natural History museum (it has pretty good WiFi).

After going through each exhibit (oceans, human origins, mammals, gems & minerals, I think the only one we missed was fossils), she would find my bench to show me pictures of the fanciest exhibits and occasionally bring me over to take a selfie. Here’s us in front of a giant taxidermied walrus!

The Smithsonians are the pinnacle of the Theme of DC: it’s so dense with information, we could easily spend a week in each museum just soaking things in. Unfortunately, we don’t have a week—so after Mattea had hustled through most exhibits and I'd logged a few hours of work on the benches, we moved on.

(The grass outside called to us—so we didn’t move that far on. Just moved to the breezy shade, where I took another meeting and Mattea read a bit more Asimov.)

Then it was almost sunset, and we were near the Washington Monument, so we took out our cameras and hustled over to get close enough for some good pictures. Here’s the best one, taken from my camera (!):

Keeping with The Theme, it’s surprisingly large and has a ton of information around.

At this point, we were getting thirsty, but the water fountains around the Monument were disabled—but we also had to stay in the area for a few more hours, because my mother was flying in from Seattle to take the next train leg with us. So we found a Starbucks near the bus stop she’d be getting a shuttle to, hung out there for a bit to rehydrate, and then moved to to waiting at the bus stop after the Starbucks closed.

She came in; we headed north to our Airbnb; we hurried in, excited to be home; and then we walked into the bedroom… to a strong scent of natural gas. Uh oh!

We texted our Airbnb host, so he called the fire department to come check it out.

From left: 3/7 firefighters, our Airbnb host, my mother. Pictured firefighters are in the process of checking a closet that doesn’t smell like gas, in an area that doesn’t smell like gas, presumably to feel useful while others get the meter.

I imagined they’d send one or two people; all they needed to do was take some readings and suss out the leak, right? But, no. It must have been a slow night, because a full fire truck pulled up outside and seven firefighters in full gear hopped out to come in and inspect.

We pointed out the room and explained the situation; understanding this, and agreeing that it smelled like a natural gas leak, they decided to take a reading—but had left their meter in the truck. So four of them tromped back out to grab it… leaving the front and bedroom doors wide open, and the other three to mill around and open closets looking for the heater (despite there not being any smell outside the bedroom).

After 5 minutes, they managed to find the meter—but couldn’t get a solid reading, on account of having left the room completely ventilated for a while. While they closed the bedroom and let the levels build up a bit again, they decided to use the meter on all the closets that didn’t smell like gas. The middle of those closets, mind you… not the top or bottom, where gas would be likely to accumulate. Hmm.

Eventually, they got a reading in the bedroom that confirmed what we all agreed: there was a natural gas leak! Only then did one or two of them decide to venture outside to see where the line hookup was… outside our bedroom, funny enough.

In conclusion, they told us, the levels were low enough to not be dangerous at all; we should just go to bed and not worry about it. (And call them if we smelled it again or felt like we were dying, presumably.) Upon dispensing this sage advice, they all left.

About two minutes later, another firefighter—wearing only a t-shirt, jeans, and a sense of authority—jogged in the front door to ask what the problem was… so we explained everything back to him. “Hmm, the leak is probably coming from the heater or from the line hookup—those should be the first things we check out.” Mattea informed him that actually a few people had just been in and done that, and he went “oh!” and left.

For the night, we ended up opening all the windows and inside doors as wide as they would go, turning off the heat. With that much ventilation we didn’t smell any more natural gas, so we chalked it up to an adventure and a good story. Hopefully the next guests will feel the same way!

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