The Station in Winter

6:06 AM, January 17, 2018

Mere minutes after I posted last week’s story about the International Space Station, I went outside to watch it pass overhead again. 48 hours had passed from the sighting I featured in that post. And what a difference 48 hours made.

Really, it took less time than that for the city of New Orleans to plunge into a deep freeze. Overnight, we had been visited by the winter storm that blew over most of the U.S. last week. It was definitely cold by New Orleans standards, though certainly not as cold as it was further north. But here’s the thing about New Orleans: the city is surrounded by water. Every road into the city passes over some body of water.

And when the temperature goes—and stays—below the point at which water freezes…well, let’s just say things don’t go well for the citizens of this normally fair (and mild climate) city. Last week’s freeze brought us some absolute tragedies: a baby died and his young mother remains hospitalized after their car slid off an icy road into a drainage canal. She was trying to get him to his babysitter so that she could go to work.

For most of us, the consequences weren’t so tragic. Inconvenient, to be sure, and potentially costly, but not tragic. All the Interstate highways into the city were closed—as I mentioned above, every road passes over water—and we learned the truth to those highway signs: “Bridge Ices Before Road.” So, New Orleans was effectively shut off from the outside world, at least via ground transport, for a few days.

And pipes froze all over the city. Ours was a typical story: a pipe underneath our house froze, and when things started to thaw out, same said pipe developed a leak. Unfortunate, but it certainly could have been worse. The pipe only affected the plumbing on the north side of the house—the kitchen sink, dishwasher and laundry (and hot water heater). The bathrooms are on the other side of the house.

With leaks busting out all over the city, it put a drain on our municipal water system. Water pressure dropped, and the city issued a “boil water alert” to ensure the water that managed to come out of the tap was safe to drink.

I worked from home on Wednesday, the first day of the freeze, to keep an eye on the frozen pipe. I drove into work on Thursday morning, only to discover that my employer’s parish (I work in Jefferson Parish / I live in Orleans Parish) had lost water pressure. They didn’t have functioning toilets (among other issues), and Jefferson Parish had issued their own “boil water alert.” So I completed the phone meeting I had driven in for, took my laptop, and worked from home the rest of Thursday. To discover our leaky pipe by the end of that day.

So what does any of this have to do with the Space Station? I wrote the following last week, regarding why I continue to heed the text alerts I receive from NASA, telling me when the International Space Station will be visible in my sky:

“…whatever’s going on in my world, whatever’s causing me anxiety or drama, those alerts are a reminder to look up.”

At that particular moment last week, I already knew we had frozen pipes. I had not yet awoken Husband Tim and informed him of this fact. I already knew the Interstate nearest my house— and the eponymous Overpass from my first novel, The Incident Under the Overpass,—was closed.

If you take a closer look at the picture above, you’ll see the ice on my neighbor’s car, and the ice on the sidewalk. The bright point above and to the left of the Space Station is Jupiter, I believe. But what you can’t see is the cold stillness of those five minutes I spent outside. Or the supreme quiet. I will not likely experience such quiet again this year, as the closed highways meant I couldn’t hear cars in the distance, like I usually do.

The consequences of the freeze were waiting for me that day. But for five minutes in the early morning, I bundled up, watched my space friends track against the sky, and enjoyed the silence. And thought, “I’m sure it’s a lot colder up there.”

2 thoughts on “The Station in Winter

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