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Propane panic

Paul Andersen
Aspen, CO Colorado

Watching the gauge on your propane tank dip toward empty is a harrowing experience, especially when there’s no way in hell the propane truck can get up your snowed-in driveway.

Calling the propane company is not always a positive experience. “We’ll get up there when we can,” is the only assurance you get. Then you’re back to staring at the gauge, wondering how much longer you can hold out.

A couple days later you call the propane company again, this time with a note of urgency. “I’m getting kind of concerned up here!” The reply: Well, you’re not the only one.

A day later, you call again, desperate. “I’m getting really, really concerned up here. My tank is almost dry … it’s dropping to zero tonight…my pipes are gonna freeze … and I’m headed for the nearest motel!” The droll reply: Try to conserve until we can get there ” sometime next week.

But you’ve already turned down the thermostats until you can see your breath and the toilet freezes over. You’ve accumulated a huge pile of dirty laundry, which includes all your underwear. You’ve avoided showering for so long that you get your own seat on standing-room-only buses. Still no sympathy. Deliveries have been delayed. Click.

When your gauge is at 5 percent you call the propane company for the last time. You either plead tearfully that your decrepit stepmother will die without propane, or you rant, rave and curse, hoping that the profane will produce the propane. Neither approach makes any difference. You’re told that either Steve or Gary will get up your way when their truck’s not broken down.

Now you’re in an apoplectic propane panic, realizing that your propane addiction depends on energy, transportation and delivery systems, plus the weather and road conditions, not to mention the alignment of your aching back from shoveling your driveway the umpteenth time with “rain follows the plow” optimism, hoping that a truck will come.

This winter has been particularly grueling for propane customers, but equally so for propane delivery drivers who are expected to navigate cow paths trenched through six-foot snow banks. Ever go jeeping with a tank full of highly flammable gas strapped to your rig? These guys are risking a full-body barbecue via propane immolation, all to serve our energy needs.

Propane is an essential ingredient of rural living. Once winter sets in, you either economize on energy or you keep your driveway clear for deliveries. This year in the Roaring Fork Valley neither option was practicable.

In most winters I can get by on one 500-gallon tank from November to April. This year, I was down to 6 percent by late January. The obvious reasons were clouds and cold. Any reliance on solar gain was out the window because of perpetual overcast. My wood-burning stove couldn’t keep up with the cold, so the propane boiler kicked-on double-time.

My calls to Amerigas were seemingly ignored because there were other customers more dire than I. When a truck finally got to my driveway, the driver couldn’t pull the grade through the deep snowpack. I called Amerigas the next morning and asked politely for another attempt, then apologized for being so persistent. “Oh, that’s nothing,” said the Amerigas rep. “You should hear some of the calls we get.”

All of which is understandable. After all, when your tank is low and it’s only a matter of time before your house becomes a huge walk-in freezer, it’s not easy being polite to your reluctant supplier. Desperation is a visceral emotion that transcends niceties and reveals us for who we are (keep this in mind in the event of gas or food scarcities).

My kindly neighbor with a plow was able to scrape my driveway down to a hard glaze, which made a delivery possible. When the driver finally showed up I wanted to kiss him. But you don’t go kissing a guy who drags around a 100-foot-long hose. Instead, I called the gas company office and said thanks.


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