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The Late Summer Storm: Stories From the Field

Late summer brings thunderstorms, and a rooftop isn’t always a great place to remain during such events. Normally, when a storm comes, we remove ourselves beforehand that we might see another day.

My co-worker and I started out on a beautiful August day – cool, sunny, with a gentle breeze coming out of the north. Being the one with less experience at the time, I was the “outside guy,” the one who installs the condensing unit, while the other guy (Donnie, in this case) works inside the home, installing the furnace. The building in question was a seven-story retirement complex with the condo on the fourth level. The condenser, in this case, was located on the roof so we hauled everything up the elevator and then lassoed the condenser with a rope and pulled it through the roof access hole. On nice days, the outdoor work is the best place you can be while it’s not enviable to be in a basement, closet, or attic. Of course, that can easily go the other way, especially if your co-worker is Donnie…

Having already served a full career as a professional automotive technician, I was new to the HVAC trade but Donnie was much younger than me. As a result, I was technically Donnie’s trainee. Donnie was a nice kid on the surface but, if he could get away with it, he was downright mean.

And so, there I was, in my glory, working up on the north side of the roof with no one to see. Shirt off, enjoying my job while “Mean Little Donnie,” as I liked to call him, was stuck working in a closet. After Donnie helped me pull up the condenser, tools, and supplies through the scuttle-hole, we left a piece of cardboard between the door and the latch to prop it open.

Just as I finished brazing the copper lines and tying in the electrical wires, I looked up to see black clouds rolling in from the north, so I hurried to finish up. Donnie was also on the north side of the building, three stories below, working about two feet from the large, sliding glass doors that gave way to the balcony. The storm came up fast! The sky was as black as I’ve ever seen, with a brief calm and then suddenly, winds whipping up, sun gone, clouds swirling above me and sirens going off in the distance. I raced for the hatch with my tool bucket and, squinting with my 20/80 eyesight, I knew from a distance that the hatch door was no longer ajar. It was level, flush mount and locked!

Donnie. I ran to the roof’s edge and yelled as loudly as I could, “Doooonnnnnniiieeeeeeee!” along with a series of other phrases describing exactly what I thought of him at that moment.

There was nothing I could do. I’d never sat out a storm on a rooftop seven stories up before, and this was the perfect storm. The wind and rain were blowing sideways, thousands of icy needles stabbing me. I thought the wind was going to blow me clear off the roof – oh, if only it would just drop me down onto that balcony, just a few feet from Donnie! At seven stories up, the flashes of lightning and cracks of thunder were as much as I could bear.

I huddled in a northwest corner of the roof and waited it out. After several minutes, the storm finally moved on and I was able to retreat from my corner, drenched and freezing from the heavy rain. And the moment I will never forget is when, at long last, the hatch door opened. Donnie’s little bald head popped up and, as it did, a single droplet of water fell from the edge of the hatch door, landing on his head. He actually flinched.