We've had some hot and muggy days this summer - days on which people might be moved to say, "Thank goodness for air conditioning."
However, police personnel at 5th District headquarters on Bladensburg Road NE have not been in a position to make such a comment this year.
Their air conditioning hasn't worked since last year, and the windows in their building can't be opened. So its usually about 10 degrees hotter inside than out. I think this is caused by what's known as the greenhouse effect. In the last few days, the temperature inside 5-D headquarters has been over 100.
Personnel assigned to 5-D are being sickened by the heat. Morale has begun to wither.
"What's the problem?" I asked. The answer that came back was a typical story of bureaucratic bumbling and indifference.
The air conditioning system was not given preventive maintenance. It should have been checked at least a month before the expected onset of warm weather, but wasn't. Then one hot day somebody came around to turn on the system, but it didn't respond.
What a surprise!
After a while, somebody determined that a defective part would have to be repaired. The part was sent away to Outer Mongolia or somewhere. Three weeks later, word came back that the part couldn't be repaired. A new part would have to be obtained. But don't worry. We'll have your air conditioning working again by Monday.
Well, maybe not exactly on Monday, but certainly on Thursday. Would you believe Tuesday of next week? Or the Friday after that? The latest absolutely certain positively final deadline is Aug. 4. But don't bet on it.
Meanwhile the Police Department has rented some fans to try to keep 5-D personnel from keeling over. "I appreciate their attempt to help," one officer told me, "but I'm not sure the fans are an improvement. They don't cool anything, they just circulate hot air. In fact, the fan motors generate some heat, so that just raises the temperature in the room. The net effect is like getting your face behind the hot blast that comes out of the back of a vacuum cleaner that's been running all day."
Another man told me, "The other day when it was 92 in the shade outside it was 102 in here. Would you like to pull eight hours of duty in this kind of sweatbox?"
"This isn't the only place where the air conditioning doesn't work," a sergeant told me. "Units break down in every district from time to time, and there's always a long delay in getting them fixed."
A friend who works at headquarters downtown (300 Indiana Ave. NW) told me, "This is a strange building as far as air conditioning is concerned. On the fourth floor, our section suffered through two years of no air conditioning. Across the hall, there was an office that had good air conditioning during the entire time."
Meanwhile, there's a hot rumor at 5-D that next week contractors are coming in to rebuild all the windows so that they can be opened when the air conditioning breaks down. How much is that going to cost? "Go away, man," a sergeant said wearily. "You ask too many tomfool questions."
Sorry, I must have lost my head for a moment.
Nevertheless, I have a hunch that there must be a better way to house District employees than to construct a building that's sealed tignt to minimize heating and cooling losses, and then to break the seal so that people who work in the building can get a few whiffs of refreshingly cool 95-degree outside air.
And why does it have to take weeks and months - and in some cases two years - to fix a standard air conditioning unit?
Go away, man. You ask too many tomfool questions.