Yesterday was the kind of day Fred Richard dreams about. The bitter cold warmed his heart and fattened his wallet.
"I love 'em. I love these kinds of days 'cause we're so busy," said Richard, co-owner of Sentry Towing, as he zipped around town in a small white pick-up truck, providing electrical awakening to dozens of cars sent into hibernation by the cold.
"Look at this, I'm actually sweating, I'm just sweating up a storm," said Richard, whipping off his baseball cap to display his forehead as he climbed back in the cab of his truck just past noon after his 28th jump-start of the day. "Honestly, it's not cold at all. But the cars sure think it's cold."
Indeed they did. If the cold made Washingtonians reluctant to crawl out of bed and get going yesterday, it made their autos positively obstinate.
The American Automobile Association, for which Richard and his company drive, reported receiving 3,006 requests for help by midnight. The emergency road service usually gets 1,000 calls a day.
The local AAA record was set on Jan. 11, 1982, when 3,125 calls were received.
Mary Anne Reynolds, a spokeswoman for Potomac AAA, said she expects the record to be broken today. "We don't sit around hoping it will, but with all the federal workers who didn't go to work today, it's real likely."
There was, it seemed, a car that wouldn't start on every block.
For Richard and his white pick-up within a single hour: three jump-starts in two blocks along 15th Street NW, two jump-starts around the corner from each other at S and 20th Streets NW and two in a row -- both cars bearing California plates -- along Massachusetts Avenue in front of the Brookings Institution.
"This has never happened before," said Kimberly Gray, 28, somewhat mournfully from the driver's seat of her blue 1974 Dodge Dart Swinger parked on 19th Street. She pumped the gas and cranked the engine and the motor turned over and over, caught briefly and died.
"And," said Gray, poking her head out the window, "it certainly never happened in Miami," where she used to live. Yesterday, she wanted to be headed back home to Baltimore after a weekend visit to the District and ended up as AAA call number 1,141 for the day.
Simply hooking Richard's jumper cables to a battery named "The Performer" didn't do the trick. He removed the air filter and sprayed Gumout in the carburetor, which he jammed open with a screwdriver.
Then for a good five minutes, Gray pumped and cranked, Richard poked the carburetor and urged Gray on, and the Dart's engine wheezed and coughed and spat and, finally, caught and hummed.
"Oh, thank God!" said Gray, clapping her hands together, gunning the engine with glee, her face breaking into an enormous grin. "Thank you so much."
It is not, says Richard, just that the cold reduces the cranking power of the average battery by 60 percent, but also that gas lines freeze and oil turns to molasses. The average battery doesn't stand a chance.
But Reynolds of the AAA said Washingtonians were better off than some.
"We're lucky it's not so cold the jump starts aren't taking. In Pennsylvania," she said, "people are lining up to get towed to a garage to warm up the cars for a couple of hours just so the jump starts will take."