Hypothermia, Interrupted

Cold and wet and homeless, we found refuge under a human-sized air dryer.

The bank sign on South Tryon Street read 42° at 3:36 a.m. It had been raining all night. I was soaked to the bone and suffering the beginning stages of hypothermia. I sat with arms pulled into my not-so-waterproof jacket in a kind of heat-escape-lessening posture. I desperately needed to strip naked and get dry clothes on. Unfortunately (or fortunately), that wasn’t happening at a bus stop in the middle of the city.

Also present at the bus stop was a man who was wildly intoxicated on generic minty mouthwash—the obvious choice of the mildly belligerent and hopeless alcoholic who was too drunk to notice that his lips were blue, his teeth were chattering, and he needed dry clothes even more than I did.

As the rain tapered off near 4 am, I wandered freezing toward the City Center building and to the bus depot which would be opening soon. As I passed the first set of stairs on College Street, a warm blast of air flooded the sidewalk. It felt incredible. The air handlers from the condensing side of the building’s heat exchanger were flooding precious heat onto the street.

I stood there in the dry, warm, fast-moving air and was simultaneously dried off and warmed in what could only be described as a giant public restroom hand dryer. I sat there on the public sidewalk with three other homeless men who were also soaking wet. The warm air wrapped around us and started cutting through the bone-deep cold.

Then an overbearing, pompous, and just-plain-mean security guard threatened us with police action if we didn’t move along. At 4:25 in the morning, it seemed sadistic of him. I had a mind to invite him to call the cops. However, I knew from experience that it was best just to go.

If you read this, and it’s raining and cold outside, just know that there are men and women who can’t get into the shelters. They could be elderly or infirm, and that could spell their demise.

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The Poem that Inspired the Essay

(Also by Mark Gansert)

It rained for ten straight hours.
There was no shelter.
It was forty-one degrees at 3 a.m.
A mass of desperate souls were on the sidewalk outside the City Center 
where the HVAC system vents heated air into the street. 

We were all wet and cold.
We were all tired and miserable.
Some of us were drunk.
Most of us were sane. 
All of us were homeless.