We spent Saturday at the home of a friend renovating his “new” house. It’s a fixer-upper, so before moving in there’s a lot they want to accomplish. My job was to prepare each room for a ceiling fan.
In principle, it’s a no-brainer. You install a heavy brace in the ceiling to take the weight of the fan, find and tap into an electrical source, pull new wires to the fan box and to the wall where the switch will be located, then reward yourself with a donut.
In practice it’s a bit harder. The house had no attic, so all of the work had to be done from below. And since they didn’t want to rip out all of the sheet rock, I had to be creative, cutting small access holes at just the right places, drilling holes through rafters here and there, and fishing the wires along the way until they got from point A to point B. It was tiring, but fun. And it reminded me of our one-day, cheap-as-possible visit to Acapulco, Mexico, and the ceiling fan from hell.
We were actually passing through on the way to a cheaper resort further south. Driving, because we had no money. So we stopped overnight in the glitzy sea-side resort of Acapulco.
Pronunciation note: Most Americans butcher that name, usually calling it something like aka-POO-ko. If you want to speak like a native, it’s closer to ahh-kahh-PULL-ko.
We found the cheapest hotel room on the strip, 35 kilometers from downtown, in a place where you couldn’t actually see or hear the ocean. The room had no windows, which is one reason it was cheap, but there wasn’t anything to see anyway so we took it.
The humidity in Acapulco never gets much below 150%, so cooling was a concern, but the hotel manager assured us that each room came equipped with a state-of-the-art ceiling fan.
On the wall above the headboard was a panel that looked like it came off of a Waring blender—53 pushbuttons, one for off, one for maximum, and the rest for every speed in-between. Button 2 would produce “a hint of a breeze, like the air freshening on a clover-covered hillside in autumn”, whereas button 52 would reproduce “Hurricane Andrew moments before the storm surge carried away the town of Winterhaven, FL”. A speed for every taste—isn’t technology wonderful?
As it was already almost midnight, we went to bed and turned on the fan. I think I selected button 19, but it really didn’t matter. The fan cranked up, turning faster and faster, finally hitting speeds of nearly 20,000 rpm. It was like standing 6 feet away from the propeller of a DC-3, but louder. I frantically pushed buttons, but soon discovered that only two worked: off and insanely-fast.
We made the mistake of switching on the light, and to our horror we discovered that not only was the fan turning at speeds it was never designed for, but it was off-balance. Mounted to the ceiling on a long rod, it was twirling and spinning and creaking as it roared away. In my imagination, I could see it yanking loose from the ceiling and boring down through our bed, making some sort of awful puree of our bodies. At least death would be quick.
And so, we spent the night alternately turning the fan off, sleeping for 5 minutes in the silence until we were drenched with sweat, then turning the fan on until we were shivering and our ears hurt from the noise.
But what a deal we got on that room! Acapulco at the height of the tourist season for only a few pesos a night! And within (a half-day’s) walking distance from the beach!
The moral of this story is: never let your brother-in-law or a well-intentioned acquaintance install cheap ceiling fans in your home. I hope my friend doesn’t read this…