Victuals and Vapors

We went out to dinner tonight. No, not Outback, Applebee’s, or Red Lobster. We went to the Homeless Shelter in Tin Town, a small neighborhood in Bisbee. The shelter helps a lot of people—they have a paid board, volunteers, and bunks for women and men. The homeless folks staying there are expected to help out too. Every Wednesday night they throw a huge supper and about 60 people come. You get a plate and hand it to the cook and he loads it up. Tonight we had chicken cacciatore loaded with fresh vegetables over pasta, soup, salad, bread, hard boiled eggs, and brownies. The food, prepared by a friend of ours who volunteers every week, was first-rate. There are long tables set up and you find a seat with friends or strangers. It’s free, but there is a donation jar to which we added $10. They also packed us up two more of these delicious meals to go. They get the food from food banks and donations, and you can sign up for free boxes of donated food.

Tin Town Homeless Shelter in Bisbee, AZ

People start lining up early, they open the doors for dinner at 5 pm. We met people we knew, and made some new friends.

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It’s hot and my car’s overheating. I worked in a couple houses this week with no coolers, so I’m overheating too. Most people don’t have air conditioning here, we have evaporative coolers, known as swamp coolers. A swamp cooler is a large box with vented sides attached to your house, usually the roof. It contains a blower, an electric motor with pulleys, a water pump, and evaporative cooling pads made from aspen wood fibers. The fan draws hot dry outside air through the vents and through the damp pads. Heat in the air evaporates water from the pads which are constantly redampend by the pump. Cool moist air is then directed through ductwork into your home. Moist air is blown in and cycles through the house by an open window at the other end of the house.

They’re wonderful in dry climates and cheap to run (80% cheaper than AC). They are so efficient that even hospitals here use them. Their one drawback is that they obviously lose efficiency during the humid monsoon season.

Many of the old converted miners’ shacks here don’t even have coolers much less AC, they just have ceiling fans. People who have lived here for a long time are totally acclimated to the heat—but I bet they don’t do aerobics in their houses in the summer, like I do when I clean.

Oh Great Swamp Cooler, We Praise Thee. We bow before you and beseech you to give us comfort in our time of need.

Swamp cooler pulley side. That thing way on top is a spider pipe assembly, two units deliver water to each of the four pads. The motor on top right runs the pulley. The bottom of the cooler is full of water and level-controlled by a float. The white tube on the left goes to your main water line.

Swamp cooler pump side. The submersible pump on the bottom right feeds water to the spider assembly.

Diagram of how swamp cooler works.

You'll often see birds perched on the sides of swamp coolers, trying to get water from the pads. I wish everybody would put water out for the birds and beasts.

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Some friends gave us a loaf of bread yesterday from Mexico. I’ve never heard of Bimbo Bakeries (pronounced beem’ bo) so I looked it up. Established in Mexico in 1945, it was sold and resold and is now a huge company that owns Friehofer’s, Arnold, Boboli, Oroweat, Thomas’, Entenmann’s, and many more. The parent company, Grupo Bimbo, acquired these century-old brands in the 1990s. The word “bimbo” doesn’t really mean anything in Spanish, but obviously would be offensive elsewhere.

Bimbo Bread

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15 responses to “Victuals and Vapors

  1. Snoring Dog Studio

    What a fascinating look into your life there. I’ve often wondered what a swamp cooler is. The name makes it sound like there’s a lot of moisture going into the home.

  2. You probably got better eats there than you would have at a “franchise” neighborhood restaurant! Bimbo sells bread here in the U.S. as well, remember seeing the Bimbo Bear all over Southern California.
    Appreciate the thermodynamics lesson on the swamp cooler – always heard of them in desert climates, was never sure where the “swamp” came from!

    • Hi Harry, I think that’s true about the food being better than a franchise. There was nothing “institutional” about it, they use fresh ingredients, and the volunteers really care about their work there.

      The cooler’s been running all day and has brought the humidity in the house from a negative number (doesn’t register on the little thermometer/humidity monitor) to 35%. It’s very comfortable and cool.

  3. We have a community dinner (like yours hosted by a network of homeless shelters) in Greenfield about 20 miles east of here. My son who works in human services goes occasionally and says it is wonderful to see all walks of life eating together. I should try it out sometime.

    I loved your description, diagrams, and explanation regarding evaporative coolers. This old method of cooling is tried and true, but like you said, works best in dry climates. I’m glad you get some relief from the heat.

    Yesterday we narrowly missed tornadoes here and today its only about 50 degrees so being too hot is not an issue.

    Hard to figure how Bimbo’s ended up owning Arnolds. Wow, now that’s a surprise!

    • Hi Bill, they call it a community dinner here, too, and there’s certainly no stigma about attending. It was a neighborly affair and I’m grateful to have these resources so close by. Yes you and Maureen should go, it would be a fun “date”!

      Our cooler is sort of a shrine…we must bring it gifts. Today we replaced the four fiber pads, it should be done once a year or more often as they do get moldy and you can smell it in the house, not very pleasant.

      I think Bimbo’s now also owns Sara Lee!

  4. I’d never heard of a swamp cooler, just figured everyone had a/c. Thanks for the lesson. It was interesting to see the birds perched on the side. Tin Town Shelter is a colorful, happy-looking place, and serving dinner to all sounds like a great idea.

    • Hi Patti. The evaporative coolers are actually more efficient in the desert than AC because they add moisture rather than removing it, making it feel comfortable even though they don’t make houses “cold.” You can’t adjust the temperature with a thermostat like on an air conditioner. It’s either on or off! So uncomplicated, so cheap, so appreciated.

      But when monsoon hits in July, they don’t work as well, but by that time we’re happy with just fans. Thanks for writing.

  5. One thing I love about your posts Debra and why I keep visiting is that they give me a window into a world that is quite different to mine; the homeless shelter in Bisbee shows it to be a caring community; as for air conditioners, we could not get by — though we did as kids — in an Adelaide summer without them. A few Januaries ago we had fifteen consecutive days around 100 degrees; the one good thing there is little humidity and we live close to the beach.

  6. Hi JLeo, thanks. We grew up without air conditioners on the US east coast, we used fans. The car I have now (have had it for 11 years) is my first car with AC! I’ve never had to have it recharged because I’m so frugal with it. But Arizona is bloody hot and I hate cleaning houses without coolers or AC, it sucks the life out of you. And these guys out there working on the roads or roofing, I don’t know how they manage. And Border Patrol—yikes—fully covered from head to foot no matter how hot.

    I envy you your beaches! They must be beautiful.

  7. Had a chuckle about the bread. “Bimbo’, in Japanese means, poor, broke, etc.

    • That’s funny—if they had Bimbo bread in Japan, it would sort of be like generic bread!

      I checked the etymology of our usage and it comes from Italian “little child.” It’s not that surprising that it evolved to mean a stupid young woman, but all in all it’s not a very nice word!

  8. I’ve fought bimbos and everything they stand for, the promotions, top jobs, top cash and the way they can turn a roomful of men into jelly when they come in. On principle I would never buy that bread. NYYAAAAH to the whole gang of them, including the two hooters-type presidential prospects.

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