Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Summertime Blahs

I enjoy summer as much as anyone. Wearing comfy clothes and sandals is great. Cool drinks, sunglasses and swimming pools. What's not to love?

But this summer the weather -- at least in the Midwest -- has been sizzling for the last couple of weeks without a break.

Even my two cats have been ignoring the outdoors. Their schedule now includes going out into the yard early, eating a late breakfast and snoozing until about 5:00 when they venture out for a brief romp. It says something when the cats avoid going out. What's that old saying about "mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the mid-day sun"? Perhaps there is something to that (with no offense to the British).

When I was a kid, we didn't have air conditioning until about 1958 when we moved into a house that had a couple of window units. Not the coolest arrangement, but at least we could sleep in comfort. Before that, we had lived in a couple of houses without air conditioning. The first was a large 1920s home with a full basement, unfinished attic and large porch. We dealt with summer heat by playing in the basement or on the porch. The second house was a then-new 1950s single story house. We had a large box fan on a stand, which we positioned to cool the hallway and living room. That was it. But I don't remember being terribly uncomfortable. You get used to what you have, I suppose. Funny how people deal with situations when they are without alternatives.

Our schools weren't air conditioned either, which meant that May and September included moments of significant discomfort such as immediately after recess. But those episodes passed and the sweaty kids and teachers all survived. The majority of today's schools are air conditioned, of course. Something about productivity being improved.

In the summer of 1960, our family drove our 1958 Ford west to Arizona and see whether that was a place we wanted to live. The car was NOT air conditioned (many were not so luxuriously appointed in the 1950s.) That I recall was a hot trip. We drove from Illinois to Arizona, saw all the sights from the mountains to Tucson and returned (1600 miles each way). My parents decided to go ahead with the move (it had been in the planning stage for some time). So that same summer we put our house on the market, packed our belongings and returned to Arizona again by car. It was another hot trip but this time we knew what to expect. We stopped when the temperature felt unbearable and consumed cold drinks before resuming the drive. My brother and I also insisted that we stay at motels with swimming pools. And again, we survived.

I lived for 30 years in Arizona and became addicted to air conditioning. Like many Zonies, it was hard to do without air when summer days frequently reached 110 degrees. Before air conditioning, desert dwellers developed a system called evaporative cooling, at one time considered state-of-the-art. That system consisted of forced air blowing over water-soaked pads. It was a noisy method and the water-soaked pads were frightful for people with allergies. But without evaporative cooling, survival in the desert might not have been possible. Such cooling systems are still used in buildings like warehouses which have large floor space and noise is not an issue.

Modern dwellers have become horribly spoiled by air conditioning. It would be hard to imagine taking a long car ride without it. In fact, we are so spoiled by being cooled off electronically that going into a movie theatre or grocery store can be an uncomfortably chilling experience. I hate sitting in a restaurant trying to relax and dine when there is an arctic blast aimed down my back. It seems a little silly and is a dreadful waste of electricity.

But during period of sweltering heat, it's nice to be able and stay inside until the heat passes. It always has left eventually and hopefully always will.

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