An unknown Houston suburb
When I was a kid, I read a book that argued that the Nazca figures in Peru — which depict wheels, monkeys, birds, and other figures visible only from the air — were proof that the Earth was visited from space. Only visitors from outer space capable of rising hundreds of feet into the air, the book argued, could have directed groundbound primitives to create the figures.
At the time, it seemed like a good argument to me. On my flight into Houston earlier this week, however, our approach to Hobby Airport took us directly over some nameless suburb. The amoeba-like view of that neighborhood from the air made me think inevitably of the Nazca figures. Could it be that the Nazca figures weren’t evidence of visitation from space aliens after all, but just early evidence of dreaded suburban sprawl?
This afternoon I was working at my desk when suddenly it started hailing. What the . . . ? Pebble-sized hail clattered against my window, as an unexpected thunderstorm blackened the skies and pelted downtown Columbus. It’s the first time I can ever remember it hailing during the summer in Columbus.
A friend noted that it was continuing the pattern of weird weather we’ve experienced lately, with dust bowl-like conditions and scorching heat interrupted by brief, unusually powerful storms. And in America we’ve had a lot to deal with lately, from odd weather to mass-murdering nuts and racists to a bad economy and overwhelmed and under-performing political figures. It was almost, he said, like the end of the world. As he said it, you could almost hear the ominous orchestral music welling in the background, such as you hear in every end-of-the-world movie — and then we both laughed.
But people seem awfully skittish right now, and some folks might not laugh. They might interpret the unusual events and bad news as signs of something more, and fall under the spell of an apocalyptic cult leader or political figure. If you are focused only on the negative, you might see patterns in what truly is random. It’s not as if we’re seeing frogs rain from the skies — and even if we did, that’s happened before, too. And although the recent mass killings and political failures are terrible, the country has been through worse before and come out fine, and it will again.
At some time or another, we’ve probably all used the phrase: “It’s not the end of the world.” And it isn’t.
When we were in Columbia, Missouri last week, the temperature climbed over 100 degrees. It was hot — but it was like luxuriating in cool comfort compared to what I experienced in Houston Monday and Tuesday.
The August heat in Houston is like a fist that punches you in the gut and a hand that slaps your face the instant you walk outside. One moment you are sharp and dry in your crisp white shirt and suit; the next you are wet and wilted, with a wrinkled, sodden bit of cotton clinging tenaciously to your back and sweat rivulets beginning to crawl down your spine. The combination of baking heat and high humidity sucks the energy from you in a giant whoosh, and you begin hunting cravenly for the nearest air-conditioned oasis.
There’s a reason why most people move about underground in Houston during the summer and my hotel offered a complimentary shuttle to take guests on trips only a few blocks long. In Houston in August, the surface of the Earth is not meant for most melting mortals.
There may be hotter places than Houston in August — the middle of the Amazon rain forest, or perhaps the dense jungles of southeast Asia — but I don’t want to find them.