AC Outage

We’re doing a long-distance drive today and — wouldn’t you know it! — mid-trip the air conditioning has gone on the fritz. No matter how longingly I look at the vent, hoping for the arctic blast to which I’m accustomed, only warm, moist air emanates. And, of course, it had to happen on a warm, humid day.

What is this — the ’50s? Time to roll down the windows and hope for a rain shower and a cool breeze.

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In The Gelid Zone

Hotel air conditioning in the common areas can be . . . uneven.  The temperature in the elevator lobby on my floor of the hotel last night was so cold the air had a kind of gelid feel to it.  It was only a fraction above see-your-breath levels.  I half expected to see cattle carcasses hanging from hooks, or a sad-eyed kid whispering “I see dead people.”

Of course, my actual room was hot.

Fan Fans

It’s been obscenely hot in Columbus recently.  We’ve had the appalling combination of stifling temperatures, high humidity, and sunshine that make you feel both broiled and wilted at the same time.  Under such conditions, any rational person lingers inside, where they can enjoy the blessings of air conditioning.

IMG_2599Yesterday some friends and I went to a fundraiser at a local business that doesn’t have air conditioning.  (Who knew that such places still exist?)  They did, however, have a big industrial-sized fan that was running at peak speed.  Fans really aren’t an adequate substitute for air conditioning.  In reality, they mostly blow the hot air around.  But any breeze is preferable to sweltering in the hot, dead air, and when there’s no alternative a gigantic fan that’s blasting out air currents at close to hurricane speeds will have to do the trick.

I grew up in a house that didn’t have air conditioning, and the room UJ and I shared always had a window fan during the summer months.  It was loud as hell and didn’t really make the room that much cooler, but it was fun to talk through the spinning blades and hear your voice emerge, chopped up and garbled, from the other end.

Yesterday I resisted the temptation to talk through the fan again, but after standing for a bit to the side of the room, and feeling like we were going to melt into the floor like the Wicked Witch in the Wizard of Oz, we shamelessly moved directly in front of the fan.  We tried to avoid completely blocking the air currents, in deference to the other people in the room, but the interests of self-preservation in the face of the blazing heat kicked in and overwhelmed our sense of social decorum.  We weren’t the only ones who were repositioning ourselves in relation to the fan, either.  As the gathering went on, people were drawn to the fan’s wind tunnel effect like moths to a flame.

Hitting The Triple Digits

Today the outdoor temperature in Columbus hit the triple digits.  According to the outside thermometer in my car, we got as high as 101 degrees, Fahrenheit.

I was feeling kind of sorry for myself and the rest of the overcooked residents of Ohio’s capital city until I talked to some folks in St. Louis and learned that, there, it was supposed to hit 106 degrees today and 109 degrees tomorrow.  109 degrees!  It sounds like part of a recipe, the setting on a sextant, or a section of the instructions on how to locate a distant galaxy in the evening sky, rather than part of the daily weather report.

I normally don’t really mind hot weather, but when the mercury hits 100 or more the nature of the heat seems to assume an almost physical dimension.  When I stepped out of my car at a gas station this afternoon, the wall of heat hit me like a fist.  When I drove home tonight at about 8:45, with the sun hanging low on the horizon, it was still 95 degrees.  I can’t imagine trying to sleep tonight in a room that isn’t air-conditioned — I don’t care how many fans might be running.

Air Conditioning

According to Wikipedia, the concepts underlying “air conditioning” were known to the ancient Romans, to Chinese dynasties in the centuries before A.D. 1000, and to the medieval Persians and Egyptians. The first modern, electrical air conditioning device was invented in 1902. Air conditioning was common in American hotels and restaurants in the 1960s — I recall, during summer visits to Ocean City, New Jersey during that decade, going to a restaurant that marketed itself with “air conditioned” painted on the front of the building in blue letters, with icicles hanging down — and, currently, virtually every American hotel, shopping mall, fast food outlet, grocery store, and other commercial establishment features powerful air conditioning units capable of cranking the temperature down to meat locker levels. During the summer and early fall months, when the mercury rises and humidity levels are high, many Americans — myself included — have come to rely on air conditioning to allow them to sleep comfortably and live their lives without dissolving into pools of sweat.

So, why are so many establishments in non-American countries so different? During our recent trip to Quebec, when we stayed at an otherwise spectacular hotel, our room air-conditioning unit was a pathetic failure. The only “conditioning” apparently accomplished was to add moisture to the air, and then feebly exhale the still warm, now moist, air into the room. It had about the same effect as someone breathing on you, and each morning I woke up a sweaty mess. Nor do I think our Canadian experience was anomalous. During our terrific trip to Italy, we experienced a number of sleepless nights when the heat and humidity in our rooms was unbearable. This may also be why so many restaurants and cafes overseas emphasize outdoor seating, where there is at least the promise of a breeze and cool shade.

Why can’t other countries be more like America, and recognize the value of air conditioning? If, as France’s high court found, access to the internet is a basic human right, shouldn’t air conditioning also receive that designation? Of course, if something like the recent “climate change” legislation passed by the House of Representatives is enacted into law, America could end up being more like other countries, and the current days of brisk, air conditioned comfort would become a fond but distant memory. To that I say:  Please, Congress — don’t take away my air conditioning!