In Plain View Summer in the City

May 1, 2002 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

Sumer is icumen in ?? an ancient poem begins. Although it is only May, ?sumer? is, indeed, ?icumen in? to this sleepy fishing village on the bayou. That?s because, in Houston, winter falls on a Thursday. And we must not confuse the official start of summer with the formal beginning of hurricane season, June 1, which is signified by the head of the Red Cross tossing out the first doughnut.

Thus, no matter what the calendar says, summer in Houston begins when we turn the air conditioning from ?cool? to ?frostbite? and we can hang meat in the hallway. The warmer it gets outside, the colder it gets inside. Do you notice how many secretaries and receptionists in our office buildings, in the hot glare of July, are wearing sweaters?

I carry a jacket in the back seat of my car from April till October because our theaters and restaurants tend to get colder as the temperature in the parking lot rises. This is because the thermostats in the theaters are set by the people cooking the popcorn, while the temperatures in the restaurants are controlled by chefs sweating over a bubbling cauldron. The waiter tells you the soup of the day and the wind chill factor. Mark Twain once noted that the coldest winter he ever spent was one summer in San Francisco. He might have written that about Houston.

Besides our heat, every now and again we have some moisture in the air. During the summer, Houston?s average low is 71 degrees, the average high is 91 degrees, and the average humidity is 120 percent. Houston is the only city in America where you really can grow moss on a rolling stone and tie a knot in a Frito. Yet it is only fair to compare. Having experienced both, I will take an August afternoon in Houston over a January morning in Manhattan any time. (Like they say, you don?t have to shovel heat.) Come to think of it, Manhattan is an island at sea level, and an August afternoon there isn?t much fun either, especially when they?ve never heard of air conditioning.

Which brings us to the a/c. It has been noted that Houston is the most air-conditioned city in the world. There is no way to quantify that fact, but we have 50 Yellow Pages listings under ?air conditioning,? while churches have 20. There has long been an urban legend that the British Foreign Office considered Houston a hardship post for its diplomats stationed here. This is not quite accurate. We were not a hardship post, but, because of our weather, three years here counted as four years towards retirement. I once broached this subject with the British counsel at the time, and he said, ?I wrote back to White Hall, ?My God, haven?t you people ever heard of air conditioning??? So that perk was dropped.

ýo be honest, we do have our limp hair days. But we must look at the bright side, as Andersen told Enron. Dermatologists say our humidity is good for the skin. That is why we have nine super large humidifiers strategically placed around town to pump moisture into the air. We also have some rain, but most of the time it is only heavy dew, like Allison. Houston is a great town at low tide. Remember that only in Houston do Realtors use glass bottom boats. And we must also remember that a good flood every now and again cuts down on the crop of roaches. Do not attempt to defend our hot flashes. When visitors and new arrivals ask, ?How do you stand your summers?? explain that we don?t. We go from our air-conditioned house to our car with a/c on to the cooled-down office building to the frozen tennis court then to the Arctic baseball park. Advise them to take along a sweater. Also explain that a city ordinance requires all newcomers to put in swimming pools. You don?t want a pool yourself. They are trouble and expensive. What you want is for your neighbors to have a pool you can use.

Finally, remain humble when speaking to others about our weather. To win them over, it ain?t the heat, it?s the humility. ih

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