Wednesday, August 20, 2003

MEDITATIONS on heat and light, inspired by two things: an erroneous overheard comment about Detroit being in the Central time zone, and news of Europe's long, hot summer.

1. I did most of my growing up near Detroit, where I remember the attitude being "the hotter, the better." Seventy degrees was considered quite warm, and it was a threshold of sorts for swimming-pool weather. Among my two brothers and me, that turned into the parody "It's 40 degrees: Let's go swimming!" (Later in life we worked that into a Celsius joke.) Eighty -- eighty! -- and you were really living. Florida, not surprisingly, is Mecca to Michiganders.

2. Detroit, while "Midwestern," is in the Eastern time zone. I'll spare your head from spinning and point out that what this means is that daylight hours get shifted way back. There was a lot of waiting for the school bus in the dark, but there were also those glorious summers in which daytime/playtime lasted till something like 10 p.m. My most concrete memory of that is having to be called back into the house on July 20, 1969, to watch the first moon landing, which happened pretty late in the Eastern time zone.

3. I did the rest of my growing up in Phoenix, where my family moved in 1979. (We were ahead of our time.) I'll skip the "it's a dry heat" part and point out that the most disconcerting thing to me wasn't the 115-degree daytime highs, but the 85-degree overnight lows. Also, the phenomenon of an open car window providing an oven blast rather than a welcome breeze. Those midnight swims after eight hours on the night police beat, first at the family home in Mesa and then at Shadow Creek Apartments, in Mesa but almost Tempe, were wonderful. Mecca for Phoenicians was always-cool San Diego.

4. The bad thing about always-cool San Diego is that the ocean is never warm enough for comfortable swimming. I got a taste of that a couple of weeks ago when Jacqueline and I did our pretty-much-annual beach weekend in Rehoboth Beach, Del. As we later found out, Atlantic temperatures are crazy cold this year for some reason. I'm used to "it's fine once you get in" ocean swimming, but on the Sunday of our visit, even though it was pretty warm outside, the water felt like frostbite no matter how long I stayed in. I toughed it out, though, because it's not often I get to go in the ocean, and I'm glad I did. For about an hour after I got out, my skin radiated this wonderful tingling sensation. If this came in drug form, a lot of people would be hooked.

5. I'm essentially an indoor cat. I don't dislike nature, but my natural inclination is to stay inside. July 20, 1969, notwithstanding, Mom sometimes had to order me to "play in the yard" in the summertime when I'd rather be in my room sketching the cars and houses of my imaginary automotive and real-estate ventures. I've been known to play tennis indoors during the summer. Along the same lines, al fresco has never been my preferred dining atmosphere. But I changed my tune on that in the summer of 2001 when Jacqueline and I went to Paris, Zurich, Salzburg and Munich. Because (a) the Europeans don't understand air conditioning and (b) those European destinations tend to be refreshingly free of the summer humidity that plagues much of the United States, we found ourselves eating outside whenever possible.

The most ridiculous example of European attitudes toward A/C came at the Drei Lowen, our hotel in Munich. The hotel is relatively modern and boasts of air conditioning, but the highest setting was nowhere near enough, even given the relatively mild summer we encountered. So we ended up sleeping with the windows open, despite the ample street noise below. Good thing we had earplugs left over from the U2 concert in Zurich.

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