Caloric Caviling

You’re probably in no mood to hear another Seattleite whine about how hot it is here.  So, I won’t whine.  I might describe plaintively, but no whining.   We are having a spate of high, and perhaps unprecedented, temperatures, and I know we sound like weenies when we complain about high 80s/low 90s temps.  I came here from Ohio, and I know what it’s like to be nailed down by heat, plus humidity that makes a sauna seem like a grocery store’s walk-in cooler.

I think what sets us off is that, just as when we get snow in the winter and the city comes to a grinding halt because we have no removal equipment, we have no generally dispersed infrastructure to deal with heat.  Sure, office buildings are air-conditioned, some to a point that you start to shiver if you’re not wearing a 3-piece suit.  That’s because, in our mild climate, the primary task of skyscraper HVAC systems here, even in the dead of winter, is to cool, not to heat.

But that doesn’t mean that our personal living apparatus is so equipped.  We’ve seldom felt the need, for instance, to consider air conditioning for our house.  It stays marvelously cool for most of the day, only heating up in the mid-afternoon when the westering sun hits the overabundance of glass that we have on that side.  And my car (a 1995 Honda) has been without functioning air conditioning for about a decade.  There’s a leak somewhere in the system, and it just doesn’t seem worth $1,500 to find it, repair it and recharge with ozone-eating Freon only to shun its use for 95% of the year.

So, today, I hit the trifecta, or maybe the 4-horse accumulator:

  • My first stop was the dentist.  Air conditioning: check; welcoming environment that entices you to linger: not so much.
  • Next stop: a client in a manufacturing warehouse that becomes an inferno the moment that rosy-fingered dawn caresses its fiberglass roof.  But I’m the controller, and no way would I recommend air conditioning this porous box.  (Somehow, they snuck heating apparatus in there last winter).
  • Next, I hop in my non-airconditioned car and pray that 520 is only mildly afflicted.  It is, but I irrationally fret that, at 4:20, I should be able to cruise-control at 70 all the way home.
  • Finally, I attend a board meeting of a non-profit kayaker-advocacy group.  Because it’s truly non-profit, and not the faux non-profit of hospitals and country clubs, their office is in a non-airconditioned building, afflicted with the same west-facing orientation as our house.  We sweat through sincere but distracted proceedings, and begrudge Robert his meeting-lengthening Rules.

We didn’t have air conditioning when I was a kid in northwest Ohio, but we did have a huge attic fan that pulled air in Herculean draughts through all of the house’s orifices and pushed it into the attic, where the Devil could reclaim it if he wasn’t being attended by demon medics for heat exhaustion.  When we remodeled our house here in  Seattle in 1981, I purchased a similar fan and installed it at the head of the stairs, thinking that, if it worked in the sweltering midwest, it would certainly suffice for our moderate climes.  Then, a perspicacious insulating subcontractor pointed out that my attic, with only circular birdblocks for vents instead of the capacious gable vents of my dad’s house, would not be able to handle the exhaust, Devil or no.  So, I removed it, and we’ve relied on benevolent clouds and marine air to temper our summer sun.

I’m looking through my rolodex, and have selected a client for tomorrow’s endeavors that I’m almost sure has air conditioning.  I may have to screw up something around 4:30, so I can stay after dusk to fix it.

I think all that was just this side of the Whining Wall.  Sue me.


  1. We’re having an unusually cool July here in the panhandle of Florida, near Pensacola. Not that we could live comfortably without air-conditioning, but at least we don’t have to put a block of ice in the swimming pool to keep it from feeling like a hot tub.

  2. Try putting your underwear in the freezer, and then dress just before leaving the house. The coolness won’t last, but it’ll give you a running start.

    Also, in the evening, hang soaking wet towels or sheets up at the windows [or if you normally have curtains there, dip the curtains and hang ‘em up wet] where breeze is blowing in. Or place said soaked cloths over a chair and put a fan to blow on them.

    Ditto with sheets/towels in the freezer* and place on bed before sleep.


    *of course you must throw all freezer food out to make room for all this homegrown a/c.

  3. Phil:

    Beth - you guys should have a place in the UP of Michigan - you could be the opposite of Sunbirds…Firebirds? (I think both were lame Pontiac models, weren’t they?)

    Teresa - Underwear. Such an uptight northeastern custom. My freezer is completely devoted to ice for my beverages. I need a bigger freezer.

  4. Ms. Lea:

    I’m Whining with you Phil! It’s been 110* to 113* where I am at down here in the Rogue Valley. 95* is the new 80* :)

  5. The cheap answer(s): cold showers, eschew clothing, buy fans

    And visit Central Texas in summer for perspective.

  6. An interesting meditation, Phil, and safely the right side of plangent whinge.

    We still don’t have air conditioning in most buildings over here. Big stores, of course, and the offices where the substantial bucks are generated, but rarely in restaurants, bars, pubs or homes. Which is odd because relentless rain notwithstanding, temperatures do climb in the summer and humidity is a real issue. But I guess that in a country in which realtors still mention central heating as a feature when selling houses, this is less than surprising.

    In so many issues of day-to-day functioning, the UK still trails the US as much as ever it did.

  7. Hi Phil, you’re enervated by the heat? I dropped by for a dose of fresh caffeine, to be greeted by an old near-whine.

    Guess maybe I’m whining a little myself here…