Tomorrow’s AC: Not All It’s Cranked Up To Be
Growing up in the Deep South meant dealing with the heat in summer (well actually, from March through October in Alabama.) When wemoved north to Virginia in 1974, I thought surely we had left 90-90 temp-humidities behind. But it’s feeling a lot like ‘bama in the Commonwealththis summer, and this has led me to consider that, once upon a time,Americans of Southern persuasion once employed evasive measuresagainst the heat, and coped admirably with less grumbling and in greater relative comfort than today—even in the years before conditioned air.Back then, austral-Americans drank iced tea (pronounced as a singleword, “ahstee”) often holding the sweaty drink to our jugulars or templesto cool our brains. We sat on the ubiquitous screened front porches alongelm-shaded streets to enjoy the relative coolness of an evening. Themotion of the glider, porch swing or rocking chair often created the onlystir in the thick, watermelon-and-zoyzia grass-scented air. As a floor-dwelling toddler, I remember a single oscillating fan, black, with whirlingmetal blades barely shielded by a sparse grillwork, its animal-like and perpetual looking right-left-right motion a source of amazement and oneof my first memories.The vents in the dashboards of our carsworked only when the car was moving andthose little side windows deflected tepid air onto our moist skin. Once, taking personalthermoregulation into our own hands on avacation to Florida from Birmingham, westopped at the Ice House in Woodlawn for atwenty-pound block of ice. It melted for hours right under the vent, cooling us as it puddled into a galvanized tub at mymother’s feet on the passenger side.We had a roaring fan in the ceiling that, when you turned it on, suckeddoors closed and lifted my hair and the shirt on my back gently towardsthe attic. My brother and I delighted in watching balloons bump along thehardwood floors into the hallway and rise suddenly to be sucked tightagainst the louvers. We slept April til October with the cool night air filling the house the next morning, when the oscillator came on duty to blow the coolness around during breakfast.We were far more thermally resilient in hot weather in those benighteddays before humankind’s technological mastery collapsed our thermaltolerance to a mere few degrees of the “ideal” 72 on which we now insist,24/7.