I moved to Boston from Texas this past January.
Let me rephrase that.
I moved to the frigid northeastern corner of the United States from the semi-arid heat of western Texas–in the dead of winter. Before that, I’d spent my entire life crisscrossing my native state and experiencing a veritable smorgasbord of climates and contours. The humid gulf coast of Houston and Galveston, the rolling hill country of Austin and San Antonio, and the deserted flats of Lubbock–I’d once called all of these places home. And now? Boston. Raging blizzards, raucous patches of black ice, and radiators. I didn’t have a clue what to expect.
At the same time, I knew that surviving Boston’s summer season wouldn’t be a problem. The highs and humidity generally experienced in and around New England were nothing compared to what I’d grown up with. So despite the preemptive complaints of friends and colleagues dreading the summer, I kept myself warm throughout the winter months with thoughts of the “big orange blob” (or “BOB”) that would eventually appear in the sky. And appear he did. BOB didn’t disappoint with a five-day heat wave that subjected the city and the surrounding area to temperatures in the low to mid 90s from Wednesday, July 3 to Sunday, July 7.
What to do about such heat? Where I come from, the answer is simple, modern, and commonplace: air conditioning. Everyone in Texas and the southwestern United States utilizes air conditioning in their homes, workplaces, and indoor recreational facilities. Just about every structure with four walls and a roof has a cooling system of some type. Central air? Window units? Open refrigerator doors? Doesn’t matter. Anyone who says otherwise is either stupid, untrustworthy, or suicidal. (Or a healthy combination of all three.) But this is the norm for a large swathe of the country whose average high temperatures render it a basic necessity. Boston, on the other hand, has these things called “fall” and “winter” that, unlike Texas and the southwest, lessen the need for air conditioned arrangements.
Aside from its ever-winding roadways and its piles of white, fluffy powder, one of the first things I noticed about Boston was its visible lack of air conditioning. Not too many of the residential neighborhoods I explored had large, metallic boxes sitting adjacent to their homes and businesses. Every few buildings had a window unit hanging outside of a bedroom window–often old, rusty, and poorly installed–but nothing like the numbers I was used to. But it was winter in New England, so I moved on. The problematic nature of these low numbers didn’t hit me until early July’s five-day string of +90 degree days. Suddenly I was seeing window units left and right, either newly purchased or dug out from the depths of a closet or a cellar. And the fans–window fans as far as the eye could see.
Air conditioning, when available, is an obvious option. Otherwise, city workers will often set up temporary cooling centers in and around the greater Boston area for free public use during the hotter parts of the days and evenings. And, strangely enough, that’s a key strategy for beating the heat that otherwise seems counter-intuitive: go outside. Yes, you read that right. If you’re located in a walled, roofed structure without air conditioning or with poor ventilation, then go outside. Yeah it’s hot, but it’s also open. Catch the breeze in a shaded spot. Drink a hell of a lot of water. And, for the love of all things holy, don’t stay inside all day if said “inside” constitutes a giant oven.
When I mentioned the daily highs for Boston over the phone, my parents giggled. “Low 90s, eh? Cute. The mercury topped 115 today.” Sure, it’s easy for them to laugh. I do to. But that doesn’t change the fact that it was freakin’ hot last week. Nor does it assuage this week’s high temperatures in the 90s. Have fun out there, kids, but be safe!