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August Is the Cruelest Month
August 13, 2005
Just when you think that summer can't get any worse . . . along comes August.
The culture puts out this message that Summer Is Good. Needless to say, the message is deeply rooted in our shared educational history: nine and a half months of the year we spent in bondage, purgatory, or some miserable place (often we had to pretend it was miserable even if we secretly loved school), then round about the middle of June we were sprung into perfect freedom. Summer!
I had a few idyllic summers in the 1960s and early '70s -- I think, or maybe I'm just hallucinating to make myself socially acceptable. Once I sprang into Washington, D.C., summer was no picnic. Every day made it clear why the affluent evacuated Swamp City for points north. In Washington, I first learned the term "thermal inversion," because we had them for weeks at a time. During a thermal inversion, atmospheric conditions trapped both the heat and the exhaust of a few million automobiles in the immediate vicinity, and even for the hale and healthy among us breathing became difficult.
For several of my D.C. years I commuted by bicycle from Alexandra, Virginia, to my home in D.C.'s Mount Pleasant neighborhood, on the backside of the National Zoo. I know for a fact that when I left work at 4:45 the temperature was often in the 90s, the humidity likewise; a few times someone would see me unlocking my trusty blue Peugeot 10-speed and say, "You're going to bike home? It's 102 degrees out!" Thank you so much. I'd soak my head in the water bubbler at the Lincoln Memorial, about halfway between work and home, and continue on my journey. The last half mile or so, from the Rock Creek Parkway bikepath up to my house, was straight uphill. The best thing about it is that nearly 25 years later I've still got bragging rights.
Martha's Vineyard taught me to really hate summer. Summer is congestion, summer is short tempers, summer is working two and three jobs, summer is evacuating your winter rental so the landlord can rent it out for big bucks, summer is crashing in a friend's living room and using up all the welcomes you've got . . . Summer sucks.
One of the best things about freelancing is that I don't have to drive anywhere at the same time when everyone else on the island is trying to drive somewhere. This morning I had to drive up-island for a 10 o'clock meeting at the West Tisbury church. It took almost 10 minutes to get through the intersection of the Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road and State Road. The traffic was crawling through West Tisbury village, because everyone and their sisters, cousins, and aunts has to come to the Farmers' Market at the Grange Hall (aka the old Ag Hall). These days the Farmers' Market is a designer food boutique with dust. The summer people like it because it's not like their supermarkets back home. Locals like it because we can park free on the field behind it, where once the annual ag fair was held. Then the field was big enough for the midway and a livestock ring, now it seems small, but at least there's enough space to park.
I sweltered through my meeting, filled up Uhura Mazda's tank for $3.02 a gallon at my favorite gas station -- they usually have biscuits for Rhodry, but Rhodry wasn't with me and the summer employee didn't know to ask where he was -- and proceeded up the road half a mile to the tack and feed store, to buy some stuff for Allie.
After sweltering through about three hours of editing, I headed up to the barn to help with evening chores. Did get a ride in, though I was tempted to forget it -- there's no relief promised on Weather Underground and it's not like I can give up riding till September.
At the moment I'm a fervent believer in whatever pop-historical theory sees climate as the driver of world history: people in cold climates must move around to keep warm, so they go a-viking or a-proselytizing or a-searching for lucrative markets; people in hot climates must sit still to conserve energy so they mind their own business, devise profound philosophical and religious systems, and eventually get the stuffing kicked out of them by those restless cold-climate people.
Maybe if automotive air conditioning were outlawed, all these damn summer people would stay off the roads?