The Idiosyncratist is spending much of the year in Tennessee, where the average summer temperatures hover around 90 degrees and the air is generally humid.
It’s a friendly, interesting place, but I have had one problem the last couple months: Keeping warm.
It is no coincidence that the American South was less densely populated in the years before air conditioning. People enjoyed the slightly cooler evening weather on screened porches attached to their homes, and roof fans whisked the hot, high-rising indoor air out of the house. But still, the weather was wearying.
My impression is that movie theaters were America’s early adopters of electric air conditioning. A double feature in a cool auditorium was a loved summer attraction in many states across the country.
For several generations now, air conditioning has come to be taken for granted. People still experience high summer temperatures when dashing from air-conditioned homes to air-conditioned cars to air-conditioned supermarkets and such, but only those whose jobs or exercise routines keep them outside for long periods suffer the worst of the heat.
But this air conditioning business can go too far.
Early in the July, the Significant Other and I went out for a meal at a nice restaurant. I had learned a lesson when I lived in Texas, which also is warmish in the summer months, and so I tucked a sweater into my shoulder bag.
The SO was wearing a short-sleeved shirt and a pair of shorts.
“You might want to take a sweatshirt just in case,” I said.
“I’ll be fine,” he assured me.
We walked into the restaurant and were escorted to the table. The indoor temperature was maybe 65 degrees, probably less.
“Wait here,” said the SO. “I’ll be right back.”
I ordered a nice glass of wine and studied the menu.
Fifteen minutes later, he returned, clad now in long pants, a long-sleeved shirt and a cardigan sweater.
We had a lovely dinner.
The New Usual
Given the size of the kitchen in our apartment (and, yes, the limits of my culinary expertise), the SO and I eat out rather often. When we do, we take sweaters, which come in handy because virtually all the local restaurants run on the chilly side.
Last night we ate at a nice French place. Cold.
Last week it was an Indian-Southern fusion spot. Very cold.
The weekend before, we visited an upscale pizza joint whose menu promoted its 700-degree ovens. The dining room, however, was very, very cold. We’re talking low 60s here.
(This has increased my respect for Southerners. Frequently we see women in sleeveless dresses and men in short-sleeved shirts in these restaurants. They look comfortable and happy. They do not hunch with their arms folded around their mid-sections. Their teeth do not chatter. I believe they could handle a snowy Northeast winter with ease. These people are tough.)
Anyway, the very effective air conditioning is not limited to restaurants. Movie theaters are cold. Grocery stores are cold — even the canned goods aisles are cold. The Verizon store is cold. The mall is cold.
Our apartment building lobby is very cold, and its wifi-lounge area is close to icy. Once, when the SO was faxing some documents, he asked the concierge if the temperature could be turned up just a bit.
It was not to be. The master building controls are not accessible to non-technical employees. (For the record, we set our apartment thermostat to the low 70s, which is perfectly comfortable.)
We have had air conditioning in homes in other states. It is not cheap, and I know for a fact that the last five degrees of chill are the most expensive ones.
I wonder if perhapsTennesseans are overcompensating here.
It is not for me to tell people how to manage their affairs, but I would mention that money could be saved — on utility bills and outerwear — just by adopting a slightly higher, still comfortable thermostat setting. And, in the larger scheme, the state could reduce its global footprint by asking people to live at what is known in the rest of the country as room temperature.