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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Beating the Heat

Air Date: Week of

Commentator Julia King laments that with the use of air conditioning in the home, her neighbors in Goshen, Indiana no longer sit out on the front porch or engage in other traditional summer cool-off escapes.


NUNLEY: The swimming pool, if you're fortunate enough to be able to lounge around one, may be one of the few places in a neighborhood where you'll still find a group of people on a hot summer day. In years past sultry summer afternoons were occasions for neighbors and friends to gather together and try to find ways to beat the heat. But commentator Julia King says that these days in her neighborhood, when the sun is hot there's barely a soul stirring.

KING: I spent the day with my feet firmly planted on the bottom of my daughter's blow-up jungle pool. It was one of those days that all you wanted to do was talk about how darn hot it was. The mailman and I exchanged limp waves and miserable, knowing looks at around noon. I called the time and temperature number about 32 times just to check. "Now it's 97 degrees," I wailed up to my husband as he sat sweltering in front of the computer in our upstairs bedroom. If I had a front stoop on my house I would have been out there with a paper fan and a cool cloth on my brow, soliciting sympathy from passers-by.

The thing is, hardly anyone passes by in 97-degree weather. I caught a brief glimpse of my neighbor's panty-hosed leg as she dashed from her little blue Toyota into her house. So much for sharing sweat stories with her. Another neighbor smiled at me from behind the window of his truck. Then he pulled into his driveway next door and disappeared behind his automatic garage door. He didn't even look hot. Come to think of it, no one looked hot. We were the only hot people in our neighborhood. I turned up the fan.

At dusk we climbed onto our bikes, ready for a little of that summer community. Nothing like a good heat wave to bond a neighborhood, just like that movie I saw the other night, where everyone came out of their houses and daubed their foreheads together, and sighed. That's what I wanted: communal suffering.

We pedaled slowly past the Yoders' driveway and inspired a head lift from the dog. We rode down past our friends, the Grabermillers, and got a quick wave through the sealed front window. That was okay, but not quite what we had in mind. There were supposed to be barbecues and lemonade stands and porch swings squeaking under the weight of too many people. Instead it was just us and the empty, quiet streets.

I think that movie was old. This is the 90's after all. You got your gangs, your drugs, your lack of religion and role models. People can't just come hang out in the front yard for God's sake. But wait. I live in Goshen, Indiana. The Heartland. Everyone goes to church, no one does drugs, and the gangs mostly go home if their moms call. So where did my community go? It was the 60s, they say. It was civil rights. It was feminism. But I know the truth. It was air conditioning.

NUNLEY: Commentator Julia King lives in Goshen, Indiana, and comes to us via the Great Lakes Consortium.



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