I happened to be at a government building in the Chicago suburbs this week when one of the local aldermen walked up to me and whispered in my ear that he had a “scoop” for me.
His city is in the process of putting together its budget for the current fiscal year, and he said that one way to save a whole heck of a lot of money would be to totally eliminate the budgetary line item that pays for air conditioning.
“JUST THINK OF how much money we’re spending right now,” he quipped.
Now I say “quipped” because I realize that particular alderman was joking. There’s no way that government building – or any building, for that matter – would have been bearable this week had it not had the air conditioning running.
At that particular moment, I had just entered the suburban City Hall and was soaked with sweat because of the walk from my car parked a half-block away and the building. At that particular moment, temperatures were so high that the heat index was registering just under 100 degrees.
It was hot. And it was humid. A combination that results in a disgusting feel to the air, an uncomfortable feel to the skin and the potential for people to become serious ill if they have some stubborn streak that makes them think of air conditioning as some sort of evil.
IT SEEMS THAT we have learned the Lessons of 1995, when for a couple of weeks that summer temperatures and conditions reached such intense levels that I once heard someone describe the situation by saying that for those weeks, Chicago became Saudi Arabia.
Because I haven’t heard tons of stories of mass fatalities around the Chicago area. Although the conspiracy theorist in me wonders if both Gov. Pat Quinn and Mayor Rahm Emanuel had some advance warning that let them know this was the perfect week to schedule trips taking them out of the Midwest (Emanuel in New York, and Quinn in Israel).
Perhaps it means that we’re doing a better job of being aware of the dangers, and that we’re checking up more thoroughly on those individuals in our society who might otherwise be at risk.
In fact, a part of me has thought this week about my mother, who passed away last year just before Thanksgiving. She would have been miserable this week, and I’m sure the heat would have left her feeling weak.
A PART OF me is thankful that she is not suffering from the heat and humidity, or having to endure what all of us coped with this past week.
Personally, I spent as much time as I could indoors – usually as close as I possibly could to a fan. As I write this commentary Friday night, I have a fan blowing about four feet to my right.
It is keeping the air circulating sufficiently that I feel comfortable (although the fan’s built-in thermometer tells me the current temperature in this room is 86 degrees). When one considers that I also have a bottle of water chilled cold about two feet to the left of me that I routinely reach for to take a sip now and then, I can’t complain too much right now.
But I’m well aware of the fact that many people have to do their work outdoors in the brunt of the heat. Heck, the couple of reporter-type assignments I have undertaken that forced me outside left me in a serious need for a change of clothes and a quick shower once I got home.
WHICH MEANS I did my part to contribute to excess water use. Although the alternative would have been to sleep in my sweat and stink.
Then again, I had it better than my brother, Chris, who on his job this week was shifted to a rare week of overnight (9 p.m. to 6 a.m.) shifts.
Some might mistakenly think he escaped the brunt of the heat, since it meant he was asleep in an air conditioned room throughout the days. Yet this was a week so ridiculously hot that even overnight, the heat index was still in the 90s.
When added to the fact that he works in a place that typically is hot, even in mid-winter, there simply was no escaping this heat wave.
BUT THEN I think back to Feb. 1-2 and the nearly two feet of snowfall we got hit with in a 24-hour period. I still recall having to help my brother push his car through the snow when it became stuck in a drift. And I wonder how many people total suffered serious injury because emergency crews had trouble getting to them because of all that snow.
I hate snow even more than I despise the heat.
In fact, there’s only one bit of this heat that I have to admit I find humorous – the fact that this is the first week of that hideous-looking Marilyn Monroe statue on Michigan Avenue. I understand that many people are posing in front of the statue, having their photographs taken while groping or kissing Marilyn’s thighs.
Let those juvenile buffoons kiss her all they want. Maybe it means they’ll burn their lips.