Strangely enough, I’ve been missing those long, lazy days of summer during my Austin youth when we got hot and stayed hot. Those were the days when there was nothing as refreshing as a glass of iced tea, lemonade, or Kool-Aid.
The only thing that rivaled iced drinks was a late-afternoon popsicle. The chimes of the ice cream truck from a few blocks away was the clarion call of sweet anticipation as you started weighing your options . . . eskimo pie, dreamsicle, or double-barreled raspberry popsicle. (Does anyone know why raspberry comes out blue when turned into ice?)
But my summer memories of cooling off belong to another world now that we have learned to refrigerate our houses, restaurants, and other public places with meat-locker efficiency.
Today when I’m going out to eat, I think ahead before I dress. Will I be in a place where the temperature reaches a maximum in the lower 60s? I almost always take a light jacket or sweater just to be on the safe side. And as the hostess is guiding me to a table, I’m scanning the ceiling for air conditioning vents. If I’ve been there before, I usually remember the dangerous spots and suggest more comfortable locations if she heads in that direction. The worst places are those where the temperature is maintained at arctic levels by the double whammy: central a-c AND whirring ceiling fans.
Do architects actually design buildings with any awareness that people are going to sit down while eating and drinking, rather than engage in jazzercise or ice carving where cold air would be welcome. I’d like to ask these building professionals, “Why should I order a hot plate of linguini (or even french fries with my burger) while my table is being targeted for freeze-drying?” And why should I have to order soup to warm my hands by cradling the warm bowl?
The only conclusion I have been able to reach is that a restaurant is not cooled for the patron’s comfort. No-way. I have asked many restaurant managers and have discovered that most restaurants do not have separate units for the dining room and the kitchen and it gets hot in the kitchen. And, as you might guess, the kitchen folks control the thermostats. Fast food places and a certain chain coffee-house are the worst. If you even suggest that you are freezing and wearing a coat on purpose, they politely respond by noting that they are perfectly comfortable just the way things are, thank you very much.
I would think that there would be a financial incentive to save on the electricity powering these industrial a-c units, but perhaps it’s more economical to make sure the customer is so cold, she won’t linger. It’s in the interest of the restaurant and its staff that you eat and run so the table gets turned quicker. That chain coffee-house, in particular, seems to take an aggressive freeze-out stance, since otherwise, the wi-fi users wouldn’t budge – tapping away at their laptops, earbuds firmly affixed – oblivious to time and space.
So, what about that refreshing glass of iced tea in August? It’s not the pleasure it used to be. Whenever I think of ordering a chilled beverage, I have to consider whether my body can stand a reduction in the internal temperature which is working like the devil to counteract the threat of external frost bite. Aside from the fact that sodas and cold drinks seem to be the profit leader in the restaurant trade these days, unless I have a parka with me and my teeth-chattering under control, I’m less inclined to order anything but water at room temperature.
And eating joints aren’t the only culprits …. it’s the same in grocery stores. I don’t dare go out to shop in a sleeveless blouse and shorts, even if I don’t plan on visiting the frozen food department. These days, I get what I need and scurry out – no aimless walking of aisles or comparison shopping, no dawdling at the sample tables. The only exception I sometimes make is at the wine stands. A few thimblefuls of wine are like the brandy from the cask of the trusty St. Bernard, rescuing me from hypothermia.
My whining, however, would not be complete without mentioning office buildings. Maybe it’s because I’ve always worked for the State, but I have never experienced an office building wherein the temperature level could be regulated to a comfortable level. I need to wear layers of clothes for removal in the winter, and bring layers for donning in the summer. The summer period is the worse, however, except for the fact that my blue lips and I feel so virtuously “green” when driving home at 6:00 p.m. with the breeze of the open windows. People must think I’m crazy in this weather, but it takes almost the entire trip before I’m thoroughly defrosted.
I’m not saying that we should go back to the days before central air conditioning, but with a pressing need to reduce our energy consumption, wouldn’t it make sense to cut back on some of this refrigeration? And if it’s beyond our technological abilities to moderate or fine tune the cold air, I’d just like to ask that businesses provide blankets and real hand warmers.