August 19, 2019
It’s been a few months since I mentioned dogs or posted a pic of one of mine, so I figured a “dog” play on words was about due. Even though what I’m about to write about has nothing to do with dogs, there will be a pic, oh yes, there will be…
It’s August in D.C., people, the so-called “Dog Days,” and it is hot. Gross hot. It’s also the month when most people either take their vacations or, because everyone else is seemingly out of town, they take it down a notch. Congress goes out of session for the month so the bridges and traffic into the city aren’t as congested and the local Metro isn’t packed, if it is working at all, that is.
It just feels quiet – albeit hot. As you can imagine, the decision for Congress to go out of session, and for the entire D.C. area to also take a mini-hiatus, is because, until the middle of the last century, there was no air conditioning. Let’s pause on that for a second. No air conditioning in 100-degree temperatures and upwards of 50% humidity. How did people sleep, much less think, much less think strategically? (Maybe we should factor in heat as we do our arm-chair quarterbacking of decisions made by Congress and the President way back in the day…just sayin’.)
The D.C. area experienced a brief period of those days thanks to a brief but powerful storm in 2012. Known as a “Derecho,” the June 2012 storm came in with very high winds and some rain, but localized and almost random. As it did across much of the Mid-Atlantic, the storm took down a lot of trees, and in turn, power lines. That phenomenon happened just before the 4th of July when we were already experiencing a toastier than usual summer. In my house, we had an eight-month old who was not excited about being hot. We also had a generator – a puny one it turns out – and a window unit air conditioner that actually worked when we plugged it in. So, my husband, my four-year-old, my eight-month-old and I all huddled in the small bedroom where we had that AC unit going at full blast. We sacrificed our refrigerated food in a heartbeat for the option of being cool for the night. The generator and, hence, the AC, lasted exactly seven hours – not a great night’s sleep, but a night’s sleep nonetheless. As soon as the AC went, our house felt like an oven – even when we opened the windows. Thanks to our hard-working utility, our power came back on that next day, but it was a stark reminder of the power of heat.
Again, how did they do it before AC? The answer is, they didn’t – at least not in August. Folks most likely had enough trouble just sleeping or functioning in heat like that especially given the choice of attire. The heat forced people to slow down a bit. Now, as we know, electricity has given us the ability to cool and heat our homes and keep our food preserved more easily. And I wouldn’t change that for the world – especially when I am dripping with sweat and step into a blessedly air-conditioned building.
At the same time, I can appreciate the vestige of a slower era, before electricity allowed us to be plugged in almost everywhere on the planet. I hope Congress always takes August off and gives us a moment to breathe here in the nation’s capital, even if the reason behind the break isn’t as acute anymore. These types of mental and physical breaks – whether in August in D.C. or January in Brazil – lead to rested people, which can lead to breakthroughs…