In an increasingly homogenized world, where every place is more and more like every other place, we must cling to those irreducible distinctions between here and there that remain. If you went to sleep in a Holiday Inn in Chicago, and during the night some magical genie or computer magnate had you drugged and whisked off to a Holiday Inn in Dallas, chances are you wouldn’t suspect a thing when you woke up. That is, unless it was a July morning, and you had slept a bit late, and you walked over and jerked open the door and felt the sudden rush of The Heat. The wave hits like some living thing that has been biding its time outside your little air-conditioned cave. You squint at the sun. Jesus, you think. I must be in Dallas.
The Heat unites us in Dallas. Even the Cowboys fall, but The Heat goes on, a universal griping point all Dallasites can share. If you’re born here Nature gives you a small advantage, some kind of genetic tolerance of The Heat, but it’s good only up to 100 degrees or so. Go much beyond that, and even a native’s heat shield begins to melt.
We all delight in scaring transplanted Northerners with tales of our savage summer heat. I have several imported friends who simply cannot make their peace with The Heat. They’ve been here for years, but they still find it hard to believe that August is going to happen again. May is bad enough for them, so during our six-month summer (May through October), they close up shop, lay in plenty of movies, and hug the air conditioners.
Oddly, though, our battle with The Heat is a source of local pride. In a rugged, inhospitable land, we’re making it. The sun rules the land six months of the year, and if you’re going to beat it back, you’ve got to pay the price. That glassed-in patio may be charming in December, but in July it becomes a traitor to the house, an avenue for the invading heat, and the reason for those obscene electric bills.
So, like hostages, we identify with the oppressor. We learn to live with the sun: some of us learn to love it, like a cruel pagan god: though he burn us, yet will we love him. We let it change the color of our skin: weather and age us like it does the land.
With The Heat there is always a struggle and a way to prove you are a survivor. And the nice thing is that the struggle doesn’t require taking anything away from anyone, or threatening them with a gun in some dingy bar, or out-machoing a bull at a rodeo. It’s the thermal equivalent of war. You walk out of the office in the afternoon and the July sun is hanging out there on the horizon waiting for you. Same thing tomorrow, next week, next summer.The Heat will be here. And so will we.