Tuesday 4 July 2023

Summer Heat

While studying in Texas, in the 1990s, for a MS degree, I received a job offer from a company called SRD in Phoenix, Arizona. This was after getting zero interviews after mailing out 250 copies of my bio-data/resume in response to newspaper ads.

SRD said it was a three month project at a large company, during which if I did well, I will get be employed full term (with health insurance). So I joined them. I knew Phoenix was a few degrees hotter than Texas, which was about hot as Madras, so I wasnt worried.
Boy, was I wrong. It was the middle of June - the start of summer in USA. Phoenix daily temperatures went upto 110 F, which I had occasionally experienced in Madras, during the 1980s, with no air conditioning, only ceiling fans.

Phoenix, from the sky - July 2015

But 110 in Phoenix was very different from 110 in Madras. Madras gets a sea breeze around 3pm, the worst heat is from 11am to 2pm. Arizona is a desert, so no sea or sea breeze. The part of Texas I lived in was a valley of a river called Brazos and far greener than Phoenix, and also had air conditioning. Summer days in the US are far longer; the sun sets after 8pm only. Bad in Texas, hellish in Phoenix. The roads which had absorbed heat until 8pm were letting out heat well past midnight. So it felt like 100 degrees F even at midnight. No Indian, even a Madrasi is prepared for that.
It is so hot in Phoenix, I heard that it was illegal to keep a store or business open if the AC broke down. When some of us at work went out to lunch, they drivers of cars opened the car door, turned on the engine and AC, then waited outside for two minutes before stepping in to the car. Hasty people have had the skin of their palms melted by the steering wheels of cars heated up in the midday sun.
For about a month, I didn't have a car, so an Indian colleague gave me a ride. I once asked to be dropped off at a store near my flat around 8pm for some grocery shopping; I said I would walk back home. This is when I discovered that the roads give off heat at night. That mile long walk (sorry, hike with two bags of groceries) was absolutely terrible; worse than most of the times I had fever of 102 or more. Two months later I hiked for a mile down and up the Grand Canyon in Arizona at noon, and it was much more pleasant than the walk back from that grocery store at nearly 9pm.
In September I got a job offer in Seattle, and I was so happy to leave Arizona. Seattle was absolute heaven with lakes and mountains with snow and green green trees and grass as far as the eye could see. It rains or drizzles eight months a year in Seattle and a blue sky is always headline news in the local TV stations, but that didn't bother me for another five years.
I learnt the true pleasure of monsoons and rains and the sea breeze from those brief three months in Phoenix, and the marvelous gift of sunny day and blue skies from my five years in Seattle.
Why all this now? The last two weeks this June feel like that summer in Phoenix. Even with Air Conditioning. (I wrote this on my Facebook wall on June 17 and it rained for a week after that).