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Summer finally arrives in the San Joaquin Valley

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POSTED July 2, 2010 2:55 a.m.
The mercury - for those old enough to remember when you didn’t click on to find what the outside temperature is but instead actually stepped outside to read an old-style thermometer - is expected to reach the 100-degree mark on the Fourth of July.

It can mean only one thing. The “real” summer has finally arrived. It is the time that separates those who love the valley from those who wonder who in their right mind would want to live here.

Visitors from San Francisco are convinced they have entered Dante’s Inferno when they cross the Altamont Pass in July, August and early September. You would too if you lived in a city where air conditioning in homes was a foreign concept and days with the summer temperature exceeding 80 degrees are as rare as a Republican being elected mayor.

When we’re dealing with 100-degree highs The City is topping out at 78 degrees. Forget what Mark Twain said about the coldest winter he ever spent was a summer in San Francisco. It’s just that given the extreme politics of San Francisco, it could be you-know-what simply getting ready to freeze over.

Most of us who’ve been in the Midwest and South would take a 110-degree day with low humidity in the Central Valley over an 80-degree day with 80 percent humidity in the Midwest.

Old-timers - read that, anyone who lived in the Central Valley back in the mid-1960s - can regale you with stories about three days or so of 110-degree-plus heat in the middle of about a dozen consecutive 100-degree-plus days.

But it really isn’t that impressive. After 100 degrees, you really don’t feel much difference whether it’s 104 or 110. It’s hot and you know it’s hot.

If you don’t let yourself get too pampered by air conditioning, the heat can be tolerable.

Guarded use of air conditioning is something you learn by accident. Strike that. You learn it by misery.

Thirty-five years ago, I was cooling my heels in a newspaper office in Yuba City waiting to pick up an ad. It was 102 degrees outside and I was wearing a business suit complete with tie. The newspaper’s owner kept his business offices at a nice cool 62 degrees. This was before the fine folks at PG&E and their southern counterparts cooked up the deregulation scheme.

I waited for 40 minutes. I got the ad, climbed into my 1967 Cougar that had been sitting on the street locked up the entire time, rolled down the window and drove off. About a minute later, I became what might best be described as deathly ill.

The temperature inside the car was probably 130 degrees if not more when I first got in - at least 65 degrees hotter than the freezer inside the Independent Herald.

The importance of not subjecting your body to rapid swings in temperature was impressed upon me in a manner that I’ll never forget.

It wasn’t my first encounter with the problems that can oncur going into a metal object that has been sealed all day when the temperatures flirt with 100 degrees.

I went to the fourth grade at the old Mary Beermann School in Lincoln in one of two Quonset huts the Western Placer Unified School District was still using that they had secured as government surplus from Beale Air Force Base in the 1950s. (Don’t get me started on the need to have “ideal” facilities to learn but that’s a different story.) I thought it was kind of neat because the Quonset hut classrooms were the only ones that had air conditioning.

The fourth-grade classes had all gone to Coloma State Park on a field trip. It was May. When we returned about a half hour before dismissal, Mrs. Hayward discovered she had forgotten to turn on the air conditioning before we left. It was pushing 120 degrees in the classroom. It wasn’t a pleasant experience to go in and out quickly to retrieve homework.

I can only imagine what it was like here 160 years ago. Not only was there no air conditioning, but there was not a Central Valley Water project, no State Water project, no Stanislaus River reservoirs. It was a perennial cycle of floods and marshland in the winter and combustible desert in the summer.

Our grandparents survived because they knew how to be smart when it got hot. They still worked. They still did strenuous activities. And they did it without air conditioning.

Even so, I bet they did what we’re doing right about now - complaining about the weather.
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