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To Beat the Heat, the Best Ally Is the AC

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Commentator Rod Dreher hates the heat. Unfortunately, he has lived in places that have sweltering summers, Florida, New York, Washington, D.C., for example. Now he lives in Dallas, which is not exactly a paragon of coolness.

ROD DREHER reporting:

Summer in Texas is not so much about meteorology as theology. You want to teach your mischievous children about purgatory? Send them into the backyard for 15 minutes on an average Dallas afternoon.

Labor Day weekend, the traditional end of summer, starts tomorrow, but it's going to be hot here well into October. But hey, break out the wide whale corduroys, baby, we're on a glide path for autumn.

My exuberance is not just because of the most obnoxious season of the year is just about gone. It's because I have driven through my second Texas summer without air conditioning in my car. Trust me on this. In Dallas, which just endured a 19-day streak of over 100 degree days, automobile air conditioning is the bare necessity for civilized life. By rejecting it, I risk being taken for a loon.

This is not about virtue, environmentalist or otherwise. This is about, well, what exactly? I've asked myself that many times while poodling along the freeway, sweating like dim sum on a steam tray.

Four years ago, shopping for a car, I stumbled across an old Mercedes sedan in reasonable condition. $9,000. True it was colored a heat-holding midnight blue, but the air conditioner ran on a motor apparently transplanted from a German tank. How bad could it be? I found out two summers later when the AC went kaput. Fixing it would cost half the value of the car.

I dug in. I would come home from in the evening, scowling and dripping with sweat. Honey, my poor wife said, it's really hot out there. You're not a miser. What are you trying to prove? What indeed?

For the past two summers I've been miserable - miserable - in the driver's seat of my rolling furnace. And yet the Freon fast has made me feel, I don't know, stronger, like at the end of a good Lent. But the Lenten fast is for a spiritual purpose. I can't really say the same thing about renouncing my air conditioner, or can I?

In modern America we move around from one climate controlled environment to the next like hamsters in a perpetually comfy Habitrail. And yet there is perhaps this nagging sense that an artificial climate makes us soft, decadent even.

Money and technology make us masters over the elements, but they also make us their slaves. If we lost either, we'd have no air conditioning in Dallas and we'd suffer. Oh, sweet mother of Kinky Friedman, would we ever.

It is no bad thing to be reminded every day, at least for the length of my summer commute, that my nice, cool house and my nice, cool office are gifts. It is no bad thing to confront the truth that there are limits to what we can control with money and power. Sometimes in life you've just got to gut it out. We forget that. We shouldn't.

Still, summer is almost over. Let the fall feasting begin. And hey, just so you know, the heater in that old Mercedes works just fine.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: Commentator Rod Dreher is a writer at the Dallas Morning News and the author of the recently published Crunchy Cons. He blogs at beliefnet.com. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.