Summertime, and the livin' is easy," Gershwin wrote. I never understood that. Movies and television shows with children scampered through meadows in the noonday summer sun similarly baffled me. I was a Phoenician. Summer was the oven. It was a force that demanded respect. Summer could kill you. We might have ridden bicycles without helmets and freely roamed our neighborhoods without "play dates," but we were also expert in desert survival. So in summertime the livin' was careful. My friends and I avoided going out in mid-day and paced our roams in high summer. I read so many books in a soothingly dim, air-conditioned room at home, or at the public library, where the blast of heat was only apparent if you came close to the windows.
The rhythm of the city changed, slowed down. Aside from the morning and evening rush hour, most people stayed off the streets. Mailmen wore pith helmets. Street work and construction was mostly done early in the morning or not at all. Bank signs flashed triple-digit temperature readings. Summer did have its charms. For example, most of the snowbirds and tourists — the ones who would ask you where they could find a good "Spanish" restaurant — were gone. It was just us desert rats. The cold-water fountains at every gas station were heaven. Enough money to buy a milkshake or ice-cream cone at one of the drug-store fountains was a cloud above that. If you were lucky enough to know someone with a pool, someone in Palmcroft, you enjoyed serious relief. Otherwise, there was the crowded municipal pool at Encanto Park. After the sun went down, we ventured outside for more extended periods as the city cooled off. And it did rather dramatically, being surrounded by citrus and other agriculture. The central neighborhoods were also lush with shade trees and grass. When we lived in the 700 block of Culver, we had an evaporative cooler. I still remember sitting in the back room with that cooler watching the monsoons. The storms were enchanting and terrifying. I was five at the most and remember the rain, thunder booms and white veins of lighning in the sky as if they were yesterday. When we moved to the 300 block of Cypress, the epiphany was central air. (We were too broke to have air conditioning that worked in the car).
That was growing up in the 1960s. I didn't know anything about summers elsewhere. All I knew was the oven. And to be clear: It ran from late May through about the first two weeks in September, then things cooled off. Our school was un-air-conditioned and it was pleasant with the big windows open. Escape came from my Boy Scout troop, which made several weekend camping trips to the High Country during June, July and August. There was also the annual week spent at Camp Geronimo. These were blessed relief. And the country was so wild and empty. I can't remember a major forest fire, certainly not one that threatened a town. I longed to go to college at Northern Arizona University, if for no other reason than to escape the heat (and see the trains). That's just it: I am a Phoenician, but I always disliked the heat. And this was before the temp went up ten degrees in my lifetime.