These are trying times for the obese.
Summer weather is never an easy obstacle for those prone to perspire, but the recent heat wave has been an especially difficult time for us. With no end in sight for the record-breaking heat, tens of thousands of us are bracing for the worst.
The first indignity we must suffer is the taunting we receive from TV weather forecasters, who for some reasons become cheerleaders for hot weather. I'm not sure why they care so much; but, for whatever reason, they do. They chuckle and joke with their colleagues about what a great day it's going to be when the forecast pushes temps into triple digits.
"It'll be a great day for swimming," one of them said last week, no doubt thinking about their own outdoor pools. Hey, weather lady, I work in a downtown office building. The only swimming I'm going to be doing is in my own sweat or, even worse, the sweat of the person crammed in next to me on the bus.
Excessive heat can and does kill, especially among the sick and elderly. In an average year, around 1,300 people die due to excessive heat, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. Due to climate change — the phenomenon proven to exist for everyone except conservatives and flat-earth proponents — that number will quadruple by the end of the century.
Add to that the fact that the last 12 months were the hottest since the U.S. Weather Service began keeping records in 1895, and the future doesn't look bright for cool-weather lovers and those who prefer not to die of heat exhaustion.
"It's not the heat," some say. "It's the humidity." That's not entirely accurate. The humidity certainly doesn't help, but it's the stupidity that emerges in hot weather that makes it truly unbearable.
Something interesting happens to people when the temperature climbs above 90 degrees for days at a time, and not just to those who are overweight. People become more crankycrankier, less friendly and more irritable. I'm usually OK with this, as I prefer my interactions with strangers to be brusque and superficial, but the heat has taken this too far.
Example: I left work at 6 p.m. last Thursday, a time when the Weather Channel app on my phone registered the temperature at 105 degrees. ("Feels like 107," it added, as if those two degrees made a difference in my suffering.)
I was dreading standing in the outdoor crack bazaar known as the Ohio and Meridian bus stop, silently praying that my bus would break from tradition and actually arrive on time. Miracle of miracles, it showed up exactly on schedule at 6:10 p.m., for the first time in months.
Eagerly anticipating a chilled bus, I got on board to see every window open, the driver suffering and no AC. It was hotter inside the bus than it was outside. I groaned but was otherwise silent, in part because I knew it wasn't the driver's fault, in part because I didn't want to literally give myself a heart attack.
The veteran passengers knew that our driver, and we were exceptionally unlucky. We'd played the working-bus lottery and lost. There was no point in asking the driver to turn on the AC since it was obviously broken.
That didn't stop a few teenagers from shouting at the driver, "Could you please turn on the air, bus driver?" The driver was a woman with a kind face and the restraint she showed to this provocation was admirable. Also, it was funny as hell.
"Do you think that if I had AC, it would be on right now?" she asked. "Listen, I want you to be comfortable. I want every single person who gets on my bus to be comfortable. But of all of the people who are on this bus right now, who do you think I want to be most comfortable? Me."
She was just building up a head of steam. "You are going to be on the bus for 30 minutes. I have to be on it for eight hours. So who do you think is going to suffer more, you or me?"
The teenagers shut up. When I departed the bus, I told the driver I hoped they'd give her a bus with working AC. She said she'd been trying for three hours and was about to give up. I wished her luck.
We all suffer under the heat. Those who go from air-conditioned house to air-conditioned car to air-conditioned office have no idea how greatly tormented the lives are of the less fortunate. So if you know people without AC, do them a favor. Take them to the movies or the mall or anywhere where it's cool. Extreme heat is nothing to play around with and the summer of 2012 is hungry for blood. Help someone out if you can.