I’m driving home from the gym this afternoon. The car temperature gauge says 118 F. The sign at Duke Photography on 7th Avenue likewise says 118. It also gives the time, 3:10. Five minutes later I arrive back home and check the outdoor sensor. It says only 114. No matter. Anything over 110 is misery three times over. I would later learn the official high reached 117.
The windows were down as I drove. I wanted to feel the heat. The skin of my face burned as if it were being basted for supper. The air was suffocating. It was hard to breathe. I wanted to lay down and sleep. And in fact I passed a homeless person doing just that, sleeping in the small shade of a bus stop, lying on the sidewalk, his head bearing down on a backpack.
The swimming pool at Encanto Park is not even busy. A dozen bobbing heads in water, corks on a fishing line. That’s all I saw. Only one of the many picnic tables in use. A man washed his car in sunlight outside an apartment complex as three of his buddies watch. From the shade, of course.
But even shade did not save Nebra’s usually-reliable 2002 Prius hybrid from apoplexy. After a late lunch at IHOP on Central, I soon discovered the car was in vertigo and no longer understood the “R” gear. It had no trouble finding “reverse” but balked when the its cousin, the accelerator, was pressed. No trouble going forward. Just backward.
I did manual reverse with my own horsepower and eventually got the car home. I noticed the car had no zip, and its EKG was reporting bad news. The instrument panel showed low battery and a digital orange “turtle.” More research revealed the turtle was an indicator for “output control warning.” Under “Do this” on page 92 of the Owner’s Manual, it said “Drive without hard acceleration.” One of the reasons said warning comes on is high battery temperature, and “battery capacity is decreased with the selector lever at `R.’ ” The solution? Wait for the outside temperature to drop, I guess.
Shade is a prime commodity in the arid lands but only in summer. This city was built for winter tourists. The Chamber of Commerce calls the area Valley of the Sun. Those tourists love to solarize and tan at expensive resorts. They do not pay to sit in shade. So there are few trees here, and few parks. No one with a brain comes here voluntarily from June through mid-September. You have to have a forty-five to your head.
It has not been this hot in Phoenix for years. I remember the all-time high. It was in late June 1990, and the official gauge at Sky Harbor airport struck 122. People were actually out jogging that day, and many others poured out of frigid office buildings on their breaks because someone had cranked down the thermostats to arctic weather.
A photo in this morning’s Arizona Republic shows a steady line of cars on I-17, all steering north to high country and cooler air. Many would be going that way if the temps were below 110. It is after all the Fourth of July weekend. But even Prescott, at a mile high, is no fun. The city’s high today is predicted to hit 97, but patient visitors can wait for nightfall and 70 degrees. Flagstaff, in the San Francisco Peaks, is 2,000 feet higher but only 10 degrees cooler during the day. I worked a summer baseball tournament up there several years ago as an umpire. It was hell. You’re up so high it feels as if the sun is penetrating to bone.
The ideal weekend haunt for me is San Diego. On Mission Beach or up the hill in LaJolla. The forecast high for today is 80, then 81 on Sunday. And the ocean water is cool. The drive from Phoenix is short, about six hours, but of course almost everyone who can afford it, will hit the crowded beaches there sometime during the summer. It is such a popular destination for Arizonans that we have been given our own special name by the Californians. They call us Zonies. Several years ago the Republic published a special section called The Beach Edition.
There is change in the air. The sky is being painted gray with dark clouds as I write. Some are high-rising thunderclouds. They hang over the mountain ranges to the east and north and, with luck, they swoop down into this hellish valley to unload a drop or two of rain.
High temps are not the worst of the Arizona summer for me. The worst is just ahead. They call it the Monsoon Season. Temps drop below 110, but the humidity rises to near unbearable heights. And monsoon? It must refer to the dew point, not torrential rain.
The best time to visit Phoenix is in October and February through March. Right now, that seems a long, long way off.