In the Suburbs / Sweltering summer commutes
Published 5:39 am, Thursday, July 12, 2012
When we officially moved to Fairfield in June 1982, I had already been working in Connecticut since Easter, which had been one of the snowiest on record. I hoped that our first summer as New Englanders would be one of warm days and cool nights with few heat waves. Wrong.
But as we moved into July, the temperatures most mornings already were above 75 degrees, and I felt beads of sweat under my crisp, white, long-sleeved shirts, even with the air conditioning on in the car. With heavy traffic on I-95, my ride to Pitney Bowes in Stamford often took an hour, and my tie felt like a noose.
Two years later, I sweated out the latter part of the summer interviewing at public relations firms in Manhattan, a concrete-and-asphalt oven that often felt like it was burning the bottom of my shoes. If I took the train, I prayed for the cool of morning air conditioning, and when it was working, it was heaven. But once I left the train, the platforms were blast furnaces, filled with the stench of stale urine, and Grand Central wasn't much cooler.
I landed a job in Manhattan, and from 1983 to 1988, I suffered in non-air conditioned subway cars on 90 and 100 degree days. Then, there was no such thing as private space during the morning or evening rush hours. People packed in like limp sardines, and the big question was, "Where do I put my hands?"
As I entered a stuffy subway car, I rushed to grab a pole just to be sure my hands were in a safe spot. Men who kept their hands at their sides or below the belt always looked a little suspicious, and a woman colleague of mine said she was groped a couple of times because she just had no way to protect herself in a hot, crowded car.
Eventually, the Port Authority phased out all the older subway cars and air conditioning made my crowded subway rides a bit more tolerable. On the return home, though, I'd utter a prayer in Grand Central that the AC would be working on the Metro-North trains.
I can't begin to describe the near mutinies when the air conditioning wasn't working even in one car. Hot, angry men, dressed in the uniforms of the day --suits, long sleeves and ties -- and women in pants suits and dresses with warm jackets were ready to string up the conductors. Over those years, I dripped through plenty of hot rides.
By 1988, I was commuting daily to Hartford in a black company car and the summers seemed warmer than ever. While I was mixing suits with more lightweight sport jackets and ties, it was still sweltering on days when I attended client meetings with colleagues. Summers in Hartford, where heat is trapped in the Connecticut River Valley, made the Fairfield County coast feel cool at the end of the day.
Six years later, I was right back on the train to New York, but the commuting garb had started to become a little more relaxed. Working in a financial public relations firm, however, I was never able to dress casually and remained very uncomfortable on those warm summer days.
I had a new problem, too -- an excruciating pain above my left knee. On hot, humid days, the pain was so unbearable I could barely stand up when we reached Grand Central. Some mornings, when I felt the blast of hot air on the platform, I was near tears as I dragged my leg and walked toward the subway. The pain finally subsided when temperatures cooled. Getting old was definitely pigeon poop for this commuter.
From 1999 through fall of 2001, my work was back in Stamford, running a PR agency. Unfortunately, our offices were on the sunny side of the Landmark Square building where we rented office space. And summers were absolutely unbearable, despite being a lot more casual. My boss finally authorized special blinds to cut down the intensity of the heat.
When that office closed in 2001, we moved back into the city just at the end of another warm summer, and I once again faced Metro-North and that city heat. Thankfully, business casual was in and the next two summers were much more tolerable.
My summer wardrobe these days is just a sport shirt and a pair of cool slacks for my work at the Fairfield Museum, and I like it. As much as I feel so much more buttoned up in a suit and tie, I hardly miss those beads of sweat running down my shirt, especially during this past heat wave.
Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his "In the Suburbs" appears each Friday. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.