Heat Wave: The Good Side

Tuesday - 7/13/2010, 4:00am EDT

Traffic in the metro Washington area was relatively light (with the exception of one really, really bad hair day on the beltway) last week. Thanks to our nation's lawmakers.

The respite was due in large part to the fact that Congress shutdown and left town. That in turn made it possible of tens of thousands of people (many hard-charging Type A's), lobbyists, journalists, congressional staffers and think tankers, whose work world revolves around Capitol Hill.

Congress will also be gone, again, from early August to mid-September. With a target adjournment date of early October (probably before the Columbus Day holiday). For a look at its schedule, click here.

Just before I fled town (really serious official business made to appear as a vacation) we touched based with folks about how the good old days weren't so hot, mainly because they were so hot. That was back in the time when the Misery Index (heat-humidity ratings) was in use and determined when feds could be sent home.

That means there is little time left for Congress to get much done for, or against, members of the federal family.

Even in non-election years Congress is adept at taking time off. Many politicians belong to what is unofficially known as the TWT club. That is they attend sessions here Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and spend the rest of the week back home, or anywhere but here.

It does, as we noted earlier, get hot here, and many other places, in the summer. Which prompted some readers and listeners to recall what it was like being G-men/women back in the day:

  • "When I started in the 70s, the Misery Index was 95 degrees, 55 humidity...We also had salt tablets in dispensers on the walls that we were encouraged to take to keep from getting sick in the heat...Small wonder so many of my co-workers have high blood pressure." Long Timer in Bethesda in a Lab Without AC

  • "If age and a recent tumble down a flight of stairs have not completely addled my brain, and they may have, I recall that in 1970, at Fort Belvoir, if the wet bulb reading was above 90 degrees F in a warehouse, warehouse workers were no longer permitted to work in the warehouses. Actually that's not exactly right: the prohibition involved a combination of dry bulb and wet bulb readings, but all of the wet bulb readings were above 90 degrees. I have no idea what the warehouse workers actually did then, as two other guys on our team got to go out to the warehouses and take the measurements. I got to stay inside a vintage World War II era wooden building with a few working-of-sorts air conditioners that kept parts of the building cooler than the rest of the building, such that you kind of hoped you had a reason to go see the boss for a while." H.E.

  • "Growing up in Norfolk and living in Richmond humidity was considered moderate unless you could take a knife, cut a cube out of the air and wring it into a glass." Stan F.

The misery index reminded me of the temperatures in the GSA building at 7th and D streets SW. Yes it got miserable in the heat. But what I remember most was the cold.

When Jimmy Carter decided that government workers should conserve energy, he set the thermometer in the White House to 68.

To prove that government workers were with the program, temperatures were lowered in our building as well.

Now I am sure there were some places in the building which may have reached 68, but not where I worked. Everyone wore heavy coats and gloves all day long. One co-worker put fur lined gloves on her feet. When you went to the restroom you went there in temperatures just barely above freezing, the toilet paper was recycled newspaper (you could tell because you could still make out all the letters) and the hot water had been turned off. So afterwords you could wash your hands in freezing water.

I did not believe the temperatures could possibly be as cold as they seemed, so I brought in a thermometer from home. The temperatures ranged from a low of about 35 to an absolute high of 45.

So for all those people complaining about the heat, remember, it could be worse.

Now That's Hot! Finally, this from Ran Ranzau who says "It's so hot here in San Antonio that I saw a dog chasing a cat, and they were both walking." That, Ray, is why you have that wonderful River Walk!