I vowed to some people sitting with me at my 39th college reunion the other day that I would have the last word in an ongoing argument we were having with a noxious and obnoxious air conditioner. But before I get in that last word, I want to offer some second thoughts on a few other matters that may or may not be as important as an intrusive air conditioner.
The presidential primary. As I predicted in my all-too-brief tryout as a political pundit, Barack Obama now faces John McCain in the general election. Of course at one point or another I also predicted Hillary Clinton would be the Democratic nominee and that Mitt Romney would carry the flag for the Republicans. But like all good political commentators, I did not let my errors get in the way of my opinions.
At the risk of being called part of the liberal media, I will say that the Obama candidacy is a genuine historic milestone. When the press examines the public opinion (as opposed to its own), it might determine how much the milestone also represents a true breakthrough in race relations.
My prediction is that the Obama candidacy will lead to substantive changes. Well intentioned white liberals who have sworn that skin color is never a factor in their thinking will now have a chance to prove that. Less liberal whites who have attributed blacks’ success to affirmative action or relaxed standards will have to deal with the reality that no one gave it to Barack — certainly not Hillary, who only got better as the primaries wore on.
And some brothers and sisters, meanwhile, who have attributed their position in life to the invisible hand of the Man holding them back, may now have to acknowledge that the Man is a brother.
Urban insertions. Last week’s cover story on Michael Graves noted the considerable neighborhood opposition faced by the Arts Council when it originally proposed to expand its presence at the corner of Paul Robeson Place and Witherspoon Street. With his design Graves seems to have overcome that opposition, which at one point in the late 1990s led to the Arts Council considering a permanent move away from downtown.
In that same issue of U.S. 1, we also printed an account of architect J. Robert Hillier’s controversial new duplex on Quarry Street, not far from the Arts Council.
So here were two world famous architects, both caught up in minor controversies at the neighborhood level. What amazed me even more, however, was that both architects not only responded to inquiries from the neighborhood media (U.S. 1 in this case) but they also made themselves available for photographs in front of their buildings. Two guys at the most advanced stages of their careers are still obviously passionate about what they are doing.
Transit villages. In my May 28 article on transit villages, I quoted a West Windsor resident at a planning charrette. “What kind of person,” this woman wondered, “would live so close to the train tracks?”
That charrette took place in the late winter of 2007 — oil was hovering around $60 a barrel. Since then oil has soared to $135, General Motors has announced the closing of four plants that make SUVs and light trucks, and some people are wondering if the projected increases in home heating costs will affect the home industry as dramatically as it is affecting cars.
When it costs $1,000 or so a month to heat a home, and another $100 or more a week to fill a car with gasoline, I wonder what kind of person would live in a McMansion so far from the town center.
Air Conditioning. The energy crisis, the looming $150 a barrel price for oil, the carbon haze hanging over our collective heads — any one of those could have brought this conversation back to air conditioners. But instead it was a simple matter of noise pollution that made me and my college classmates disgusted with a creaky air conditioning fan blaring overhead in a university dining room.
But with all those smart university people around, not a soul was able to turn off this clanging device. It was perpetual AC, at a moment when no one needed it.
So here’s the last word on air conditioning. You need it less than you think. Three years ago my central AC at home went on the blink. A repairman came once, failed to fix it, and had to come back again, only to find another problem. In the interim I weathered the worst days of the summer. So I did not bother to call the AC man back and I haven’t had AC since.
This past weekend was tough. It helps that I have an attic fan, it helps that I have several window fans (and that I have windows that open, unlike some office environments), it helps that I have a basement, to which I can escape on the hottest days. But the bottom line is that we are capable of living in a world without AC. Let’s hope we can do as well in a world of — to cite the current reality in Great Britain — $10 a gallon gasoline