Pretend it’s not that hot
By Prioleau Alexander
We’re in June, so this seems to be an appropriate time to discuss Charleston’s seasons. Most Americans would say we are entering summer, followed by fall, winter and spring.
In Charleston, because we can’t do anything normally, we are not beginning summer. We are entering Hell’s Front Porch, followed by Hell’s Cellar; then, of course, there’s Hell’s Oven, and finally we will ease into Please Make It Stop.
During Hell’s Front Porch, most of us are quite chipper; this month reminds us of the beginning of “summer vacation” from school and freedom from all that stupid homework; although we may be decades removed from anything resembling three-months’ vacation, there’s something about that “no more teacher, no more books” feeling that sticks. The heat feels good, and we frolic on the beach, go out in boats, sail, dine outside and try to forget what’s coming.
All in all, Hell’s Front Porch isn’t that bad. I mean, sure, it’s hot as hell and the humidity is heavier than a legal document listing Hillary’s felonies, but you’re not actually in hell … for the moment.
Hell’s Cellar arrives like a flaming freight train and hits us like 2,000 mules in full stride. But … hey, it’s summer vacation time, so we pretend it’s not that hot. Tourists are in town in full force, pouring sweat, limping along our slate sidewalks and throwing fistfuls of money at fudge shops and enterprising young lemonade vendors. Auto mechanics begin charging whatever they feel like for AC servicing, and home HVAC companies are cackling like Kamala Harris when she’s asked a question more difficult than “What is your favorite color?”
Many Charlestonians retreat to a beach house during this time in Hell’s Cellar, seeking relief via the ocean breezes. With a really solid breeze, the screened porch is tolerable, and folks gather together for cold boiled peanuts and cold beer. The Fourth of July serves up perfect firework weather, as the flames provide a nice cooling effect when striking bare skin.
Hell’s Oven arrives, and that’s when the whole mess stops being funny. Those with the means flee to the mountains of North Carolina, but even those higher-elevation locales can be stifling. The rest of us sit locked inside like we’re in the midst of a Covid McPandemic, engaging in important conversations about how hot it is and how our forefathers survived in this hellish inferno before air-conditioning. Surely, we say, they were chiseled out of granite, then forged with a coating of steel by Vulcan himself.
Conducting any sort of real business during Hell’s Oven is tough because most decision makers have some money, and everyone with money has left town. For those remaining behind, murder becomes a frequent daydream. Seersucker-clad men and business-suited women are drenched with sweat before they get to the car. Attorneys dressed in worsted wool suits are itching for … actually, they’re just itching. And sweating. As for the tradesmen and outdoor workers, Hell’s Oven is a dizzying time of sheer endurance, on par with sitting through a DNC Convention’s full lineup of speeches.
Newcomers to the area should know this is not a good season to insult the roofer, speak down to the brickmason or incite friction with any construction worker utilizing a blunt instrument, drill or nail gun in their duties.
Truth be known, everyone is a menace during Hell’s Oven — even the shopping cart wranglers are a dangerous bunch. The only happy people are orthopedic surgeons, who mend the shattered bones of shoppers who failed to put the cart back into the cart corral.
Next Please Make It Stop arrives — a time for stewing. Boiling over. Steaming. Not because of the heat, but because as children we were taught that Please Make It Stop should be fall. College football cranks back up and distracts us a bit, but the word “crisp” never describes the weather. The grass is crisp, but never the air. People in the Northeast are sipping cocoa and roasting marshmallows while we’re sipping gin and tonics and, well, roasting.
Please Make It Stop is, however, a happy time for the area’s Realtor community … as this is the time when wealthy newcomers often snap, admit their move South was a horrible mistake and tell the Realtors, “Get what you can. I don’t care. I’m moving to Montana.” It’s worth noting Montana also has a Please Make It Stop season; it’s during the eighth month of winter, when newcomers throw up their hands, toss the keys to a Realtor and move back to the place they originally left.
Please Make It Stop eventually ends, and we roll gaily into False Fall. Cool weather arrives, and women rush to swap their summer wardrobe for fall outfits. One would think after living in Charleston for one’s entire life, the idea of False Fall would sink in, but it does not—every woman in Charleston has her scarves, wool caps and autumn fashions positioned in her closet’s prime location.
After 48 hours of False Fall, we rush headlong into You’ve Got to Be Kidding Me. Determined ladies put forth Herculean efforts to maintain the fall look, but even the most elegant of our city’s women eventually give up. It’s a tough time to be fashionable, as wool is too hot, summery attire is verboten, and fall colors look silly when wearing a sleeveless dress. Yoga pants and baggy blouses seem to be in fashion these days.
False Fall and You’ve Got to Be Kidding Me battle for our souls for several months, and experiencing all four (regular) seasons in a week is common. Many a Charleston home has turned on the air-conditioning Christmas Day to be able to light and enjoy a fire.
After the New Year, the Lowcountry slides into I’ll Never Complain about the Heat Again. Not every day is punishing — many days become shorts-and-T-shirts days — but when a cold front arrives and the wind blows hard across the harbor, temperatures plummet into “Hillary’s heart” levels of cold. Most Charlestonians are swearing the heat of Hell’s Oven is more tolerable.
“Heat’s bad,” we tell ourselves, “but cold hurts. Bring on the hot weather!” You can almost hear Hell’s Ovenchuckling.
The months following I’ll Never Complain about the Heat Again are known as Bizarre at Best. This season is hot then cold then warm then cool. Bizarre at Best is a fashionistas nightmare, as 85-degree days can give way to 40-degree nights … and what does a stylish lady wear to a 5 p.m. outdoor function, knowing the choice is between sweating and freezing? Should a man opt for Bermuda shorts but bring a sports jacket to don later? How do your dress your kids? It’s Bizarre at Best.
Then, just like, that Hell’s Front Porch arrives, and the cycle begins anew.
We wish the best of luck to all our readers about to experience their first Charleston “summer.” If any point it gets too much, please know my sister Saida Russell is a very successful real estate agent, and property in Montana is a steal.