I have been commuting by bus from my cousins’ house in the suburb Kingwood to the NAFSA Conference in downtown Houston. First of all, I am positively shocked by the efficiency and comfort of the commuter buses. Riders line up to enter and sit silently for the morning ride. Seriously, I have not heard so much as a tweet, text, or update in the last 45 minutes. It’s like commuting in pre-mobile phone Germany.
As we approach the downtown corridor, the traffic starts to get denser. But not for us. We are in the designated HOV lane for high occupancy vehicles, which is quite uncongested. Actually, any car containing two or more breathing humans qualifies to use the lane (life size dolls and mannequins do not count, and yes, people have tried. And by the way, driving an SUV to work does not make you sporty. That’s just what the automobile industry wants you to think. Commuting to work by bike makes you sporty.)
But single occupancy vehicles are the standard here in Texas cities during rush hour. It embodies American independence. Our constitution grants us the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of air pollution.
Nothing exemplifies this apparently self evident and God given right as eloquently as the Texan obsession with extreme air conditioning. Yes, May is the time of year when one must start bringing a sweatshirt for indoor use. I have written evidence of this dating back to the mid-90s. My German teacher required us to keep daily journals, with one sentence being about the weather. Time and time again, I wrote “Das Mittagsessenraum ist kalt.” That is beginner German for “the lunchroom is cold.”
I have a scarf and detachable sleeves for cyclists that is part of my standard conference gear. Today I chatted with some university reps from the German state, Baden-Württemberg, and we agreed that an artificial indoor temperature of 18 degrees Celcius (~64 degrees Fahrenheit) is unnecessary and unhealthy when is is blazing outside.
That all said, I haven’t experienced a full Texas summer since 2001. Still, I hope to keep my use of air conditioning to a minimum. Ask me for am update in late August.
To wrap up this post, I’ll tell an anecdote that shines a ray of hope. The last two days, I’ve gone home on the 8pm commuter bus #259. Ron, the driver, has a big smile and likes to chat with his regular riders. He’s been doing this for 7 years. Today, he motioned for me to sit up front. We discussed his son, who is in the military and lives in Frankfurt. We discussed the NAFSA plenary speaker, Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee. He liked the bit about “unfolding your arms” as a call for action. We discussed the sentencing of former Liberian politician, Charles Taylor, for war crimes. While we are appalled at the pain and suffering he caused, we’re both pleased that he cannot receive the death sentence. We discussed methods of foreign language acquisition. We discussed Japanese food and his dream of visiting Singapore because it is clean.
Yesterday, as I boarded the bus, I commented: “Brr, it’s chilly in here!” Without a word, he adjusted the AC.