You asked me, with the usual imprecision and vagueness with which editors assign stories to do a piece on "what a nice day it is."
By that I gather what you had in mind was the annual rites of spring piece about secretaries (and executives) sunning themselves on park benches, lovers holding hands and what not, grass growing greenly, perky tulips poking up out of the soil after a long winter's nap, et cetera, et cetera.
We might want, I suppose, to make some mention of the unseasonably warm temperatures - 81 degrees on Tuesday, 82 degrees yesterday, neither a record. (The record, to anticipate your question before you ask, was 92 degrees for March 29, set in 1907 and 86 degrees for March 30, set in 1960.)
Naturally, in a story of this sort we would make some mention of the bleak, record-cold winter we just endured, how we all thought it would never end, how glad eveyone must be now that the mercury - as glib weatherpersons put it - has gone over the 80 degree mark, and here it is only March 30.
I don't want you to think that I wasn't anxious to do the piece. Not at all. I read all the clips and everything before starting out. But things just didn't quite work out.
The first person I encountered on my wary out - this is the truth, so help me - was a disgruntled motorist who identified himself as Gary Clark. His car was pulled into the driveway on 15th Street, the hood was up and he was looking under it as though he had just lost his watch.
I asked him what the problem was.
"Vapor lock," he replied. "I was driving down the street and it just quit. Too much heat."
Clark was driving his boss, Richard Harris, out to Rockville to pick up his van, which was being fixed. Harris said he was kind of anxious to get home.
"I'd like to watch "The Match Game' on Channel 9 and 'Superman' on Channel 45," Harris said.
I asked him if he was upset that the hot weather had made Clark's car stall. A little grudgingly, I thought, Harris said it was OK if he was late. "I've seen them all already."
Some passerby, with that rare kind of insight you sometimes get from the man on the street, looked at the car and told Clark, "That's a sure sign spring is here."
From there I went over to an office building at 1200 18th St. NW. The air conditioning was not on yet. People had windows open, sleeves rolled up, ties off. There must have been a lot of that, along with women dabbing their foreheads with lavender-scented handkerchiefs, before air conditioning arrived in the nation's capital.
Rosemary Whitmore, a receptionist in the offices of Robert R. Nathan Associates Inc., was not enjoying the weather at all. "It's miserable," she said. "It's miserable inside. Stuffy. Humidity. The humidity's high. That's the whole problem. It's just stuffy. I'm typing and every now and again a breeze might blow by, but other than that, you just have to sit here and suffer." She reflected on that for a moment. "Oh," she said suddenly. "A breeze just blew by. Fantastic."
No matter how early or late the warm weather arrives, it seems to come as a surpirse to the people who take care of the heat and air conditioning in downtown buildings. Possibly they hold off on getting it fixed on the off chance that the temperature won't be warm enough here during the summer to warrant air conditioning.
Harley Hart, the engineer at the American Chemical Society building at 1155 16th St. NW, set me annual maintenance done as close as possible to the time when the system is going to be used. Once it's turned on, he said, it should stay on, since leaks develop when the system is turned off.
I could go on about air conditioning, but it gets pretty technical, and you probably wouldn't be interested.
I stopped in at Frankie's Cleaners, at 1637 P St. NW, to see how they were enjoying the day. I would say it was about 90 or so inside. They don't have air conditioning either.
Frankie Little, the owner, said she and her husband have considered getting air conditioning, "but my God, the bills are so high."
I asked Mrs. Little's daughter, Sheila, what they do all summer in the heat. "Suffer," she said.
By this time it was getting late, I hadn't talked to a single tulip and I was getting turned off by all this wilting weather we've been having.
The last straw came when I called to get the weather report. It looks like rain.