At first, to tell you the truth, I couldn't have cared less. The man on the phone said his name was Nick Johnson and I, of course, knew he was the former FCC commissioner and a battler for causes I generally support. I tried right off to acknowledge that I knew who he was, but he brushed right by me in a conversational sense and went on to talk about the Air Quality Index, the phone company and last, the weather bureau. It was then that a little bell went off in my head.
The reason was simple. People have been after me for weeks now to write something about the weather. I keep saying I will, but I don't, and the reason is that there isn't anything anyone can do about it. The whole subject turns me sour and mean and makes me question the greatness of George Washington, who picked the site for the city that bears his name - first in peace, first in war and last, if I may say so, in site selection. The other President I think of is Lincoln. I try to imagine what things must have like during the Washington summers of old. I imagine Lincoln getting the news that Grant is hitting the bottle again, being yelled at by Mrs. Lincoln, irritated at Tad rolling a hoop through the White House - unable to sleep because of the heat.
My other thoughts have to do with the way people talk about the weather - with a sort of [WORD ILLEGIBLE] You can detect it, this business of having saved through something special. You hear it from people who live in air conditioned houses and drive air conditioned cars and work in air conditioned buildings and it reminds me of people who talk about the war and then tell you that they were a cook - stateside. You don't hear great weather stories from poor people who spend the night in pools of sweat.
Anyway, here was Johnson on the phone and he was saying that the weather service and the telephone company had combined to agree that the Air Quality Index would not be mentioned on the recorded weather report - WE 6-1212 - unless it went over 100. Johnson thought that was something of an outrage because he had biked something like 47 miles in air that was certifiably lethal and had not known it. He said nothing about it doing him any harm, and frankly, I was not moved.
But he continued. He told me who he had called at the weather service and who he had called at the telephone company and what person at each place had told him. Johnson is a persistent chap, and he kept plugging at it, working his way up the corporate and bureaucratic ladder until he finally got what are sometimes called "responsible spokesmen." In the interim, he had gotten a lot of stories, some of which were clearly made up on the wing by harried spokesmen.
I took notes and I asked the right questions and I tried to sound interested, but I had just read something in the paper about how despite a hihg AQI, few if any people were being admitted to the hospital. In short, I was about to list the AQI along with saccharin as a threat I could live with - as more information I didn't need.
Yesterday, Johnson called back. Yesterday I was already thinking things over.I had run the day before and I hadn't liked it one bit. The temperature was not yet that high and the air was muggy, but there was something else going on and I didn't know what it was. I found running a bit more of a chore than it usually was. Anyway, Johnson was still at it, calling bureaucrats at the weather service, trying to get answers to his questions. It was then he mentioned how he felt on Saturday. It sounded familiar.
He had called the telephone company's weather number that morning and heard nothing at all about the quality of the air - no warning. So he took off on his 47-mile ride and when he came home he could hardly move. His legs ached and his head was exploding and he felt, in short terrible. He felt sick. And the reason he felt this way was simple. The air he had been sucking deep into his lungs was downright dangerous.
So after talking with Johnson I called the weather number and I was told that the temperature was 84 degrees at noon and I was told, also, that the barometric pressure was 2.99 inches, and, you'll be relieved to know, steady. I was not told, though, that the AQI was 55, which is unhealthy, and I was not warned that it was likely to climb to over 100, which is very unhealthy, and I just might want to know that if I was old or had a heart condition or a lung condition or bad eyes - or even if I had none of those things but wanted to go for a bike ride. When I hung up I was angry the way Johnson had been and so I wrote this knowing, of course, that you can't do anything about the weather.
But it sure would help to know what it is.