Just to set the record straight, Texas is not curling up at the edges. Otherwise, everything heard about the heat wave here is true.
For the last week, the temperature has broken 100 degrees in most of the state's major cities. El Paso has had something like 20 straight days of triple-digit weather. Wichita Falls hit 117 on Saturday. Dallas had two straight days at 113, flanked by two 112-degree days. Houston, San Antonio and Austin are all sweltering.
The punishing heat has claimed at least five lives in the Dallas area, and the medical examiner's office is looking into 21 more cases of potentially heat-related deaths.
The meteorologists blame it all on a high-pressure zone that has landed on top of Dallas and on some fierce winds blowing in from the southwest that feel like a blast furance on your back. Around Dallas, you do not sweat so much as you just bake or broil. This is not the place for a polyester wardrobe. Actually, it is not the place for anything.
Radio disc jockeys have become instant experts on how to survive. "Slow down in hot weather," one of them advised. "Avoid overexposure to the heat," another said as the heat wave wore on today. Their acumen has been matched by the psychologists interviewed all week. One of them suggested that people in Texas may actually be depressed from the heat.
Dallas clearly has gotten the worst of it. The local utility went on the air a few days ago, pleading with people to keep their air conditioners turned on. Utility officials promised to let residents pay off their bills in installments. And many residents have taken to watering their roofs to assist strained air conditioners.
After the deaths in the Dallas area, the city opened several air-conditioned shelters, then closed them for lack of use. No one's moving.
Even swimming pools aren't much help. The Hyatt Regency in Dallas has a swimming pool and a whirlpool for its guests and the idea apparently is to relax in the hot whirlpool and then jump into the swimming pool to cool off. But last week the swimming pool was as hot as the whirlpool. The other problem with swimming pools is that you have to go outside to use them.
The cast of the prime-time soap opera "Dallas" has been filming on location around Dallas, and Tuesday was the first day back on the set for Larry Hagman, who plays badman J. R. Ewing. If you see him being rolled out of the hospital next fall (he got plugged in the stomach in last year's final episode) and he looks in pain, it's genuine. The temperature that day was about 106.
Houston has about the worst climate in the western world, and rare is the time that it is a pleasant contrast to anything. But after three days in Dallas early last week, I began to look forward to Houston, with temperatures of only about 102. I was, of course, wrong -- because of the humidity. In contrast to the convection oven that is Dallas, Houston is one great streambath.
But Houston grew up with air conditioning, and so to the natives a few more degrees don't mean much. People get up and go to work as always, riding in air-conditioned cars, parking in garages linked to air-conditioned buildings with air-conditioned tunnels. They stay inside all day long.
A few minutes in the open air in Houston is enough to ruin a freshly pressed suit. The Houston Republican establishment gathered at a downtown hotel Friday afternoon to eat $250 chicken and help Ronald Reagon's opponents pay off their campaign debts. If you wonder how the rich are different from you and me when it's hot, it's that their clothes aren't wrinkled.
And wouldn't you know it, the heat wave has given us all another reason to hate the oil companies. Some of the boys at Exxon, apparently thinking ahead, went up to the Beaufort Sea north of Alaska last winter. There they cut huge chunks of ice, carefully wrapped them in dry ice and shipped them back to labs in Houston.
The official reason is that they need the ice for experiments on how to drill for oil up there. After last week we all know better. The oil companies, which own coal mines and solar subsidiaries, are now cornering the market on ice.
People are trying to go about their business as if nothing has changed. Kids set up lemonade stands to make a little money but the ice melts faster than they can sell the stuff. The freeways around Houston are as busy as ever, despite regular reports of buckling concrete.
In the town of LaGrange, about halfway between Houston and Austin, residents were out shopping around the town square on Saturday even though the thermometer outside the Past Time saloon read 96 in the shade.
As might be expected, some Texans are carrying their rebellion against the heat wave to extremes. At a Masonic ball Saturday night in Austin, one woman showed up wearing a fur stole.
Nights bring scant relief. In San Antonio the other night, it was still about 90. That's become routine. It gets down to about 80 just before sunrise, maybe even as low as 78.
Every morning there is a hint that it might get better. A few clouds seem to appear in the sky to block out the sun. By 9 a.m., however, they're gone and the sun beats down relentlessly through a washed-out, big blue Texas sky.
But in some places this is nothing. Last summer the little border town of Zapata recorded 100-degree weather for 34 consecutive days.