Sitting comfortably in a board room (Why isn't is spelled bored room, since nothing interesting ever happens in them?) I basked in the unnatural comfort of the over-worked air-conditioning - which had been turned low enough that I had to be careful not to touch metal objects with my tongue - something I try to avoid at board meetings even when the air-conditioning isn't turned on too high. As I sat there, wondering why the guy next to me was turning blue, I grew to appreciate the humble, though ubiquitous, air-conditioner.
At about the moment I settled into my revere, the chair of our meeting walked in out of the summer sun, wiped her brow and muttered, "It must be a billion degrees out there."
Sometimes, I admit, I'm a tad obsessive about factuality. I resent when the truth is obscured by wanton exaggeration, so I told her that, technically, it was only a million degrees outside. The humidity, which was also about a million percent just made her feel like it was a billion degrees. "And by the way, did you know that there's sweat dripping from the tip of your nose?"
For some reason she didn't appreciate my clarification. So, I leaned back and embraced the cool breeze coming from the zillion megawatt central air that was running full blast solely in order to keep me cool and calm in the face of her glare. And that's when I began to wax poetic, something I seldom wax, in appreciation of the humble air-conditioner and its contributions to world civilization, and a modicum of comfort to those of us who live in the Rio Grande Valley.
The air-conditioner, I found out Googling while the meeting was going on, was invented by Willis Haviland Carrier in 1902. Apparently the rest of the world has the manufacturing problems of a Brooklyn printer to thank for air-conditioning. Temperature and humidity fluctuations in his printing plant were causing minute variations in the size of the paper while he was printing. When the paper came out of the printer the colored inks didn't match. Carrier invented the air-conditioner to stabilize temperatures in the printing plant. Keeping the workers cool was just a serendipitous consequence. History tells us the printer appreciated Carrier's invention so much he had an air-conditioner installed in his own house, the first home AC in the country.
Let's face it, the various economic booms and boomlets that the Valley has enjoyed in the last few years wouldn't have been possible without the AC. No one would move their company or transfer employees here, thus providing the Valley an economic shot in the arm, without the air-conditioner. The rest of us would follow the Winter Texans north in August if it weren't for air-conditioning.
Of course, what's good for humanity is bad for oranges. I know that's a stretch. But if you think about it for a minute, you'd realize that if the air-conditioner had never been invented the Rio Grande Valley would still be blanketed with orange groves, sprinkled liberally with a few RV parks. After all, the Winter Texans are only here from November to March.
Witold Rybycsynski (great writer; wish I could pronounce his name), wrote a wonderful little book called One Good Turn: A Natural History of the Screwdriver and the Screw. He doesn't necessarily tout the screwdriver as the greatest invention of all time, but he does an excellent job of making the humblest tool in the bottom of your tool chest the most fascinating. My vote for greatest invention goes to the air-conditioner.
No great invention comes without its problems. And Freon is the bane of air-conditioners. Put enough of that stuff in the atmosphere and the ozone layer no longer layers, and the planet gets hotter and hotter. Sounds like that could be the plot of the next James Bond movie, doesn't it? Air-conditioning mogul conspires to fill the world full of leaking conditioners, thus depleting the ozone layer, raising the world's temperature, and creating demand for more expensive and bigger air-conditioners.
I grew up to the comforting ta-pocketa-pocketa of a swamp cooler placed strategically at the foot of my parent's bed. Even today I grow nostalgic when my car won't start, sometimes turning the key fruitlessly several times just to hear the ta-pocketa-pocketa.
So, with apologies to Joyce Kilmer (though it's possible Joyce owes those of us who had to memorize her poem in second grade an apology) my ode to the humble air-conditioner:
I'm sure the world's greatest invention
Has been the humble air-condition
It makes my sweat go away
I'm comfortable throughout the day
Poems are made by sweating fools
But only Carrier can keep us cool.
(Apologies to Rheem et al; but after all, Carrier did invent the darned thing.)