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Core Samples

Jay Meehan, Park Record columnist

"There’ll be a hot time in the old town tonight"

Bessie Smith

Hey, hot enough for ya? As I seldom leave the digs these days, I wouldn’t know. I keep seeing stories on the news that heat records are being broken all over the map, but when you mostly live underground, actually and virtually, I find no really valid reason to come up for air.

I can handle cold, but hot has always been a test. It’s the old thing about you can dress for cold but there’s only so much you can do to escape the Torrid Zone. Cold beverages only go so far. Although, if I lived closer to an air-conditioned theater that served cold suds or "art film" fare, like, say, Brewvies or the Broadway Centre Cinemas, I might consider lease options on an aisle seat.

I should admit, however, that I have been accumulating more than a few night-sky moments out on the deck during this most-recent waxing-moon phase. But, for whatever reason, the upside of the post-midnight temperature drop is more than canceled out by the increase in the density of the wildfire-induced smoke layer.

Now, not having ever played a climatologist on television, I can’t really explain this phenomenon, but, at the molecular level, there is some snuggling going on. When daytime temperatures are at their most scorching, the already-insufferable air quality is nowhere near as respiratory-unfriendly as it becomes once the stars come out. Go figure!

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Ghosts of past encounters with heat at its most unforgiving have been intruding upon my indoor reverie of late. For some reason, they always seem much more fun to look back upon than to experience in real time with one huge exception: a midsummer vehicular jaunt from LA to Park City across the wide Mojave. The random motion of molecules on that day went off-scale and the hotter it got, the more hilarious it became.

Chugging past the famous roadside thermometer in Baker, California, my navigator and I arrived at the base of the infamous 11-mile "Baker Grade" right about noon. Knowing that the "world’s tallest thermometer" had been erected to 134 feet to reflect the highest temperature ever recorded in those parts, we were only moderately disappointed by its meager 114-degree Fahrenheit reading.

By then, with the temperature having hovered somewhere between oppressive and unbearable most of the morning, the heat had reduced both me and my brother McGee to giggling idiots. And what air remained inside the family "heirloom" Camry we were driving back to Utah had grown damned tired of the company. It would rather have taken its chances at Badwater up north in Death Valley than endure our manic laughter for one more second.

William Faulkner would probably have described that day as "long still hot weary dead" as he did another in "Absalom, Absalom!" But, ever the wisenheimers, McGee and I saw the pure unadulterated humor in it all. So, as we began our ascent up the skeleton-littered wasteland toward Halloran Summit, we switched on the Camry’s heater and rolled up the windows.

There was method to our madness, or so we believed. At some point we had learned, or at least been told, that the act of running the car’s heater full-blast would facilitate some sort of cooling effect upon the engine and keep it from overheating.

But, be that as it may, this particular insight had absolutely no cooling effect upon the riding compartment of the vehicle. Judging by our inability to regain any sort of control over our by-now hyper-hysterical laughing frenzy, it must have been at least 120 degrees.

If memory serves, we were about a mile or so short of the summit, just about where Rabbi and I and the respective womenfolk of the time had thrown the drive train on his International Harvester while on an earlier Park City expedition, when McGee turned to me and, with that shit-eating grin of his, filled what air was left with, "At least it’s a dry heat." It was all I could do to not drive off the road.

The reason we hadn’t laid over and driven during the cooler parts of the day was that we were trying our best to get back to Park City in time for the Fourth of July parade and rugby matches. We made it, and I must say it was one hot time in that old town that night too. I’m not sure that Park City’s collective molecules have ever found reason to rest.

Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.