Here’s a typical summer day: I get in my car and turn on the ignition. If the temperature is in the high 20s C, I’ll roll down the windows and leave them down. If it’s up in the 30s, I’ll air out the car and then roll them up and turn on the air conditioning. Around five or 10 minutes pass and I begin to wonder why it isn’t feeling any cooler. I have the air conditioning on, and yet, I’m sweating profusely. It’s hot.
A quick glance reveals that the car’s vents have been closed/turned/adjusted (as if in a frenzy) to ensure that the cool air being created by the car’s air conditioning unit is being sent toward the roof or floor. Anywhere, in short, but at the driver. The riddle is solved. My wife has been driving.
You see, in any couple there are two sorts of person: there is the “cooler” (who likes the car cool) and the “heater” (who likes the car hot). When it comes to automobile cooling systems, opposites attract.
Theirs is a never-ending struggle. The heater will always be frustrated by the icy air-conditioned hurricane the cooler leaves in the car. The cooler will always be frustrated by the oppressive heat created when the heater shuts the AC off, or worse, when he or she stuffs the vents with whatever car debris (napkins, gum, old CDs cases) can be crammed in there. It’s a climate-controlled war of attrition. Each morning, the cooler pumps up the air conditioning. Each afternoon the heater turns it off.
Serves us right, say those who believe air-conditioning is a vile sap on the environment and that our efforts to cool summer’s heat are actually helping cause global warming. They may be right and it may be that we’ll all have to learn to live with less artificial atmosphere but that won’t eliminate the heater/cooler conflict. I can recall long trips in cars prior to the prevalence of air-conditioning. Driving in my 1982 Volkswagen Rabbit, whose main extras included “wheels” and “brakes,” the bickering was about how far to have the windows rolled down. Me (the cooler) wanted them all the way down. The heater wanted them half down on passenger side and fully down in back seat.
I believe that the heater/cooler pairing is caused by the natural law that dictates there can be only one chocoholic per couple and that this chocoholic will live with an inveterate chip-eater. We are drawn to those whose habits are least similar to our own (it also means less competing for chocolate/potato chips). This applies not just to cars but also to any confined space. During an overnight stay at a hotel, one-half of the couple will be wrapped in blankets and pajamas and the other will be stark naked on top of the covers with the window open.
For the most part, these odd couples soldier on. It’s a strange kind of détente. The trouble starts on long trips. It may be, on some distant planet, a temperature is finally reached that pleases both heater and cooler, but I have yet to see it down here. The opposite is often true. On the drive from Montreal to Chicago, the cooler freezes the car, driving the temperature further and further toward arctic levels until the heater can take it no longer. Then the heater shuts the system down and the car begins to warm until its interior feels like the hot centre of the deepest rainforest. Now it’s the cooler’s turn to flip out and beg to have the air conditioning turned back on.
Sure, there are plenty of high-tech systems that claim they can beat this situation. They boast “computerized automatic temperature control” and all sorts of other fancy gizmos. Proud car owners brag about their climate control systems. I doubt their effectiveness. If you could put a hidden camera in these so-called air-conditioned nirvanas, you’d find the same contentious push and pull between the one who wants the car hot and the one who needs the car cool.
When the wintry months arrive, the roles get reversed. The cooler is constantly turning off/down the heating system. The heater is perpetually firing it up. It’s a less contentious environmental debate – no one questions the need for artificial heating when it’s -31 C. And my cycling buddies, I know, I know, if we all rode bicycles we wouldn’t have these problems – no need to write in.
It may be that the push-and-pull between heaters and coolers is just a metaphor for modern life. It’s one long, sustained, low-grade, low-stakes tussle over comfort levels that is never won and only ends when the power runs out.
Follow Andrew Clark on Twitter: @aclarkcomedy