Pondering the upsides of steamy August—like boredom...and bingo
I grew up in the South in pre-central air days. Granted, the ’70s and early ’80s were pre-global warming days, too, but it was still plenty toasty in the Piedmont of North Carolina. We didn’t have the Weather Channel to warn us of heat advisories, but I devised my own “real feel” simulator: I’d sit by the street and watch small bubbles of tar rise and then poof, exhale their hot little breaths. I’d count “three, four, five…” seeing how long it would take the tiny curbside Vesuvius to explode, and then multiply by 100. If I got to five, it was 500 degrees. Pretty close, I’d say.
I had a window unit in my bedroom that I was allowed to turn on at night. It coughed out misty clouds of Freon, the summer version of seeing your breath on a winter day. My sisters and I would huddle around it like kids around a camp fire, lifting the damp hair off our necks and flapping the front of our polyester night gowns—anything to feel the air move. By August, we’d already unpacked our camp footlockers full of sweatshirts for the mountains and had our family’s one-week vacation at Wrightsville Beach. All the good stuff was behind us, and before us, only the dread of going back to school.
August in Charleston can have that same doldrums effect. The splash of Spoleto has long since evaporated, and by now your skin is so encrusted in salt, sweat, and sunscreen that it’s hard to smile, assuming there’s much to smile about. August is the onomatopoeia month, with ugggh built right into its last syllable. It’s the tail end of summer without any real holiday to shake things up—no fireworks, no Father’s Day, no Solstice or Bastille, just International Beer Day, which is no big deal since many of us celebrate that every day, part of our summer hydration strategy.
August in the Lowcountry is, in essence, a character-building exercise, an endurance test, as well as a test of the anti-frizz properties of hair-care products, for those of us who haven’t yet pulled our hair out. The tropics are stewing; the lawn has long since died; and to add insult to steaming-hot injury, you open your electric bill with fear and trembling—and then fury—thinking briefly that SCE&G has dumped the whole nuclear plant cost into your account.
But the truth is, August here has its upsides. The air may be thicker than Bertha’s gravy, but you are still in Charleston, after all. There are shady piazzas to duck under, fancy garden fountains to plunk your head in, and beautiful beaches—less crowded now that back-to-schoolers are stocking up at Target rather than sandlapping on Sullivan’s—to salvage your last morsel of sanity.
Other bonuses: all of a sudden you’ve become an artsy photographer, upping your Instagram game as pics of Rainbow Row get a dreamy pastel filter effect from your camera fogging up. You can venture down King Street at midday and not fret about crowds or parking, because everyone else has evacuated to Whirling Waters. And for three bucks you can be transported back to the sticky joy of childhood, thanks to a corner cart hawking King of Pops popsicles. Mmmm, Blackberry Honey and Watermelon Mojito, thank you very much.
In fact, there’s plenty to love about late summer in the Lowcountry. It’s the one time of year you, too, can fantasize that your suburban tract house is an antebellum beaut, given that all the windows now radiate that antique wavy-glass effect. It’s the season of basil-gone-ballistic, so you can slather homemade pesto on anything and everything and gloat about your backyard-to-table prowess.
Best of all, August is a deliriously decadent time to do absolutely nothing at all. To reverse hibernate, tuck into a hammock beneath the shade of an oak tree, or hole up in your favorite climate-controlled comfort zone and indulge in cool serenity for some well-deserved rest and reflection. Put on those sunglasses and pull your hat further down your brow; duck and cover to rejoice in quiet sanity before the onslaught of September’s return-to-rigmarole. Celebrate the sheer, yawning bounty of boredom—such a rare gift in our perpetually plugged-in, logged-on world.
But alas, if boredom does start to bear down—and it well might—there’s always our favorite way to while away a Charleston August afternoon: play Bill Walsh Bingo. I mean, who else gets as excited as our beloved Live 5 News meteorologist when the heavens lash out and late summer storms roll in? Assign a B-I-N-G-O value to words like “tracking,” “tropical depression,” “hurricane guide,” “chance of afternoon thunderstorms,” and “Folks, it’s anooother hot one,” and have at it. Make it a drinking game if you’re lagging on the hydration front, particularly if it’s International Beer Day.
Photographs by (popsicle) Towner Magill & courtesy of (3) Stephanie Hunt