The City Magazine Since 1975

Too Hot to Handle

Too Hot to Handle
July 2014
A Charleston native bemoans (and ultimately embraces) the Holy City’s summer swelter

Ah, yes, summer in Charleston, where the livin’ is easy—provided you have an air conditioner the size of John C. Calhoun’s grave, don’t plan to ever leave your home, and enjoy wading through the air when you do.

The summer heat in Charleston is simply indescribable to anyone, with the possible exceptions of Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, and Mao. If you live here, you know this and try to spend as much time out of town as possible. Locals tend to vacation in cooler spots, including retreats such as Saluda, Brevard, and Death Valley. It’s said that a couple centuries ago, the aristocrats of the city would adjourn to Summerville to escape the heat, thus the name “Summerville.” I don’t know if I buy it—sounds a lot like scooting over six feet in the sauna.

There is perhaps no Charleston-in-the-summer group I feel more compassion for than the visitors limping through downtown. Clearly they have no access to TV or the Internet; otherwise they would have checked the weather here. Apparently they have no friends either, because a friend would tell you such a trip is on par with being slugged in the face by Mike Tyson. And they must have no access to reliable transportation; if they did, they’d be heading to Maine within an hour of their arrival.

If you wish to assist one of these unfortunate souls, they’re easy to spot: They’re the ones who start Day One strolling the sidewalks in polo shirts and pressed trousers but by Day Two are planted face down on Water Street wearing running shorts and an “I’m With Stupid” tank top purchased in the Market.

I must admit I have a special place in my heart for those with children in tow. Sure, if you’ve got a kid who scored all Fs and did some time in lockup during the school year, maybe they deserve a punishment that bad—but you’d have to be pretty heartless to bring a kid for less than that. Here is a total list of things kids under the drinking age want to do in Charleston in the summer: Ride in a carriage. After that, it’s a blur of history and homes and heat strokes. Plus, to a child of this millennium, the whole point of going on vacation is so you can Instagram photos that will make your friends jealous. No one is jealous when you post a photo of “a magnificent example of Georgian architecture.”

One group, however, absolutely loves the summers here: the bar owners. These ingenious entrepreneurs crank the AC and leave the door open to the street. Sure, it costs $13,000 a month, but staggering visitors feel the cool, delicious breeze of what seems to be angel’s breath and immediately plow inward. From there, it’s a much deserved beer or gin and tonic. And another. And given how brutal the heat is outside, another. Come to think of it, maybe that’s why so many visitors are staggering.

A summer visitor can, of course, choose to stay at the beach. That’s lovely. The best part is relaxing in the bathtub-warm Atlantic, watching the seagulls diving and dining on the flesh seared off your feet en route to the water. It does, however, cool off at night, that special time when gnats, mosquitoes, and coyotes compete for your blood.

The beach also offers terrific golf courses with fairways lined by beautiful trees that locals call “breeze blockers.” The summer golfing experience is one-of-a-kind, accented by melted club grips and the thrill of being kicked off the course for playing in your skivvies. The results are almost magical: After one round, even the most fanatical golfers decide this might be a good week to pass on their favorite pastime and introduce themselves to a group of strangers called “family.”

Although us locals aren’t big on June, July, and August, we wouldn’t change those months in any way. Sure, there’s sweltering heat, lung-crushing humidity, gnats, mosquitoes, every poisonous snake ever discovered, chiggers, and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. sweat on every sundress and seersucker suit, but we know without those things, we’d have a population density that would make Hong Kong look like Montana.

Charleston native Prioleau Alexander is a shaman for Wildfire, a tribe of marketing and creative anarchists. They can be found at