Cambrian: Opinion

When you’re a card-carrying California weather wimp

Marcia Rhoades in front of her 115-volt, ductless air-conditioning system.
Marcia Rhoades in front of her 115-volt, ductless air-conditioning system.

Although it hardly ever gets uncomfortably warm in the village of Cambria in the summer, all you have to do is drive up one of the ranch roads to experience a totally different climate — hot, once as hot as 108 degrees at our house.

We’ve lived in the Santa Lucia Mountains in Cambria’s backcountry for 12 years, where the summer temperatures are not as constant and mild as in town. Until two weeks ago, all we’ve had to keep the summer heat at bay was an awning, window shades and fans, which I can tell you don’t begin to cut it. As someone who has almost always had the luxury of air conditioning since the 1950s, this has been a challenge to my delicate constitution.

Yes, I’m a serious, card-carrying, California weather wimp.

Up here in the mountains, we rely on solar power for all of our electricity. Our solar is not a commercial system, designed to run anything our hearts desire. It just handles the basics for us, which is usually sufficient for our needs. This does not include traditional window unit or central air conditioning.

For years, we’ve experimented with all manner of cooling devices — a variety of portable, plug-in evaporative coolers and one portable air conditioner. None of the options worked very well, so we continued to suffer through the hot days of summer and occasional weird heat waves in the winter.

My husband, John, can attest to the veracity of the adage, “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”

Although he wasn’t fully on board with the idea of air conditioning, about a month ago, he gave me the green light to start calling the experts for help finding a solution for my heat discomfort.

Enter the revolutionary 115-volt, ductless air-conditioning system. The cooling unit is mounted on the living room wall and is connected to a compressor outside. It is a marvel and effective, even with our solar power.

We have the restriction of being able to run even this very efficient cooler only when there’s sun on our solar panels, but that’s the majority of the day in the summer when it’s unbearably hot. Down the road, we may decide to add some solar panels to our system so we can run the air longer into the evening, but for this year, we’re trying to get along with what we have.

When the outside temperature is soaring close to 100 degrees, it’s such a relief to be comfortable doing low-impact chores, reading or watching a movie or crazy campaign coverage on TV. We no longer have to depend solely on Cambria’s ocean breezes for our air conditioning.

A song called “Air Conditioner,” written by Christine Lavin, a quirky singer-songwriter, sums up my feeling about being hot. Before we moved here from Salt Lake City over a decade ago, we saw Lavin perform “Air Conditioner” at one of her concerts, and I’ve never forgotten it. If I were as clever as Lavin, I’d have written this song myself.

Per the song, when Lavin was contemplating a relationship with a new man, it was pretty clear what was important to her. Paraphrasing the ending to keep this appropriate for a family newspaper, she sang: I don’t care what kind of lovin’ you’re into or how big your apartment/ego/wallet, etc. might be. All you need’s an air conditioner, and you’re the man, oh, you’re the man, oh, you’re the man for me.

In keeping with the theme of Lavin’s song: Thank you, John, for our air conditioner, and you’re the man, oh, you’re the man, oh, you’re the man for me.

Marcia Rhoades’ column appears monthly and is special to The Cambrian. Email her at