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Column: Some of us take air conditioning for granted

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The past week was a warm one, with high temperatures mostly in the upper 80s and a few times breaking 90 degrees.

It was almost that warm inside the Columbus Post Office at 450 Jackson St. In case you missed the news story in Thursday’s Republic, the air conditioning there went out. Temporary cooling units, brought in to keep the air moving, didn’t do much to help. But by Friday afternoon, a solution was found. The air conditioning was restored when the chiller was replaced — and postal workers were a happier, cooler bunch of people.

Until then, nearly 30 employees who normally work inside the post office were enduring what one of them — American Postal Workers Union representative Sandy Smith — called “brutal” conditions.

State Rep. Milo Smith, R-Columbus, went to bat for the local postal employees, suggesting: “It wouldn’t take that long for someone to collapse in those conditions, and I’m very concerned about the employees who have to work there all day.”

The office of U.S. Rep. Luke Messer, R-Ind., whose 6th District includes Columbus, also got involved in the matter.

But in a city with thousands of factory workers, the postal employees didn’t get much sympathy in early public reaction.

In a note sent Thursday, Ann Moore said: “None of those factories or their poor, overheated, sweaty, stinky workers have ever made such a front-page story despite working in much worse conditions than our dear, normally-spoiled-by-air-conditioning postal workers.”

First-day online comments weren’t any more sympathetic.

Said one: “I currently work in a factory where it is always at least 85 to 90 degrees in the summer, and we have no a/c at all, except in a select few rooms necessary for the work done in those areas. Is it hot? Yes, but seriously. Appealing to upper government to try to fix your a/c when thousands of workers around the country are working in the same conditions? Seems extreme to me.”

During my senior year of high school, I worked in a factory in my small Wisconsin hometown. I stood atop a machine and shoved dough into a grinder that produced candy coins.

It got pretty hot. We wore white uniforms with short sleeves that got pretty dirty. I don’t long for those days.

Call me spoiled. I have worked in air-conditioned offices since then and sure appreciate it. It can get a little warm at times, especially during the changing of seasons, as furnaces and air conditioners butt heads. But we’ve got it pretty good — especially compared to the conditions faced by hard-working factory employees.

From a personal standpoint, I have had the misfortune of having both my home and car air conditioning go out this month. Now whether it actually went out this month, or we didn’t realize it until this month, is a detail that is up for debate.

But a next-door neighbor who has worked in the air conditioning business came to the rescue and recharged our home unit in less than an hour. The next day, we found an automotive air conditioning specialist who works out of his home and car — and he got my car’s cooling unit up and running without it ever leaving the driveway.

Good fortune, indeed.

I had a flashback to my youth, growing up in a small ranch home that never had air conditioning. We did have windows that were open most of the time from March through December. And we had box fans that got plugged in and set up when conditions merited. In fact, I remember getting one for a wedding present — a pretty practical gift at that.

Our cars in those days had vents — on the dash and in the side windows.

Besides the post office air conditioning story, we had a related news item inside Thursday’s edition.

The United Way of Bartholomew County and the Lincoln-Central Neighborhood Family Center were letting county residents know that a limited number of free fans were being distributed to households without air conditioning on a first-come, first-served basis at the neighborhood center office, 1039 Sycamore St.

It was a reminder to me, and perhaps to you, that not everyone has or expects to have air conditioning — at home or work or in the car. Some people as a result may indeed be hot, but they’re not necessarily bothered about the circumstances. It’s just a way of life, and one that some of us don’t share — or may have forgotten about.

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