When I was a teenager growing up in Wichita Falls, which is regularly hailed as one of the hottest cities in the state (and sometimes the country), I spent my summers smelling like roadkill. The moment I stepped outside my house, sweat began sliding like syrup down my back. According to the old-timers, there were three Dante-like levels of heat in Wichita Falls: A normal day was “hot as fire” (pronounced “fahr”). A very hot day was “hot as hell” (pronounced “hey-yull”). And a truly brutal day was “hot as a sonuvabitch” (pronounced as written).
The one thing I noticed was that these men never really seemed all that upset about the heat. I will never forget watching a group of them who went to my church standing near the front steps before the morning service began, cheerfully smoking cigarettes and refusing to take off their suit coats as they talked about their tee times later that afternoon, when the temperature would soar into the triple digits.
Indeed, Wichitans learned long ago not just to endure the heat but to honor it. Since 1982, every August the city has hosted the Hotter ’N Hell Hundred, a one-hundred-mile bicycle race that is essentially a celebration of sweat and dehydration. People in their Lycra shorts pedal like maniacs, hallucinating toward the finish line. Name another city in Western civilization that does anything like that.
Now, I realize that you had the season people call summer wherever you moved here from. But in Texas, summer is an experience. At some point between May and September, you will see in your local newspaper a story titled “35 Ways to Survive the Heat.” All this advice is just fine: you shouldn’t be without bottled water, you shouldn’t walk barefoot on hot asphalt, blah, blah, blah.
But let me give you a tip that you won’t read anywhere else: while standing in line at Starbucks to order your iced coffee, don’t turn to the person behind you, offer a stricken look, and lament, “It’s just dreadful.” Instead, act like a Wichitan. Grin and exclaim, “What a day, huh? Can you believe it’s only hot as fahr?”
This piece is just one bit of wisdom offered in our April 2015 cover story, “Welcome to Texas!” a friendly user’s guide for our state’s most recent transplants. To read more advice, go here.