1980 remains the hottest summer in Houston: 14 consecutive 100+ degree days, a high of 107, and 32 days altogether at 100 or above.
Yep, I remember that summer well: I was a lifeguard that year – and by the end of the summer, a coach, swim teacher, a pool cleaner, and a front-desk clerk as well. I ended up with all the jobs at this local community pool, because workers were dropping like flies! Seriously, by mid-summer every local kid had quit, and I kept picking up additional job duties; by the end of summer, I was working 12-14 hours a day.
It was a great boost for my college fund: even though I had won a scholarship for school the following year, it was nice to collect extra money like this for books, car, dating, etc.
There were lots of benefits of being able to tolerate the heat, including having nice calloused feet to walk on hot concrete. Beyond the money, my hair was sun-bleached blond, I built up a nice tan (of course, I lathered in SPF – didn’t want to get that skin cancer that plagued older colleagues that I saw the summer prior in Galveston), got plenty of attention from girls (well, uh, with an average age of say 11 – community pool lifeguarding is as much a babysitting job as serious life saving), and I never had to say “would you like fries with that?”
The summer of ’81 didn’t break as many records, but was still plenty hot and dry. That year, to stay in shape (I still ran track and cross country) I decided to pick up a job as a common laborer at a local chemical plant – shoveling sand and concrete for a new construction project. And, heck, the money was good! Lifeguarding paid well above minimum wage, but this job paid double what a lifeguard could get.
This summer proved just as amusing on the co-worker job front. The rest of the common labor pool was Mexican, and that year the INS decided to launch “Operation Jobs”. Yeah, seriously, that’s the name they gave it. First, they raided our construction site, rounding up all the undocumented workers. Our crew went down from 26 to 1 – plus one asshole of a foreman, who was white. Of course the company whined to the INS: “how can we complete our work?”. The INS responded, “no problem, we’ll hire true-blue Americans for you”. And sure enough, they did – setting up trailers near the plant entrance, sending out recruitment posters, processing and vetting all applications. Within a week, our crew was back up to 25 (I should note that the skilled labor pool was already all American – carpenters, equipment operators, and such were union jobs, so were quite protected, and coveted,job positions).
This didn’t last last long. Within 2 weeks, most of the new hires had quit. One hot afternoon there was a fellow shoveling sand beside me, when he suddenly threw his shovel down, saying “fuck this, I can make more on welfare”, and proceeded to walk toward the exit gate – he exemplified the bunch. Other workers just didn’t show up the next day. However, our labor pool didn’t shrink this time. As the INS designees were quitting, little by little our original crew started to re-appear. The ones that could speak English told me of their adventures: a free bus ride home, time to visit with family, and then back to Houston the same way they made it last time – by sneaking across the border again.
Within 3 weeks we had zero, yes zero, of the INS-hired pool. Twenty of the original workers, though, were back on the job, and we picked up a few more, probably undocumented as well, that tagged along with these workers. For sticking it out in the heat, I got promoted to driving a pick-up truck around the work site, delivering water and tools wherever needed, plus determining when to add ice or Gatorade to the water coolers – “Don’t waste the Gatorade when it’s below 100, asshole” the foreman would scream, and ice only when it hit 102.
Yeah, hot summer memories. Now, when people ask me if it’s too hot in Houston, I say, “no, not really”, just like when they ask me if the food is spicy. 🙂