Work From Home Just Got More Hellish



we experience days of record-breaking heat waves throughout the Bay Area, we all know the drill: Bust out the fans and the portable AC units. Get ready to sweat and go pantsless. Don’t expect to sleep well. Apparently, also prepare for PG&E to shut off your power without warning.

Thanks to climate change, coping with high temperatures in a region very much not designed to withstand them — that is, no air-conditioning — is something we’ve become accustomed to. Only this year we’ve added something else to the list: Attempt to work your way through the heat.

Yes, in years past, most of us had the pure luxury (though we didn’t think of it that way) of going into a temperature-controlled office, or at least Starbucks. But this year, no such luck. Because, you know, the pandemic.

It’s already hard enough to work through this shitshow that is 2020, and now we’re supposed to do it in the sweltering heat? This past weekend, the Bay Area saw triple-digit temperatures scorch much of the region — as well as rolling blackouts (the first in nearly two decades) that affected some 220,000 PG&E customers — spurred by the historic, ongoing heatwave.

Livermore, for example, set a record high of 106°F on Sunday, eclipsing a nearly 70-year record. Various other Bay Area cities, like San Jose and Santa Clara, also saw temperatures rise into the 100s. And even in temperate San Francisco, a 90° high was recorded Friday near downtown — topping a 21-year record for the date.

Alas: August and September will likely (and historically) remain the Bay Area’s two hottest months. “Does anyone have a central AC in San Francisco?” asks Rachel Rachatta, a 33-year-old resident of the Mission District. A former Googler, Rachatta’s been self-employed since 2017. Her spacious 420-square-foot Edwardian studio overlooking Valencia Street now doubles as both an office and living space, filled with fans. “Now that my work from home life is, well, more ‘from home’ than ever before, I invested in two $300 air-conditioning units… so that says a lot.”

Deep dives into Quora and Reddit confirm that assumption: Most people in San Francisco don’t have air-conditioning. Barring restaurants, cultural centers, and mass indoor public places, it’s nearly impossible to experience a cool freon breeze. And those destinations are now off-limits. In the past, come August or September, I would regularly frequent the brisk lobbies of either the Hilton San Francisco Union Square or Hotel Zeppelin to find respite from the heat before an important meeting — while also giving my sebaceous glands a hot minute to chill. No longer.

It’s true that for most of the year, we don’t need air-conditioning in much of the Bay Area. But given that the temperature is getting warmer every year — as well as the increasing number of days reaching those records — is it time that we all invest in central air-conditioning? It’s only going to get worse.

A dataset published in 2019 by Climate Central, an “independent organization of leading scientists and journalists,” proved that the temperature has increased in major U.S. cities over the past 48 years, including San Francisco. Instead of looking over record highs, Climate Central took a less conventional angle, choosing to instead compare and contrast the average low temperatures on summer nights.

The results? San Francisco’s otherwise cool climate is slowly but surely heating up. Between 1970 and 2018, the observed low summer temperatures increased by three degrees. More worrying? This trend is exponential, per the domino effect.

Thankfully, we’re a creative and crafty bunch of evolutionary misfits, as one Ocean Beach renter proves.

“Knowing how air moves through your home and apartment is really important,” says freelance oil painter and videographer Amanda Stuart, who lives in a three-bedroom apartment with two friends. “I have four box fans that I place by our windows. At night, when the air is cold, I open all the windows and set up the box fans blowing outward in the windows. I leave this set up like this overnight. Before I head out for the day, which is something I’m obviously doing less of now, I’ll make sure to close them shut, close the blinds, and draw every single curtain.”

Stuart is sure that by doing this, she can “trap the cool air” inside her apartment. She’s also adamant about keeping floods of natural light at bay to keep things on the cooler side.

“There’s nothing that makes me more frustrated and irritated than sweating in bed while watching Netflix,” Stuart says. “And if all else fails, I’ll just take a cold shower to literally cool off.”

Locals are already ready to think of creative ways to beat the swelters amid the pandemic. While the pools — besides the basement pool at St. Ignatius College Preparatory school — are still closed, the beaches are open. Take a breezy bike ride or stroll the Slow Street corridor along Ocean Beach. Welcome the shade enveloping the elevated, windy trails at Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve. Hear your echo and dab your sweat inside the Sutro Baths Cave. Strip naked at Baker Beach.

Sure, this doesn’t really help your work situation — but it will help keep you sane.

Other means of socially distanced solace away from the heat exist outside the bedroom and living room. You can find peace in the fact that many local creameries and ice cream shops remain open. The iconic Baked Bear in North Beach is still queued with patrons waiting to nosh on its chromatic ice cream sandwiches. Joe’s Ice Cream and Burgers continue scooping its wonderfully unique frozen dairy and vegan concoctions — wasabi, yuzu, Thai tea, oh my — for pickup and delivery. The Keller Farms Sundae, a customer favorite, at the Castro Soda Shop, featuring cornmeal shortbread, crème fraîche, Morello cherry ice cream, and a drizzle of rosemary syrup, is again available to consume and Instagram. And the beer lovers among us can sling back a cold one or two (or three) at recently reopened gastropubs like Willkommen and Zeitgeist… with its now-famous plexiglass cases of dining emotion.

Milk was, and still is, ‘a bad choice.’

No matter how you choose to stay cool during this hot, cruel summer, make sure to tread lightly on Mother Nature. Conservationists, biologists, and environmentalists all agree: 2020 is a critical calendar year to change the planet… for better or worse. The World Wildlife Fund notes that more than half of all Americans are now “alarmed” or “concerned” at the pace climate change is progressing, per findings published by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication — a startling shift from just a decade ago, when the majority of people in this country still sat on the subject’s fence.

California wildfires are burning longer and hotter. Rising sea levels threaten not only the Florida Keys but also our very lives and well-being in San Francisco. And with both global and local biodiversity losses at all-time highs, it’s imperative that we use this collective pause to reflect, recalibrate, and course-correct. And just try to get by at work.

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