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Shields Up! Red Alert!

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Summer definitely crept up on us this year. Between the incredibly mild winter we had and that late May cold snap, there was no defining "Ah, it's summer" moment this year. In fact, I didn't even have the usual joy of digging out my summer clothes, since I never bothered to put them away this year. I know that I was wearing short sleeves throughout the so-called winter months. There wasn't really even a day when I suddenly realized that I could go swimming, since it was fairly warm back in April.

Now it's mid-June and definitely summer. School's out and you can't drink a Coke without being invited to Carowinds at dramatically reduced costs. Everywhere you go, you see kids playing in sprinklers and fountains, and last week I even heard the friendly tunes of the ice cream truck patrolling my neighborhood.

Even if you have to work, there is just something about summer that is more fun than other times of the year. If you are home by five, you still have several hours of sunlight to enjoy before dark, unlike January, when it's dark by the time you get home. And even when it's dark out, summer evenings are still pleasant, as long as you have plenty of insect repellent.

Of course, plenty of people look forward to vacations in the summertime. Charlotte is a great location for us because we're close to the mountains and the beach, both nice summer vacation areas. Charlotte itself has plenty of fun weekend activities in the summer, too, though. Parks, horseback-riding, hiking trails and theme parks all cluster in our vicinity. This is just a great place to be in the summer.

Well, except for one or two little things. Even though I read about the ozone layer and the greenhouse effect in magazine articles and such prior to coming to Charlotte, it was only once I moved here that the ozone layer actually became a part of my life. Still, every year I manage to forget about the ozone layer during the winter months, only to have it brought back to my memory quite jarringly by the daily ozone alarms of summer. When I first moved to Charlotte, I remember being completely befuddled by these ozone alarms. While listening to the radio, I would hear someone say, "Well, it's a code red day." Hmm, I would think. Sounds serious.

It took me a while to catch on to the whole code system, but last summer at least it became second nature to me. "Hey," I would say to my husband, "Be careful. It's code orange today." I don't know what I expected him to do about it during his normal work day (he doesn't work outside), but we certainly listened to the warnings with seriousness.

This summer the warnings caught me off-guard all over again. With all of the recent news about Homeland Security and the possibility of terrorism in the United States -- that was at the forefront of my mind. Then, when I heard it was a code red day in Charlotte via the radio, I immediately ran in the house to turn on CNN and find out what the danger was. The scrolling news at the bottom of the screen indicated that there still wasn't peace in the Middle East, but that didn't really seem cause for a code red alert. It was only after searching a Charlotte news website that I realized that it was an ozone alert and not a terrorism alert. Ha ha.

Anyway, these ozone alerts are one of the few frustrating things about living in Charlotte in the summer. It seems as though people could do simple things to help deflect some of the dangers, but generally they do not. For example, one of the things news shows always suggest is holding off on mowing the lawn because lawnmowers are notorious air polluters. Yet whenever we're experiencing a code red ozone day, I see people out mowing their lawns. Now a code red day would be the last day I would be out mowing the lawn and not just because I care about our city and the well being of its citizens. Code red days are usually quite stifling. Also, I don't mow the lawn anyway.

Car pollution is another big contributor to Charlotte's air quality issues. I do not fault people for being out driving on code red days because I know that it can't be helped. We've all got to get out there and earn a buck. In fact, we've all got to be out there earning a buck in our own cars. Carpooling is not very popular here, though I'm not sure why. It saves money on gas and keeps you from having to drive every day. On the other hand, you do have to abide by the schedule of at least one other person.

The other problem is our severe lack of suitable public transportation. The available public transportation in Charlotte, i.e. the buses, simply does not suit the needs of most Charlotteans. In order to support future growth and lessen pollution, we need efficient public transportation that people here would find useful. Then, it would be up to us to give up our cars and use it.

The other kind of summer warnings we have here are water-related. On a recent day, it was announced that people should conserve water as much as possible, putting off unnecessary uses of water. Yet, all over Charlotte people were still watering their lawns.

Like most human beings, Charlotteans want to have everything without considering the costs. For a long time, we have existed in a sort of honeymoon phase of being a city, and those costs have not been evident. But it's time we matured. We've got a wonderful little city here. It's a fun place to be, summer or not. Rather than running around shouting, "Me! Me! Me!" like toddlers or anybody from the 80s, we need to grow up and take responsibility. Charlotte will only continue to be a good place to live if we make it so. *

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