I’ve been spending a big chunk of the spring in Los Angeles for a variety of reasons, after being in the area for much of what people still call winter in Southern California. In that time, it’s become glaringly apparent to me that L.A. experiences something comparable to the title of that classic 1966 documentary about surfing around the world: The Endless Summer.
The Angelenos may refer to that period from December through February as winter — when Christmas happens, bears hibernate and the earth dies only to be reborn come spring — but it’s like no winter I recall from my days growing up in the Northeastern Megalopolis. Where’s the chill, big or otherwise?
Of late, Los Angeles is warm and dry in the winter, warmer and drier in the spring, and warmest and driest in the summer. Autumn? Warm-ish and dry-ish. For all the civilization and piped-in water, it’s still a desert climate. That’s why it’s such a shock to the locals when the rain falls. It’s so rare an occurrence that Tom Kenny — the stand-up comedian and voice-actor — used to have a routine about it. He’d play a TV news anchor confronting a light rain shower in L.A. with a frantic, doom-and-gloom on-air demeanor. “Rain hammers the Southland!” he’d warn in stentorian tones. “Will you survive? Will your family survive?” Then it would be, “Day 2 of the Rain Crisis! Will you survive? Will your family survive?” And so on.
All kidding aside, the temperate weather and lack of rain is a recipe for mud slides in the canyons on those few unlikely instances when a downpour washes over the area. But those wet days are so infrequent, and the dry, mild weather is so much the baseline that, every so often, I’ve found myself wishing for the random cool gray day, San Francisco-style. And every so often, the sky clouds up, albeit briefly, and I get a bit of relief from sun and more sun.
I shouldn’t bitch though. Since the Polar Vortex iced and rattled the rest of the country this past winter, I noticed the rise of something that might be called “weather envy.” I’d call friends in New York City or my sister in South Jersey, and I’d get a similar refrain. “We’re freezing our butts off here.” “It’s never been so cold.” “I think the surf is frozen in place.” “Even the cat is shivering — and she’s wearing a sweater.”
Do I feel bad for these people? A little. I was born and raised, for the most part, in Philadelphia. I know cold. I know ice. I know snow. And I generally don’t miss it. In fact, I have a hard time remembering what it was like to bundle up like an Arctic explorer to go to the store. I came west. I made my choice, and I’m sticking by it.
Yes, a foggy night in the City by the Bay can cut to the bone. Mark Twain’s purported adage, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco,” is often invoked to acknowledge the oddities of Bay Area meteorology such as an uncommonly cold June and an unseasonably warm October. Twain’s drollery aside, San Franciscans get our share of beautiful weather and virtually never feel the brutal frost nor suffer the metaphorical icicle upon the nose.
But L.A. is another creature entirely. The seasons all blur together in a toasty, comfy continuum of warm temperatures. Any variation — other than the stultifying heat at the height of summer — is staggering. If we didn’t have a handy calendar or the inevitable, glorious spring and fall blooming of purple-blue jacaranda flowers to guide us, no one would know when it was. Instead, those of us who spend time below Santa Barbara on the map come to take it all for granted — except for one year-round treat. It’s that moment between 6:30 and 7:30 p.m.: The Magic Hour. Whatever you call it, it’s the time when the sun is setting, the city starts to cool down, and the smell of bougainvillea permeates the atmosphere. At that point, the heady perfume of possibility fills the air, and a body can’t help but feel it’s in the right place at the right time — no parka required.