Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The Golden State

I just walked outside, took in the air this morning of January 4, 2006... in short sleeves. It is a stunningly beautiful day. It's about 65 degrees right now, some wispy clouds high in the sky.

This is the kind of day that made my father want to move to California. He was a Kansas boy in the Marines in the Korean Conflict, stationed at either Camp Pendleton or 29 Palms, I forget. He probably saw both places. Anyway, the weather in California greatly impressed a young man who enjoyed practicing his jump shot outside. His tour in frozen Korea, I'm sure, made the Golden State look even better.

When he got back he married and had children and we moved from Kansas to California in 1965. There were about 1,000 people a day doing the same thing then. Today there are around 34 million people in the state and still growing.

My first week in California was rough. The summer smog was so intense that my eyes stung. My throat hurt when I breathed, which I did a lot back then. After that first week, I was okay. Come the fall, I was stunned one day when the Santa Ana winds blew all the smog away and I saw that we were surrounded by mountains. Big mountains. Nothing like them in Kansas. And they're close, maybe 8-10 miles away.

They passed regulations in the '70s -- I think unleaded gas was part of the deal. Whatever they did, it worked. The smog is much less today than it was 40 years ago. Environmentalists parade this success story as proof of the goodness and necessity of government regulation. As a radical for capitalism, it galls me to admit that I have no answer on this particular issue. No one wants to live in a thick, brown soup.

Easterners brag that they have four seasons, whereas California has only one. It is true, they get more variety in their weather. I lived in New York City for 11 years. There is nothing more romantic and lovely than a snowfall. For the first few hours. Then the next day you have to walk in the stuff. It turns to a muddy slush. It sits there, day after day, getting dirty and making life a little more difficult.

I remember one January day when I first moved to New York. The temperature was like 2 degrees, with a wind chill that put it down around what you'd find on the moon. It was like the moon with air. I almost cried when I went to work that day. Had I cried, my tears would have frozen on my pink cheeks. I stood shivering on the subway platform, longing for the sight of cacti and mexican restaurants.

The playwright Neil Simon wrote somewhere that the temperature in Los Angeles is 72 every day and coincidentally there are 72 interesting people in Los Angeles. I'm wondering how he found that many. I think the percentage of interesting people is about the same everywhere. I see no evidence that nice weather makes people more boring.

Having nice weather all the time does make it less special, I will admit this. A nice day in April in New York is more intensely glorious than any given day in California. The contrast after a long, hideous winter is vivid. With all the happy emotions a warm spring day can stir, it's easy to see why the season is associated with falling in love.

And then there are those wonderful days in fall when the air is crisp and the leaves are turning. I won't deny easterners their days of beauty. Between the frigid winters and those ghastly summer days when the temperature AND the humidity are 95, easterners earn their fleeting moments of nice weather.

In California we are deprived. We must live with weather that is merely perfect all the time.

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