Weather Miserable or Not, It's Home

Times Staff Writer

I am the last of my California circle to succumb. After a brave fight, I have become a weather wimp.

Can we talk?

I want to go to sleep and wake up in April. Here it is Valentine's Day and for 36 days, there has not been one entire 24 hours with temperatures above freezing. We're only a few days off the record, in fact, but as we skid on the ice toward the precipice of frostbite history, I am increasingly disenchanted with being part of this exciting milestone.

Moving to Washington from California seven years ago, I was horrified to discover weather wimps. They were hidden among my closest friends and relatives. When my colleague Art Spander of the San Francisco Examiner dined with a group of us here a few years ago, I felt proud of the gold and russet splendor of a fogless, fall day that enveloped us in beauty I had never seen until I moved East. Spander looked at it and said, "I'm glad I'm getting out of here."

"Why?" I asked, dumbfounded and offended.

"Because pretty soon, it will be cold."

It's bad enough when Californians complain about the cold, but hard-corps weather wimps complain because it's going to be cold. As ugly as it is, weather wimposis can be just a symptom, possibly suggesting the serious disease known as California snobbery. Spander, an otherwise healthy and right-headed man, is famous among his friends for backing away from a possible handsome job offer from a big Eastern paper, partly because it would not provide proper transportation for his wine cellar. This is the kind of complication that can arise in a patient who started out being just a harmless weather wimp.

Spander Feelings Not Unique

Spander was by no means unique in his feelings. I invited my parents on a motor trip through the spectacular Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah Valley, which John Denver has described as "almost heaven." My father, on the other hand, described it saying, "It's too bad there's no pretty scenery here, like Lake Tahoe." In an instant, my newly discovered paradise went from Almost Heaven to Not Quite Tahoe.

It became apparent to me that Californians were being unreasonably critical of my new home, closing their eyes to its many rare gems and, more important, making me feel like a dope for moving here. Perhaps because I was raised to root for the San Francisco Giants, I have an unquenchable thirst for losing causes. So I became a defender of the East.

I laughed off things like renting my first tiny house, and not worrying that it didn't have air conditioning or storm windows. I thought storm windows were a style of windows, like bay windows. I thought the windows looked pretty nice. I didn't know that when winter came and I locked my windows tight, the hem of my nightgown would flutter in the breeze right in my own living room. I taped huge pieces of plastic on the nice windows and lived like a frozen mixed vegetable. I didn't know that without air conditioning I wouldn't be able to sleep in July. But I learned about these things. I moved to a different house. And I continued to defend the East.

When it's cold, I told my friends (most of whom are fellow sports junkies), I can lie by the fireplace, turn on the television and partake of my favorite East Coast delicacies: Atlantic Coast Conference basketball and Big East Conference basketball. The two conferences account for eight of the nation's top 20 college teams. They're on local television more often than Johnny Carson, and I can see them all in person when they pass through the Washington area to play Georgetown and the University of Maryland.

Although I still treasure the basketball, something happened to my unique appreciation of cold weather. Perhaps Washington winter seems like a new experience again because I basically missed last winter, recovering indoors from surgery. That was not the most fun I ever had, but at least they kept me warm. Incredibly, this winter seems more trying than last year's.

I used to keep a stiff upper lip about the cold. I would talk about how our less pleasant weather simply makes us appreciate, all the more, when spring bursts forth in a riot of daffodils, tulips and cherry blossoms all over town. And waiting at the end of that stifling summer humidity is the incomparable Eastern fall, with crisp, clear days and falling leaves. Through all of this, we rarely have smog one can actually see. (That's because it rains a lot, all year long, but that's another story.) And whatever happened to my fascination with furry coats, bulky sweaters, hats, scarfs and boots? Now all I can think of is that there are parts of my body I haven't seen since September.

Springtime seems awfully far away. I'm moving (again) in a few weeks to a Washington suburb. The last time I moved was also in February, in a foot of snow, and when I approached my cozy new residence the police had closed down the street because President Reagan was having dinner with my new neighbor, Sen. Mark O. Hatfield (R-Ore.), who must have forgotten to invite me.

"You're moving in, now? " the policewoman asked in disbelief.

"Nobody told me the President would be here," I pleaded.

After I coaxed the police into letting me near my front door, I discovered there had been a power failure, and my mahogany china cabinet was moved past the police lines and the television camera crews (there to watch the President, not my unbelievable move) and up three flights of stairs by candlelight.

And still, I refused to admit the obvious, that my new home had this slight problem: the winter weather.

But this year, the cold reality of below-zero wind chill has hit me like a snowball in the face, like a car skidding out of control into a lamp post. I mean, I really hate it! And if I have the symptom, weather wimposis, do I have the dreaded California snobbery? Will I, too, decide that Washington is a so-totally lousy place?

I know that is not true, at least not for me. I love the hustle-bustle of the news happening all around town, the high energy level of the city's workaholics and the ability to go anywhere quickly in subways and cabs. And, when the entire weather picture is taken into account, I even like the cyclical cleansing of the soul and psyche that accompanies the dramatic change of the seasons, when it looks as though you'd moved into a new neighborhood. There are airplanes to whisk a new Washingtonian to loved ones far away, and when you get there, you're treated like a visiting celebrity, even if they think you have rocks in your head for moving away. My husband and many friends are here, and for me they are home more than the city is, just as they are for anybody in any place. I figure that makes all homes about equal, so everybody's wrong in this home-superiority war.

But, like most of the more stupid wars, I'm sure this one will wage on and on. I'm sure many thoughtless Californians will continue to sniff at life on the East Coast, just as many insensitive Easterners will dump on the California life style, on the clogged freeways, the dirty air, the weird movie stars, the veg-heads, the lousy college basketball teams . . . I could go on and on.

But if you like where you live, you can let your guard down. You can have a good laugh and even admit to the grains of truth in the statements of critics.

So, I give up. I admit it. It's cold here. But it's home, even to some weather wimps.

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