On Second Thought – No, I Don’t Need To Be Reminded Of What Snow Is Like.

It’s finally warming up around here, and I’m starting to find myself actually looking forward to spring.  Of course, I say that now – come May I might be singing a different tune. I guess I’ll just  have to admit that I’m a little wishy-washy on the subject of climate. Many of my friends, I’m sure, have had the occasion to note a slight inconsistency – if not contradiction – in my frequent complaints about the weather.  I’ve often said that I prefer cooler temperatures, but have of late found myself cursing the surprisingly cold and wet climes of this year’s atypical Southern California Dec-February period. So what gives?

It is an incontrovertible fact that heat makes me extremely uncomfortable and lethargic – a fact born out by my body’s inclination to sweat like crazy whenever the temp reaches 70 degrees. Sure, everybody sweats, but for the purposes of visualization I would ask you to recall the movie Broadcast News, specifically the scene where Albert Brooks’ character Aaron Altman gets his chance to anchor a live broadcast.  To say he is nervous is an understatement; once the camera rolls you can see his demeanor is that of one who has been pulled off the street and thrown into an unmarked van by faceless malcontents who then forcefully tighten his necktie and hogtie him before driving him to a large, heated oven in which he is unbound and forced to read the local news from a teleprompter on live T.V.

If you’re unfamiliar with the film I should clarify that that didn’t actually happen – what I mean to say is that he looks as if it had.  But the point is he stutters and his eyes dart about. He tries in vain to loosen his tie, and sweat pours off the poor man’s brow in visible rivulets. By the end of the broadcast his hair is pasted to his scalp and his shirt and jacket are soaked. It’s pretty damned embarrassing, really, and it’s not an inaccurate description of how I look in warmer conditions.

Why would I move to Southern California if I hate the heat so much? Well we live in Long Beach, which is, as the name implies, a coastal town. Consequently it’s usually pretty breezy and pleasant; temperatures here, even in summer, are a far cry from the suffocating conditions usually found in Los Angeles.  Let’s just say that when it gets to a hundred or so in the valley (which happens every year – they have a “fire season” the way Florida has a “hurricane season”), then it’s probably a livable 80 degrees in Long Beach during the summer. The rest of the year it’s really not that bad – like those brisk, late October days back home, after the leaves have dropped but before any snow has fallen.  And there are not only palm trees but various species of deciduous trees in the region, too, trees which necessitated actual raking in the fall.  Quite nice, all in all, and normally I can’t stop singing the area’s praises.

But these last couple of months have tested my affinity for cooler temps. I mean, it’s been damned cold! For weeks and weeks, it seems, we’ve seen daytime highs barely touching the 60’s, and overnights have been near freezing. Just the other night is was a frigid 35 degrees or so, a condition that required both the thermostat turned up and the addition of an extra duvet. None of the houses out here have any insulation, mind you, and the furnace provides only intermittent blasts of weak, warm air – air that then makes an immediate dash to the nearest window in order to hasten a quick exit. On top of that it’s been raining constantly. I’m not talking Washington state kind of rain here, but you have to admit one doesn’t move to Southern California so that one can spend one’s evenings constantly running out to the guest room with a tarp and several buckets in a desperate attempt to keep one’s spare bed and secret porn stash dry, does one?

Now I’m only two years removed from having lived in New England – which is to say through very snowy winters and rainy, rainy springs – so I realize I have no excuse for whining about this. Most likely I’ve just developed thinner blood, having avoided the last three seasons of waist-deep, New England snow. I obviously need some toughening up, a little taste of how cold and snowy things can really get.

It was in this spirit that we drove up to the San Gabriel Mountains a couple of Sundays ago for a little reminder.  For those of you who don’t know, the San Gabriel Mountains are a relatively short range which transverse east to west between San Bernardino County (east of Los Angeles) and the Mojave Desert to its north. The highest range (about 10,000 feet) is Mount San Antonio, known to its younger, sassier neighboring mountains as Mount “Baldy.” In the winter the peaks of Mt. Baldy, like other mountains in the vicinity, are covered in snow, and the nearby town of Wrightwood is known for its skiing and snowboarding.

The trip itself takes only about an hour and a half – no worse than a typical commute into L.A for me, but potentially taxing for a three year-old, particularly one unaccustomed to car rides lasting longer than 20 minutes.  Fortunately we had gone once before, on a day trip this past Christmas Eve, and Sarah had fared well both on the ride and in the snow. This time was no different, however by the time we reached the road leading to the spot of our earlier Christmas Eve jaunt it was clear that we weren’t going to find the same degree of snow we had enjoyed previously. The landscape was only sparsely dotted with dirty patches of the stuff, and the location of our previous boogie-board revelry – a large clearing off of a two-lane country road that had plenty of small hills for sledding – was now revealed to be some sort of staging area for construction vehicles.  We were already at a high altitude and, having been in the car for over an hour and a half, we weren’t exactly looking forward to having to drive back home, so we just kept driving up.

Eventually we came to the center of Wrightwood, where we were greeted with good and bad news: good news – lots of snow; bad news – traffic at a standstill. As I mentioned earlier, we were on a narrow, two-lane road; it snaked through the tiny town at a steadily increasing elevation. There were several signs along the road advertising a ski resort up ahead, clear evidence that not only would we find a place to play, but that the grinding traffic would continue. This was not, needless to say, the pleasant part of the trip. We were pushing two hours in the car, we had no real way to see how far we’d have to go before being able to pull over, and the hybrid battery on the civic was nearly drained from constant uphill driving. Sarah was getting fidgety and we were getting irritable, and since we were barely moving I decided to dig out some of our snacks in order to distract her from her growing discomfort. I grabbed her thermos, which I had secretly filled with chocolate milk before hitting the road, and turning around in my seat (Lizzy was driving), I asked her excitedly, “want a surprise?”

“Yes!” she said.

“Here it is!” I said, and popped the top of her thermos.

Now one of the interesting aspects of any drive up the mountains is the change in air pressure and the potential effects it may have on you or, in this case, on any items in your car. Everyone is familiar with the ear-popping, and we all know how to remedy the situation with chewing gum or a good hard swallow, but perhaps fewer of us take the necessary precautions to prevent the inanimate objects around us from becoming affected. If you have a bottle of water in your car you might loosen the cap, for example, in order to allow the air in the bottle to escape as the pressure gets lower. Otherwise, the pressure in the bottle would be much higher than the pressure outside the bottle (assuming that the bottle was air-tight); a sudden breaking of the seal would undoubtedly cause the contents to then exit the vessel forcefully. It’s the same concept behind those cans of air freshener you’re forced to use after befouling a friend or relative’s bathroom.

This particular atmospheric phenomenon, it turns out, had manifested itself in Sarah’s thermos. Perhaps you’ve seen this kind of thermos before – it’s a smallish, stainless steel thing with a hard, plastic screw-on top. There is also a hinged lid which reveals, upon pressing a small, oval button on the front, a rubber straw running through it to the bottom of the thermos.  They’re particularly popular among the toddler set for their convenience and ease of use: pour in the beverage, screw on the top, pop open the lid and there you have it. And there, in the car, in front of my smiling daughter, at 9,000 ft, I did just that – I popped open the lid.

The jet of chocolate milk that issued forth probably surprised me more that it did Sarah, at least at first. Perhaps that was because children have a natural buffer-moment of a second or so before registering surprise, or perhaps it’s because the milk struck me first before shooting upward onto the ceiling of the car and then into the back, where Sarah sat defensless in the car seat. Either way, in the first split-second following the eruption it seemed as if we might escape the incident with only a laugh. After a beat, however, and once I had finished my expletive, it seemed to have dawned on the girl that the “surprise” I had offered her had turned out to be an awful, sticky act of agression. Then the crying started, and if you’ve ever had to talk down a frightened and shocked three-year old during a long car-ride, then let me tell you it’s even more fun when covered in chocolate milk.

We eventually found a place to pull over and were able to do a little sledding, though it wasn’t without difficulty or incident. I won’t go into details;  suffice it to say that every other resident of Los Anglese County apparently had the same brilliant idea that we had. At the end of the day, though, we found our snow, and I was reminded of why I moved away from that kind of thing in the first place. It’s the reason, I think, that everyone who moves from the north to the south shares, and it can be best summarized by the phrase that was going through my head in an endless loop as we trudged throught the wet snow, weaving around the dozens of cars parked messily along the side of the road and barely avoiding getting hit by the ones that were still creeping uphill in traffic:

I just don’t need this kind of shit.