Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Season's Greetings from the Land of Subtle Seasons

Per a sweet request from Anne Mulkern, I'm posting this very oldie (but hopefully goodie). Enjoy:

I'm back from New York, back from inhaling that telltale scent of pending rain. From gazing across undulating acres of red and gold leaves that turn common prairie into extravagant spectacle. I'm back from the crisp autumn air that pulls vapor ghosts out of your mouth. From a land where buildings are so old, there might be real ghosts inside. I'm back from a place with ``real seasons,'' and I have to say: I'm not impressed.

Yeah, nature's pretty and all. But it's also cold. And cold sucks. I don't know or care how many sparkly lights you put on your roof to illuminate the darkened sky, or how many Oreos you use to decorate your snowman: If it's cold, you're miserable. And if you're not miserable, you're faking it.
I've lived in Chicago, Virginia and Kentucky. I've traveled around the country, braving snowstorms on dinky highways. I know from seasons. And I know that there is a reason I live here now.

I'm originally from here, from a land where people play tennis in shorts. At night. In December. When I was a kid, we'd take day trips to ``visit the snow'' in Lake Tahoe. I thought it glorious. I thought it magical. I thought it vastly unfortunate that I didn't live in a place with ``real seasons.''

But I have come to realize two things about Southern California: 1. It is filled with Midwest and East Coast transplants who bemoan the lack of snow while slapping on sunscreen; and 2. It does have seasons.

Southern California has definitive, reliable, recognizable seasons. Difference is, ours don't oppress people so much that they have to invent romantic fantasies about them.

Maybe our seasons are too subtle for the average New Englander to notice. Maybe folks in Montana and Idaho need loud color-coding to know it's time to flip the page on their Fly Fishin' calendars. We Californians don't need to be pelted over the head with cold, wet reminders of Father Time's continual journey. We get all the seasonal cues we need from the comfort of our driver's seats.
Who among us doesn't know that the first week of September heralds the end of ``light traffic'' season in Southern California?

Ask any local about those venerable "76'' ball signs at certain gas stations, and they'll tell you without blinking to expect a jack-o'-lantern coverlet on most of 'em. We natives feel a slight tug every year as the purple gorilla of summer, that toothy creature in the polka-dot underwear and sunglasses who growls over the 22 freeway from atop the Union Dodge dealership, deflates and makes room for a green-faced witch, a turkey or a Santa Claus.

We sigh a collective, nostalgic sigh as we inch our way up the 405 to see Trinity Broadcasting Network wishing Jesus a happy birthday, Vegas-style.

Before long, a massive pine tree will make its way down the 55 toward Fashion Island, where it will be adorned, admired and (erroneously) adored as the largest Christmas tree in the country.

Little tinsel horsies will cover the light posts around South Coast Plaza once again. Token menorahs will show up in random parking lots, placed by well-meaning retailers and politicians. Congestion on Imperial Highway by the Brea Mall will make commuters want to die. A light drizzle will stop all traffic from Santa Barbara to San Diego. Diedrich will transition from pumpkin lattes to a cinnamon concoction served in a festive cup, and the homeless woman on Laguna Canyon Road will put on her jacket.

These roadside wonders, these seasonal seismic (sometimes literally) shifts in the flow of daily life are every bit as real and reliable as any old dying tree branch.

So you can keep your fabulous foliage. You can keep your warm apple cider, your crackling fire and your itchy wool sweaters. I've got the splendor of the Southern California fall and winter right where it belongs -- outside my windshield.

Season's greetings.

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