WASHINGTON — 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.