As the song says about Kansas City, fall in the South Bay is a state of mind.
Unlike the respite offered the summer-scorched valleys inland, the presence of fall in the South Bay, close to the moderating effect of the ocean, is subtle.
To be sure, the keen observer can discern natural rhythms: Western gulls, which have pink legs and summer on South Bay beaches, are joined in September by their cousins, the California gulls, which have greenish-yellow legs and have spent the summer in the interior.
The yellow-rumped warbler flies in from forests in the Northwest beginning in the third week of September. From farther north--British Columbia and Alaska--comes the white-crowned sparrow. Monarch butterflies show up in increasing numbers.
Nights are a bit cooler. So is the surf. The winds, westerly off the ocean during much of the year, begin their vast wheeling shift to the north and east.
But for the most part--especially this year with its coolish summer and September without warming Santa Ana winds--fall is hard to perceive. The autumn reds and yellows of oak and maple are absent. There is no frost on the pumpkin or anywhere else. The temperatures are not much different from the summer. Last week's downpour notwithstanding, the rains of winter usually do not show up until well into the season.
Man-made events herald the onset of fall with a louder fanfare--the reopening of school, the run-up to the World Series, the feeding frenzy of politicians pursuing votes.
Not to denigrate national obsessions, but these constants of the calendar say little, if anything, about the South Bay and how it celebrates fall.
For that, a closer look is needed--at the beach, that defining element of Southern California culture, and at a farmers market, a relative newcomer to the South Bay scene.
The beaches that were packed during the summer are almost deserted now. "We drop back to a skeleton crew," said Lt. Tom Hargett of the Los Angeles County lifeguards.
Beach activities that were crowded out during the summer now--like sea gulls emboldened by empty sand--take over.
"Manhattan Beach is scheduling a 10-K run along the Strand from Rosecrans to the Manhattan Beach Pier," Hargett said. "If they did that in the summer, it would be too crowded." About 4,000 people have already entered the race, which will be held Saturday, he said.
One week ago, a group of beach neighbors from 4th and 5th streets in Manhattan Beach staged their ninth annual boogie-board contest for kids.
"We do have a lot of fun," said Lt. Bud McCamy, who is in charge of the rescue boat operation in Redondo Beach and who helped organize the competition.
McCamy, who cooks pancakes for all the entrants, said the beginning of fall is the perfect time for the event.
"We really couldn't do it during the summer because there are too many people around and a lot more surfers and it would be harder to control," he said. "If you went further into the winter, it would be too cold."
On Sept. 14, Cindy Cleveland, 31, a lifeguard, entered the Catalina Classic, a grueling paddle-board race from Santa Catalina Island to the buoy off the Palos Verdes Peninsula and then up to the Manhattan Pier.
She came in seventh in her class with a time of 7 hours, 23 minutes and 11 seconds. "It was great. I loved it," she said.
Wave conditions in September make the race possible.
"Conditions seem to get mellower," she said. "A lot of times, we have days where we have glassy water. There is a fall sky. It is hard to describe."
She likes the beach best in the fall, without so many people.
"It becomes a little bit like it is our beach again," she said.
Like a migrating gull, John, a 29-year-old man from Galesburg, Ill., was drawn to the vacant beach the other day.
John--he wouldn't give his last name--said he had been laid off from his job as a maintenance worker, got in his 1980 Toyota, drove west to look for work and was gathering his energies for a job search.
"I'm just taking a couple of days," he said, gazing at the horizon.
The weather puzzled John.
"This is fall, isn't it?" he asked. "This is more like summer to me. How long will the weather stay like this?"
With the apple harvest in, the Torrance Farmers Market staged an Apple Bake-Off this week in what organizers acknowledged good-naturedly, if a bit sheepishly, was a somewhat hokey imitation of a fall celebration in small-town America.
"This is really what we are striving for," said Rose Munoz. "It really is a quaint gathering."
"This looks more like Fresno," declared Mayor Katy Geissert, who was a judge.
"Apple Lovers!" the city's announcement reads, "Fall is here. . . . To celebrate this harvest season, join us for an APPLE BAKE-OFF. . . . This is a chance to show off your best apple recipe!"
Vance Merill-Corum, a direct marketing representative of the state Department of Food and Agriculture who was on hand to watch the festivities, said he was unaware of any other apple bake-off at any of the state's 100-some farmers markets.
The event, he said, made use of the current nostalgia for the wholesomeness of simpler days. In August, the Farmers Market, which seems to have a penchant for this sort of thing, held a watermelon seed spitting contest.
But Torrance, where city officials are proud of the city's aerospace firms and its role as a center for international trade, is no hick town.
"No, it isn't," said Mary Vampola, a senior recreation leader who was helping arrange the tarts, muffins, pies, strudel and cinnamon rolls.
One judge was Russ Nolte, decidedly not your average farm town resident.
Nolte, one of the organizers of the farmers market, which started in 1985, is a retired executive of the Aerospace Corp., where he was in charge of three satellite programs --"Two of them were classified, one of them was unclassified," he said.
The winner was Pam Deckett, who had baked a French apple tart.
After fall comes winter and the Farmers Market is ready. The signal that winter is due is a cookie exchange.