On summer days in the San Fernando Valley, when the car's a sauna and the body's on fire, the fried and frustrated seek their best friend.
Any form, any place, any time. Anything to escape the merciless triple-digit temperatures and humbling humidity.
So where does one go to get wet in the Valley?
"The pool," says Charles James, aquatics supervisor for Valley Region Aquatics, run by the Los Angeles City Recreation and Parks Department. "We've got plenty of pools, and we get a lot of people."
Many pools. No lakes.
"There are a number of inner-city lakes in Los Angeles," James said, "but none in the Valley."
Things used to be different. Hansen Dam Park, for instance, once featured a 130-acre lake for boating, fishing and swimming. In 1980, however, floods carried in millions of tons of sand, which virtually filled the lake. There are still hopes of creating a recreational lake at the site.
But what about the isolated little pond, where restless youths can dive in at all hours?
"We're probably better off without them," James said. "From a safety standpoint, that's dangerous. You can have people drown."
There is a duck pond at Reseda Park that somewhat fits that description, but it's not really conducive to swimming, James said.
Not surprisingly, most people in the Valley bypass the public facilities, and stick to their own back yards. Why not? Why travel--maybe even walk somewhere -- when you or your neighbor has a pool? Really, doesn't everyone?
"It certainly seems that way," said Bernard Zimring, co-owner of Aquatic Pools in Sherman Oaks, which builds residential pools. "If you fly over the Valley, you see blue everywhere."
Zimring estimates that there are 30,000 swimming pools in the Valley. On a typical day last week, his business received five phone calls from residents interested in building new pools. "That's the way things are here, especially in the summer."
But there also are many public pools in the Valley. Besides city-owned pools, the county, the YMCA, and the West Valley Jewish Community Center hold frequent recreational swimming.
The county has two pools, one in Sylmar and one in Granada Hills. The YMCA has three--in Reseda, North Hollywood, and Van Nuys. The hours and fees vary. The Jewish Community Center in West Hills offers a variety of classes.
For Valley youths who prefer the beach, but aren't old enough to drive, the county provides a special bus.
"Man, I was burning hot," said Paul Anderson, 15, of Woodland Hills, after boarding the bus from the Valley to the beach. "If I had to hitchhike to the beach, I'd fry."
Paul boarded the bus at Mulholland Drive and Topanga Canyon Boulevard, accompanied by an army of other teen-agers. They climbed aboard in beach attire--T-shirts, shorts and sandals--carrying suntan lotion, towels, fruit and Diet Cokes. No radios. They get too messy in the sand.
Some of the guys took a bit longer, slowly lugging their surfboards along for the ride. "I couldn't come down here without that," Paul said.
The county runs the yellow school bus four times daily, Monday through Saturday. It leaves Parkway Calabasas and Calabasas Road at 9:10 a.m., 11:10 a.m., 2:10 p.m., and 4:10 p.m, and arrives 50 minutes later at Sunset Boulevard and Pacific Coast Highway.
Heading south down Topanga Canyon, it stops at Mulholland, Entrado, Fernwood Pacific drives, and Pacific Coast Highway. The fare is 50 cents for adults, and 20 cents for senior citizens and students 21 and under. It will continue through Sept. 3.
Bus Helps Teen-Agers
The bus is a godsend for many Valley youth. "We used to only be able to go to the beach when it was convenient for our parents to take us," said Amanda Shaffer, 15, of Woodland Hills.
By the time the trip ends, even before they've gotten wet, the happy teens have accomplished their mission. "We left and we were burning up, and now it's so cool out," Amanda said.
For those who must remain within the Valley's borders, Al Chen, a meteorologist with the National Climactic Data Center in Asheville, N.C., has bad news: The average amount of rainfall in the San Fernando Valley in July over the past three decades is zero. August and September are only marginally better, at .15 and .16 inches per month, respectively. Temperatures of 90 degrees also are the norm during those three months.
If the beach is too far and the pool unaccessible, there's always the nearest Toys R Us. They have a solution, and it costs just 89 cents.
They call it a water gun.