When summer temperatures soar in the San Fernando Valley, a workday can turn into a test of tolerance. There is an antidote, of course: it's called air conditioning. But what about those people who must toil without benefit of electric cooling, people who work outside under the omnipresent sun?
They must face summer's daily possibility of triple-digit temperatures. The average high for a Valley summer day is about 95 degrees, according to Al Chen, a meteorologist at the National Climatic Data Center, in Asheville, N.C. The highest temperature ever registered in the Valley was 113 in 1971.
"The Valley is usually 10 to 15 degrees warmer than in Los Angeles," said George McKillop, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Los Angeles.
McKillop said the winds aren't strong enough to bring the cooling ocean air to the Valley. The air is also blocked by coastal ranges, he said.
How do people who work outside in the Valley keep their cool? What follows are the stories of five--a mailman, a painter, a lifeguard, a maintenance worker and a mechanic--who have learned to cope with the heat.
Ed Ramirez, 31, is accustomed to heat. His stint in the U.S. Army included six months in Panama, which he said makes the Valley seem frigid.
As a sergeant, Ramirez took a course called "jungle training," in which he learned to survive in extreme heat. That course prepared him well for his current career. Ramirez is a mailman.
He works different routes in Chatsworth, frequently walking four or five hours a day. "You don't want to walk too fast," said Ramirez, who lives in Sylmar. "You can get a sunstroke real easy." But he does move at a brisk, disciplined pace.
Ramirez dresses for survival. He wears a long-sleeved shirt, shorts, black nylon socks and black leather shoes, an outfit that, he said, is comfortable and cool. "People in the office think I'm crazy for wearing a long-sleeved shirt, but it keeps the sunlight away." So do his hat and sunglasses.
To avoid heat cramps, Ramirez skips a late-morning lunch and waits to eat until he finishes his long route. He keeps two liters of water in his mail truck, which is also equipped with a fan. Half of the water is gone in the first two hours.
But heat isn't Ramirez's biggest concern. Dogs are. Walking carefully, Ramirez peers around every corner of each house, wary of a canine attack. He carries dog repellent just in case, though he has never had to use it. On a recent day, Ramirez didn't proceed to one front door when he spotted a noisy husky. "I don't know that dog," he explained.
But no matter how hot it gets, Ramirez says delivering the mail beats being inside. "I used to work in a factory all day," he said, "and just looking at four walls for 10 to 12 hours a day will make you go crazy."
Klaus Roerich, 49, has spent his life in the paint business. At 11, he started working part-time at a paint store in East Berlin, advancing to apprentice at 14. The Valley's blazing temperatures don't faze him because he knows what nice weather means to his livelihood. "In Germany, you could only paint during the three summer months because it was so cold. Here, you can paint all year."
And he does. Although he owns his own company in Van Nuys and can delegate work to others, Roerich said he enjoys hard physical labor. He paints at least three days a week, working on an apartment complex, a condominium, or a private home. He's experienced enough to have a strategy for the sweltering heat.
"As a painter, if you stay in the sun for too long, you're dead by noon," said Roerich, who lives in Van Nuys. "You're too exposed."
Roerich tries to outsmart the sun by "running around it." He starts to work in the shade and moves rapidly, always staying one step ahead of the encroaching sunlight. Or he'll wait until the building blocks out the sun for just the time he needs. Fortunately, he said, many of his jobs offer this protection.
Roerich hates to paint inside. "The smell outside doesn't kill you like it does inside. It mixes better with the air."
He is more tolerant of the heat than when he arrived in the Valley in 1965. "I didn't think I'd be able to handle it, but it isn't that bad. I wouldn't want to be back in Germany, that's for sure. It snows there."
"Believe it or not, I don't like being in the sun," said Dena Stevenson, trying to keep from laughing. "I'm very susceptible to it.
"Every time you turn around, you hear something about skin cancer. I'm very worried about it."
For someone not enamored with sunlight, Stevenson, 24, of North Hollywood, spends a lot of time in it. As manager and lifeguard at a Granada Hills swimming pool run by the city of Los Angeles, she is outdoors all day. This is her eighth summer working at Los Angeles pools, and probably not her last.
She enjoys teaching swimming, and being around youngsters. But she works at warding off the sun.