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Commentary : It Will Be a Cold Day When San Diegans Tell Truth About Weather

February 05, 1989|JENNY J. CANTOR | Jenny J. Cantor is a free-lance writer who lives in San Carlos

It was cold, so cold that Saturday night we slept in jogging suits and thick, wool socks. Out on the patio, the plants we forgot to take in turned black from the frost. The next morning it was a long, cold run down the driveway to pick up the Sunday paper, and it was not much warmer in our kitchen. We huddled at the breakfast table, clutching mugs of hot tea in one hand, turning the pages of the newspaper with the other.

Something in the magazine supplement caught my attention. "Listen," I said. "Listen to this." I read a description of our winter weather: In a semitropical climate where January sometimes feels like July . . . and passed around the picture of a pretty model in a sleeveless, white, linen dress.

The age-old myth persists: Southern California is a winter wonderland of near-tropical temperatures, balmy nights, and soft, gentle breezes wafting through the fronds of the palm trees--a myth that moves along year after year fueled by the bald-faced lies told by you and me.

I learned how to tell them at my daddy's knee. Forty years ago, Midwestern relatives would telephone to complain about the icy winds that blew drifts of snow against their homes, sending heating costs soaring. My parents would sympathize, say all the right words and then tell San Diego's biggest seasonal lie: Heat? Here? We haven't turned ours on at all this year.

No one ever told those relatives about the cold mornings when we argued--in those days before automatic thermostats--over who would get out of bed first to turn on the heat-we-never-used.

Today I continue to keep the myth alive. I can complain to my neighbor of how cold my feet become and of how often my toes turn blue, but I will not speak of it to outsiders.

When Dan calls from Kansas City to complain of chilblain and frostbite, I counter with a sad story of sunscreen rash . . . and touch the tip of my nose to see if, like Pinocchio's, it grew.

When Julie in Sioux Falls moans about the cost of a winter coat, I say all the right words in sympathy but add, "We rarely wear wool out here," and check the length of my nose once again.

Each of us does it. In the middle of a record cold snap the Los Angeles Times writes "semitropical weather." Travel brochures are illustrated with full-color pictures of bikini-clad women on the beach. Hotel advertising features couples tanning side-by-side on chaise longues while sipping tall, cool drinks. To the tourists who believed the brochures, who walk the zoo in shorts, sandals and midriff-length T-shirts asking why it is 57 not 75 degrees, each of us answers, "Just a fluke. It's sure to warm up tomorrow."

Warm up to what? To 59 degrees?

I imagine the myth began when San Diego was a small town far from the hurly-burly of Los Angeles and the bigger cities to the east; at a time when local boosters thought they had nothing to boast of and developers thought they had nothing to sell but good weather and a zoo.

The myth continues because San Diegans now have nothing but the weather to boast about. The zoo is touched by scandal. Sea World is too. Our beaches are often closed by pollution. Smog is in our air. Homeless live on our streets. We have crooked politicians, violent and white-collar crime. We are no longer America's Finest City but the meth capital of the United States.

Everything we could boast of, including the weather, has let us down. But the weather is capricious. Today's bitter cold may be a fluke. Tomorrow? Tomorrow it might be 75 degrees. So, just as the newspapers, the advertisements, and other San Diegans do, I continue to fudge the truth.

When Lee from Omaha sighs and says over the telephone, "I suppose you're all set for a dip in the pool?" I answer back, "You bet."

I never confess that morning attire in my kitchen is the long underwear that was bought to be worn on a ski trip.

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