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Keep Your Cool : A few do's and don'ts for beating the heat during those stifling, smoggy days of summer.


Is it the molten surface of the sun? Or North Hollywood?

Summer has arrived, and once again the San Fernando Valley is transformed into a hellish pit of despair.

Miles of pavement bake in the sun, all those cul-de- sacs and strip-mall parking lots heating like embers. The smog is so thick you can taste it. Desert winds occasionally blow in from the Mojave, breaking this monotony by making everyone itchy and irritable. The rest of the time, the Valley is left to baste in its own heat and exhaust.

Use sunscreen, experts say. Change your antifreeze.

They don't understand. It's a war out there and conventional weapons won't do the trick.

So here is some strategy to stay out of the heat and survive until October.

DON'T: Go anywhere near the Backdraft attraction at Universal Studios. They lure you into an air-conditioned movie set, a fake factory with oil drums and forklifts, just like the climactic scene of Ron Howard's 1991 film. The air is dank.

But quicker than you can scream "Fire!" the place bursts into an inferno. Flames spread across the floor and explosions mushroom toward the ceiling. All of this is special effects, of course. But there's nothing phony about the 110-degree gusts. It's like holding your face too close to the campfire.

"It's very, very hot," said Wim Lannoo, who was on vacation from Belgium. Lannoo and his brother were having a tough enough time adapting to the climate. "We have a swim and take showers," he said.

"We try to stay cool," Bram Lannoo added.

Strolling into a flaming warehouse wasn't what they had in mind.

DO: Visit your local community pool. As far as Michael Inez and his buddies are concerned, the higher the temperature, the better.

"When it gets hot," Inez explained, offering an 11-year-old's logic, "we get to swim."

Mark Reyes, 10, nodded in solemn agreement. "We swim every day."

At noon on a recent Thursday, the boys were perfecting their cannonball dives at the Paxton Recreation Center in Pacoima, where the pool water registered 20 degrees cooler than the air. What about people who work and can't partake of such chlorinated merriment, the youngsters were asked. They smirked. It was obviously a dumb question.

"Then you go home and run through the sprinklers," Inez explained.

Can't argue with that.

DON'T: Order the tacos at the La Fondita lunch truck near Laurel Canyon and Van Nuys boulevards.

An awning hangs off the side of the truck, providing shade for several folding chairs. And Antonio Garibay, working behind the counter, serves icy cups of horchata.

But he also pours a spicy green tomatillo sauce over the carne asada. After a few bites, you're sure to break a sweat. That's why business drops whenever the temperature rises.

"The problem is," Garibay explained, "the chilies are even hotter."

DO: Run for the freezer or meat section of the nearest grocery store. In Mission Hills, at the Hughes Market, they keep the pork loin chops at a brisk 46 degrees.

"This is the best place to be," said Lura Perkins, whose nearby apartment does not provide the luxury of central air-conditioning. During summer, she plans her shopping trips for the hottest part of the day.

There is, however, a disadvantage to this strategy.

"When I get home and it's stifling hot," Perkins said, "I don't want to cook anything I've bought."

DON'T: Take a few laps at the Malibu Grand Prix in Northridge. By 2 p.m., the temperature can reach 120 degrees at trackside (according to The Times' official $7 plastic thermometer). Squeeze into a crash helmet and breathe in some exhaust fumes to complete the afternoon torture.

Assistant manager Mick Spray says most racers don't take to the track until after sundown. During the day, they stay inside to play video games in climate-controlled comfort.

Those who aren't so prudent are likely to stumble away soaked in sweat and suffering from irreparable helmet hair.

DO: Go ice skating. It's even better than the supermarket because--like a flank steak--you get to lie on the ice.

However, the kids at the Ice-O-Plex in North Hills didn't quite grasp that theory on a recent afternoon. Taking part in a hockey camp, they skated endless circles and loops around the rink while being yelled at by former Los Angeles Kings player Jim Fox. After a couple hours of this, the players emerged sweating and exhausted from beneath layers of protective pads.

The speed sprints got to Mitch Sabo, 7, of Woodland Hills. "You have to skate across the rink like four times," he said. So what was he going to do to cool off? "Go to bed," he said.

Parents, on the other hand, sat rink-side in 56-degree air, exerting no more effort than it took to point a video camera. The wisdom of age.

DON'T: Use the drive-through window for any fast-food restaurant, bank or photo hut.

"On a hot day, you're heating up your engine," said Jeffrey Spring, a spokesman for the Automobile Club of Southern California. "If you're not moving, it's not getting cooled by the air and the engine's cooling system isn't operating at maximum efficiency."

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