There's something about Los Angeles these days that makes even the simplest things seem so awfully complicated. Take summer, for example.
There is nothing more prototypal Southern Californian than the three months that fall between the summer solstice and the autumnal equinox. Postcards, movies, television shows, pop music and guidebooks have captured, and usually exalted, this season of all seasons.
But this being a year of tough knocks for many of us--with riots, deadly earthquakes, torrential floods, soaring unemployment and a record number of homicides--it perhaps should come as no surprise that increasingly disagreeable people in this increasingly disagreeable city disagree on when summer actually ends.
Astronomically speaking, of course, summer officially ends Sept. 21, when the sun crosses the Equator and makes night and day of equal length. But we do not all map our lives according to the stars. Practically speaking, the Labor Day weekend has become the ritualistic end of summer--with cities closing their pools, colleges kicking off their football seasons and some schools starting the fall semester.
"The end of summer doesn't mean anything, really," insisted Jackie Wolfson, 24, a New Jersey transplant who spent Saturday sunning on Santa Monica Beach. "It seems like summer 365 days a year."
Well, not quite, politely but sternly opined Evelyln Brown, a retired medical clerk from Phoenix visiting her niece in La Crescenta. "It feels like fall in the air when you get up in the morning," said Brown, a frequent visitor, in town for the holiday weekend.
Siding with Brown are the area's ubiquitous retailers, clogging mailboxes with leaflets promoting "Summer End Clearances" and "Fall Preview Sales." At the Glendale Galleria, the parking garage was jammed with shoppers eager to capitalize on the promotions, even if there was disagreement over the "season end" claim.
"Shopping! Shopping! Shopping!" chanted one wide-eyed woman, too rushed to stop and talk about her thoughts on the summer's end.
For many parents, too, Labor Day weekend means fall has arrived--a time when they can head back out on the town. Tony Leisure, a parking valet in Beverly Hills, said business picks up at the finest restaurants after the kids have been sent off to boarding school or college. "Then parents start spending money on themselves again," he said hopefully.
But changing academic calendars and hard-sell merchants have left some children confused about when the summer actually ends.
At Santa Monica Beach, Charlene Maeder celebrated her 11th birthday with a dozen friends just days before the group reports to Westchester Lutheran Middle School for the start of classes. For Charlene, Labor Day weekend--and what she insists is the end of summer--could not come sooner. She got presents, a party, and the promise of a return trip to school.
"You get bored," she said. "School is something to do."
But for a group of kids from South Gate, talk of summer's end was quickly dismissed.
They arrived in a parking lot along Pacific Coast Highway in several vans and pickup trucks stuffed with bikes, umbrellas and hamburger buns. The convoy from a Spanish-language Mormon church in South Gate had been diverted from Imperial Beach, which was closed on Friday because of high bacteria levels in the water. Authorities reopened the four-mile stretch of coastline near Venice later Saturday.
Most of the 30 children attend public schools that have converted to year-round calendars, meaning the traditional summer vacation has become a "dinosaur," as one of them offered. About two-thirds of the 640,000 students in Los Angeles schools get one-week vacations during the summer, making up for the lost vacation time with a long break extending from mid-December to mid-February.
"It is still summer," reassured Milton Salas, 13.
Confusion over summer's end at the beach extends beyond beach-goers. The county officially pares its list of 600 seasonal lifeguards beginning next week, but summer parking rates--a hefty $7 on weekends--don't drop until November. And lifeguard Capt. Bob Buchanan said some weekend crowds in September and October easily exceed those in July and August, although Saturday's numbers were down because of the beach closures.
Mother Nature has further complicated matters. Average ocean temperatures this year were actually warmer in April than in much of August, lifeguards report, and the National Weather Service says September and October may bring air temperatures that are warmer than July and August.
"Unlike the rest of the country, the California coast has a climate that is described as Mediterranean," said meteorologist Bruce Entwistle. "It can be cooler in the summer, then in early autumn, often the hottest time of year comes. Temperatures in the 90s are not uncommon, neither in the 100s."