Oops, I skipped a few. Pretend it’s July 18. I’m doing it right now. Mmm, so 18thy.
Because I’m a native, or maybe because my theories are the electrifying sort that touch both madness and genius, people ask me why Southern Californians are “like that.” You know what I mean, and if you don’t, you might be Southern Californian, but I’ll get to that.
For the last three days (or since it’s July 18: “For the next three days…”) a weird thundershower has moseyed across the hot, sunny afternoon. You’ll be doing something — say trying to cull your magazine collection because you’ve just taped up your TWENTIETH box of books and your New York apartment won’t even hold that many, only you can’t bear to part with four years’ worth of Bust Magazines because you might one day send a letter to your friend Crystal with odd cut-out photos glued to the envelope, and Bust has the best. Anyway, you’ll be doing, say, THAT, and then you’ll hear this general leafy commotion and will open the back door and, lo, It’s perfectly sunny…and raining! In sheets.
Only two years ago, it was the Summer of Our Discontent, over ninety days of triple-digit temps, no rain, and Rick Perry praying away the magical wildfires that DEFINITELY aren’t caused by his d-bag constituents tossing lit cigarettes out their car windows during a scorching drought. Freedom! Pewpewpew!
This summer has been just as crazysauce, but on the other end of the spectrum. Everything’s green and lush and happy and the cicadas just will not shut up about it. Everyone you meet comments on it, like they do when it’s extremely sucky — which it could be in another week. You never know. Last winter came and went so fast it didn’t freeze a single flea, but the winter before that it SNOWED. Remember that? For, like, an hour.
Which brings me to my eleventh love in Austin: the weather’s as crazy as a shithouse rat. It’s wild and unpredictable, and the small town churches have signs up saying “Pray for rain!” It beats us down, it humbles us, it makes us appreciate the auspiciousness of a good run, which can turn on its head like that.
If Southern Californians seem arrogant, blissed out, and out of touch with the rest of the country — or human bone structure, for that matter — it’s because an eternity of 76-degree-and-sunny weather stretches out before them, indistinguishable day after indistinguishable day. Everyone becomes Bill Murray in Groundhog’s Day, running their morals off of cliffs and into oncoming traffic, hoping to find the outer limits of this bizarre infinity.
Without a force mightier than divorce attorneys and plastic surgeons to humble them, people lose the connection between cause and effect. In the absence of wrathful weather, to what does a whole population adapt, together, at such a mortal level?
Hear me out, Californicators:
August 2005. I’m brand new in Austin and I get a contract job trying to locate all the Keller Williams Realtors in the Gulf. It’s one day since Katrina hit. There are about 700 agents affected across 20+ offices. Every last one of them — team leader and receptionist alike — as soon as they heard I was from HQ, would just start crying. What do you need? I’d ask them. God, they’d tell me, I don’t even know how to answer that. Depending on whether it was Biloxi or Mandeville, NOLA, or Houma, they’d either lost everything —
say, all of the Escrow paperwork on a house that the buyer now probably no longer wanted (if it even stood) and which was to be the agent’s source of income — or were doing okay but their community was ripped to shreds. I remember a woman telling me this sometime in late November: There are no trees, Erin. Anywhere.
Can you imagine what that would be like? Dependable giants like Target and Wal-Mart are even closed and flooded, looted and unavailable. Hungry? Just go through the drive-thru…of what? It’s gone because it took in 3 feet of fetid water, half of its employees are actually missing, and how did you drive there anyway when the one working gas station in your area has a line down the street?
How about a nice, hot McFML?
The company blazed through millions of its non-profit dollars and so we turned to our hundreds of offices nationwide to adopt specific agents (this was a brilliant idea, and should tell you what kind of fantastic, human-loving company Keller-Williams is to work for) and hold fundraisers for them. From Seattle to Charleston, the teams knew their adopted agent’s name, the state of their affairs, every member of their family and their clothing sizes. They were having holiday galas and auctions, and were sending boxes of clothes and gas cards, and were even offering them to come visit for a while….you name it. I was personally transformed by the care these people showed for strangers who just happened to work for the same company. (Again, I can’t kvell enough about the company’s culture, which was created and fiercely maintained by a lady from Norman, OK named Mo, of whom I do a pretty good impression.)
And then I called the office in my hometown, a lovely beach location where you can even grow tired of this sunset:
And do you know what the team leader there said to me when I asked about how things were coming for the agent we’d assigned them?
“Oh, is that still going on?”
Because the weather there is perfection in perpetuity, a frictionless circumstance where people are free to orbit each other at safe distances (except on the 405). Like water and pressure eventually rolls sand into an unyielding pearl, extreme weather forms a solid community. It’s a beautiful thing — maybe as beautiful as that sunset, and just as easy to take for granted. All of us sweating and freezing our asses off together, talking in a common tongue about how we’re going to get by.