The Snowcapped Mountains of L.A.

The San Gabriel Mountains Seen from Altadena

This has been the coldest winter I can remember since I first moved to Southern California in 1966. It has been wet, too—but not quite the wettest. That honor belongs to several winters in the 1970s and early 1980s, and most particularly the winter of 2004-2005.

As I drove to the Original Farmers Market at 3rd and Fairfax, I saw the peaks of the San Gabriel Mountains covered with a heavy mantle of snow. The mercury stood in the low 50s Fahrenheit (or low teens Celsius).

Southern California winters usually consist of periods of cold interspersed with several warm spells, where the temperature can go as high as the 80s and 90s Fahrenheit (or 30s Celsius). For the last few months, however, I have been wearing long-sleeves shirts, a wool vest or sweater, and a windbreaker. In December, my gas bill topped $365.00—a new record!

I feel sorry for tourists who come to L.A. to bask in the sunshine and spend some time tanning at the beach. They will likely encounter icy winds and blowing sand.

Cold Nights

Fall Has Finally Begun in Southern California

Even with global warming, there are cold nights in Southern California, usually beginning in October or November. That doesn’t mean there won’t be any torrid days during the winter: It’s just that they may be bookended between nights when the mercury descends into the 50s or even the 40s.

This presents a problem for Martine and me, because due to rent control, we are persona non grata to the owners of the apartment building in which we live. The owners would love to charge between $3,000 and $5,000 a month for our two-bedroom apartment, but by law they can’t unless they can convince us to move. Under “vacancy decontrol,” they can charge whatever they want from the next tenants.

As part of their policy, they do not readily respond to requests for building repairs. For instance, the wire connecting our thermostat to our gas heater is the original post World War II wire, so that sometimes our heater goes on, and sometimes we freeze. I am no electrician, so I would not venture to make the repairs myself.

This morning I called the apartment management company but have not heard back from them. This is very typical of our interaction with them. They can be counted on to do as little as possible, preferably nothing at all if they can get away with it. So I have to do a little dance, making sure that the wiring is replaced without giving the owners an excuse to get us out of here.

Middle Wigwam

The Hanover NH Cemetery

As a student at Dartmouth College in the mid 1960s, I spent four years in the second farthest dormitory from the center of campus. Why? It was one of three new dormitories, and many of the older dormitories didn’t appeal to me for various reasons. Initially, my dorm was called Middle Wigwam; then it changed its name to McLane Hall. God knows what it’s called now, as the college erected numerous other buildings in the immediate vicinity and called another building McLane Hall. I certainly hope that the McLanes are happy with that.

There were several problems about being so far from the center, which mostly became apparent in the fierce New Hampshire winter. First of all, the central heating plant was more than a mile away. When the temperature dipped down to -30° degrees Fahrenheit (-34° Celsius), it wasn’t particularly easy to heat the building. Fortunately, I had an electric blanket for those days when the mercury sank way below comfort level. We never needed a refrigerator most of the year: windows were festooned with gallon jugs of apple cider.

Secondly, in going to and from classes and meals, I had to take a long walk on a frequently icy (and in Spring slushy) Tuck Mall past the Hanover town cemetery, which at night was a scary experience. Many of the graves dated back to the 18th century and looked ominous from dusk on.

Baker Library (As It Was Called Then) at Dartmouth

In my college years, I was frequently sick with severe frontal headaches that made going to class or the dining hall a misery. It was only after I graduated that I found the cause: a benign tumor was growing in my pituitary gland and pressing on the optic nerve. I was basically a pretty unhealthy young man who was taking long walks every day during the school year. Of course, once I got to my classes or the dining hall, I hung out in the Baker Library (now the Baker-Berry Library) or the Hopkins Center or—that’s where my habit began—the Dartmouth Bookstore.

I was fortunate to have survived my college years. All the times I showed up to the student infirmary, I was told I had migraines or hay fever or some such—pure bosh! But then, in those early years, all they had to go on were X-Rays; and the pituitary, being directly in the center of the head, did not show up well on the X-Rays of the period. MRIs and CAT Scans were all in the future.

Even so, I enjoyed most of my time at Dartmouth. It was a beautiful place, with majestic elm trees all over the place. No more! And the college’s aggressive building program has destroyed much of the campus’s charm.

Frozen Assets

When one thinks of Southern California, one does not associate it with cold weather. As it turns out—despite all the global warming—in Los Angeles the mercury has dipped into the thirties and forties (roughly 0° to 10° Celsius) overnight.

And that’s when my apartment heater decided to die … three times, no less! Over the last six weeks, Martine and I have been enduring long spells of teeth-chattering cold.

Matters have been complicated by the fact that, because we are grandfathered in at low rent due to the City of Los Angeles’s rent control ordinance, it is to the advantage of the building owners to kick our frozen carcasses into the street so that they could start charging triple the rent to someone who does not mind living across the street from a homeless encampment.

I have hopes that our 75-year-old heater will continue to work, since the weather forecast for the rest of the month seems to be for cold nights throughout. I am sure that my next gas bill will be outrageous.

This time of year is usually pretty cold, but this year since to be the iciest December in decades. Santa Claus should feel right at home.