Don’t Go Here in August

Ruins of the Bank Building in Rhyolite, Nevada

In January 2008, Martine and I spent a few days in Death Valley. It is a totally fascinating place, surrounded by ghost towns (such as Rhyolite, above) and mining shafts. The fascination wears off somewhat if you should try to visit in the summer, as the rangers tell us that German tourists tend to do. When the thermometer hits 130° Fahrenheit (54° Celsius), tourism is secondary to survival. Crawling up the mountain pass of the Panamint Range, your car will pass several water tanks to replenish the fluid in your radiator. Should you not pay attention to your radiator temperature, you had best just pull over and crawl under your car with several gallons of water, preferably cool—at least to start with.

Death Valley was the site of my first ever camping trip, back in 1979. We made it to Furnace Creek campground after midnight. Too weary to pitch our tents, we just lay our sleeping bags over groundcloths and dropped off, only to be awakened by early by a overactive flock of birds that landed in the campground or circled above our heads. The desert was starkly beautiful, and I fell in love with it from the start.

Ubehebe Crater in the Northern Part of Death Valley

I got an altogether different picture of the desert around 1995. Martine was working at the Twentynine Palms Marine Combat Center as a civilian employee. I would visit her several times during the summer, when it was REALLY, REALLY hot. I had to use an oven mitt to open my car door, lest my hand merge with the handle. I don’t know how Martine stuck it out there as long as she did. Eventually, she quit and moved in with me.

Now my brother lives in the desert, in Palm Desert, to be exact. Of course, he has air conditioning and a swimming pool to take some of the sting out of the climate. But I will likely not visit him until the temperature cools.

 

It Never Lets Up

California Appears To Be A-Changing

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but there seems to be a serious discrepancy in weather forecasts, especially with regards to the duration of heat waves in the coastal area. A three-day heat wave was predicted for Zip 90025 beginning July 5 of this year. The first day of the heat wave was indeed a scorcher, with the mercury at nearby UCLA topping off at 111°, a new record. Then we were supposed to go down to the Seventies (Fahrenheit), but every day since then, for six weeks and counting it has been in the Nineties or, at the very least, in the high Eighties.

My apartment was built in another era when there used to be cool summers. Therefore, we have no insulation. We are on the top floor, and the roof superheats and makes the inside temperature 10-15 degrees warmer than the outside temperature until the middle of the night. I have slept atop the blankets for six weeks, burrowing under the covers in my sleep when it finally cools off.

What is worse, when it gets hot in Southern California during the early summer, the humidity is much higher than normal, making the heat feel more oppressive than the temperature reading. The reason is that, for the deserts of the Southwest, this is the rainy season, with monsoonal moisture coming up from Mexico and causing humidity and, in the deserts, rain.

Two or three days a week, I head for the Westfield Mall in Culver City to enjoy their air conditioning, read a book, and eat lunch. By the time I return home, around three or four in the afternoon, it is hot and muggy indoors. But at least I have had some comfort.

For those of you in the metric zone, here is a translation of the Fahrenheit readings mentioned in this post:

  • 111° F = 44° C
  • Seventies F = 21-26° C
  • Eighties F = 27-32° C
  • Nineties F = 32-37° C

My brother thinks that the weathermen deliberately underestimate the length of a heat wave just to keep people coming back to their news station for current updates. But then, why do that on the Internet, too?

 

At The Mall

The Westfield Mall in Culver City

As the heat of summer has descended on Los Angeles, I have increasingly been spending more time at the air-conditioned Westfield Mall in Culver City. There are places to sit and read, plenty of perfectly acceptable restaurants, and—very important to me—not a large number of smelly bums. Oh, did I sound not too terribly Progressive with that last line? Perhaps it’s because I¹m not 100% Progressive.(Especially as there is a bum encampment across the street from my apartment.)

If you think I should be ever so much more understanding than I appear to be, I urge you to see a 1932 French film director by Jean Renoir called Boudu Saved from Drowning (Boudu sauvé des eaux). A used bookseller played by Charles Granval rescues a tramp (played by the great Michel Simon) from drowning in the Seine. Out of a total lack of gratitude, Boudu opens a rare edition of Honoré de Balzac, spits in it, closes the book, and returns it to the shelf. If someone were to spit in one of my Balzacs, I would gladly perforate his spleen and any adjacent internal organs.

One interesting thing about sitting in a mall is the variety of people who pass by. It is incredible to me how many Americans are grossly overweight. Also, since the mall is located in Culver City, I am amazed by how many drop-dead gorgeous young African-American women there are. Also, at least during the day, people are unusually nice to one another.

Among the restaurants, there are some interesting Asian choices, such as Bibigo (Korean), Dot Saigon (Vietnamese), 101 Noodle Express (pan-Asian), and Panda Express (Gringo Chinese). If I wanted to go more upscale, there is an Oliver Garden and a Wokcano at the ground level.

Next week, the temperature is supposed to be particularly heinous (with temps going up as high as 108° F in the interior, probably higher given the unusual Southern California conservatism in predicting high heat).

 

In the Blast Furnace

I Am Dreading the Next Few Days

As a giant high pressure area is setting up over the Southwest, we are expecting two days of high nineties (36-37º Celsius). Although the weather forecasts show a ten degree drop for Sunday, I am predicting the heat will probably persist, as it is wont to do. Santa Ana weather conditions almost always last longer than predicted, sometimes even for weeks.

Oh, but then there’s always the ocean, no? Not in this case. The winds blow the heat and smog westward toward the ocean. Sometimes we can see the smog hovering a few miles off the shore, waiting to be blown back over Southern California. Not only is it ungodly hot at the beach, but one’s feet burn in the superheated sand. Not a pleasant experience?

What to do? I will try to find a movie I can see during the afternoon. My comfort will depend on the theater’s air-conditioning system remaining in good working order. As for our apartment, we have no air conditioning. If there is a power outage (and our little area is subject to at least one or two a year), I will just have to go to bed early.

There are two bad aspects to living in Southern California: heat waves and earthquakes.

Two Weeks of Triple-Digit Heat

Restaurant in Old Town Albuquerque

There was a good chance that this was going to happen—and it did! Each day we were in New Mexico, the thermometer went over 100º (Celsius 38º). I had been hoping that the summer thunderstorms would have started, but they couldn’t because of a gigantic and persistent high-pressure area over the Southwest. It didn’t exactly ruin our vacation, but it made us change our plans frequently. We tended to visit outdoor sights in the cool of the morning, reserving the afternoons for air-conditioned museums, if possible. Thus we couldn’t see the Very Large Array west of Socorro because it involved a 120-mile detour through the dread Jornada del Muerto (Journey of the Dead Man) Desert on a particularly fiery day.

But then, one should always take chance into account. I remember one trip to Yucatán in the 1980s when the temperature in Mérida was super hot and humid, such that I came down with some fever and chills. I called in a local doctor, who made a house call and cured me within a few hours. At that point, I resolved to get out of Mérida and fly to San Cristóbal de las Casas in the Sierra Madre Mountains, where the temp was quite bearable.

Another complication is that the one thing we could have done—namely, to seek higher ground in Colorado—was not an option because Martine started coming down with altitude sickness at around 7,500 feet altitude. So we had to go down to a lower elevation and higher temperatures.

Even so, I had a good time. I cannot say that Martine did. She continues to have a problem with a punched nerve in her back (which first manifested itself four years ago) and cannot get a good night’s sleep on a soft hotel mattress. We took an air mattress with us, but it turned out it could not hold air as one of the valves was broken.

The whole vacation was an exercise in how to survive in difficult situations without falling prey to negativity. The high points were our visits to the Smokey Bear village of Capitan; the UFO Museum in Roswell; the old cavalry station at Fort Stanton; and the town of Lincoln with its Billy the Kid associations. The low point was the steam train ride on the Cumbres & Toltec Railroad, during which the lurching of the cars led to spasms of pain affecting Martine’s pinched nerve.

Unaccustomed Cool Breezes

Burton W. Chace Park in Marina Del Rey

Burton W. Chace Park in Marina Del Rey

As the siege of hot, humid weather continues throughout Southern California—fed by moist monsoonal clouds from Mexico—it behooved me to find someplace where I could be cool. There is one odd little park in Marina Del Rey which is on a small peninsula surrounded on three sides by boat channels.

For some reason which I cannot understand, even on the hottest days of the year, a cool breeze is always blowing. On Sunday, Martine and I spent several hours there with Bill and Kathy Korn. Today I went by myself, taking a new Santa Monica Big Blue Bus line (the #16) that takes me from within three blocks of where I live to within three blocks of the park for a measly half dollar.

Once there, I found myself a bench in the shade and proceeded to read Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation by Laura Silber and Allan Little, and also parts of a Henry David Thorough essay called, simply, “Walking.” I had my earphone and MP3 player as well and enjoyed a concert of Peruvian folk music.

It was, altogether, a good afternoon. I must do it again a few more times this summer.

 

Lots of Heat—But No Power!

Three Power Outages in Two Days!

Three Power Outages in Two Days!

For the last several days, the mercury has topped 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The result? Southern California’s air conditioning habit has led to rolling blackouts. Last night, we were blacked out from eight to midnight. Today, the first blackout occurred around noon and lasted until 1:30 pm. The second outage we can only infer from the settings on our own electronics.

I have come to the conclusion that weather forecasts are like clickbait: They want you to keep tuning in. If there’s a 10% chance of rain, the forecasters will be beating the drums for rain. But it almost never occurs. But when we have a heat wave—which is far more common—the weather always says it will be getting cooler tomorrow. And it almost never does.  The weather is getting to be like the news, merely a form of entertainment, usually of dubious veracity.

Martine and I are wondering whether we should even bother buying food for the refrigerator until it does cool down. While we were driving back from seeing Everest (highly recommended, especially if you are suffering through a heat wave) at the Arclight Theater in Culver City, we noticed a stretch of several blocks just south of us which are blacked out, as well as two traffic lights that were dark.