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.


Predicting Heat Waves

Southern California Has Been Sweltering

Southern California Has Been Sweltering

I dcon’t know why this is so, but whenever rain is predicted by the weather man, there is only a 30% chance we’ll ever see it. But if we’re in the middle of a heat wave, as we are now, whenever the weatherman predicts an early end to the heat, there is a greater than 80% chance that it will persist for at least several days more, or maybe even a week.

On Sunday, I worked with our network consultant installing a new server and workstations in our offices. Being the weekend, there was no air conditioning—it would have cost us $1,000 or more if we had requested it. It had something to do with paying building engineers overtime to turn the HVAC on and off. So we sweat our way through the job.

Eventually, it will cool down. Every day, the sun sets a minute or two earlier, meaning that there is ever so much less exposure in our uninsulated apartment to the searing heat which doesn’t seem to let up until 3 am or so. Martine and I set up fans all around our apartment to encourage to cool outside air to nullify the fetid heat radiating downward from the roof. It works moderately well, but still both of us have a hard time getting a good night’s sleep.


An Autumn Wonderland

The Farina Family Diner in Queechee, Vermont

As my vacation gets closer, I start daydreaming of being able to visit a beautiful country while being away from the constant pressures of work.It has been a hot several weeks in Los Angeles, capped off by the time we spent in a subtropical Hollywood during Labor Day Weekend. It would be a pleasure to not have to worry about the placement of fans in our uninsulated apartment at night. And then, by the time we return, it will start getting darker sooner—which means cooler nights and less heat build-up in the walls and attic.

I remember my four years as a student at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. It was around this time of year I would take the train and bus from Cleveland to Hanover, only to arrive in an autumn wonderland of cool weather, tangy apple cider, leaves turning colors, and a kind of crispness in the air that does not exist in Southern California.

Shown above is a place Martine and I stopped for lunch during our New England trip in 2005. (I hope it’s still there. The food, as I recall, was good.)

Another Change of Plan

Quebec City

Originally, Martine and I planned to take our Fall vacation in the American South, but then two things happened to make us change our minds:

  1. News kept hammering on a massive drought and heat wave throughout the entire area, with temperatures above 100° Fahrenheit almost every day. We didn’t like the idea of vacationing in a disaster area.
  2. Los Angeles was hit with a three-week heat wave (which, thankfully, has abated somewhat).

Then, Martine thought it would be nice to see her old friend Angéla Piquéras in Paris while she was still alive, but she was dismayed by the cost of doing so. (That was a pity, because I would have loved visiting France again.)

It was then that I suggested the Maritime Provinces of Canada. We had been in Nova Scotia briefly in 2008 and really enjoyed it. This time, we would, in addition to Nova Scotia, see parts of New Brunswick, Quebec, and Northern New England. We fly to Manchester, New Hampshire, rent a car there; see a couple of places in Vermont that we love; have breakfast at Polly’s Pancake Parlor in Sugar Hill, New Hampshire (the best breakfasts in all of Christendom); pay a short visit to Quebec City; take the St. John River Drive in New Brunswick and see the tides of the Bay of Fundy; visit Cap Breton National Park in Nova Scotia; swing south to Annapolis Royal; and return to Manchester via Acadia National Park in Maine.

Despite all the long miles, it would be a good trip—and it would be in an area where the weather would not scorch our hides. On the other hand, we are bound to have a few days of rain, but for Southern Californians like us, that would be a welcome novelty. We would make it a point to stay in as many French-Canadian-owned places as possible, so that Martine could keep up her French (she was born in Paris).

If you’re interested in seeing the 740-odd pictures from our last trip to Eastern Canada, you can click here and select the slideshow option on Yahoo! Flickr. You can even display my captions. By the way, here’s a picture of Polly’s Pancake Parlor from seven years ago:

(It’s really that good!)

Because I am an impossible bookworm, I am thinking of reading Francis Parkman’s great study of the French and Indian War, Montcalm and Wolfe, from my Kindle as I travel. Canadian history is interesting in that the United States is one of the great villains: We invaded Canada twice, during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. Both times, we were beaten back by the British. You may be interested in this website about Sir Isaac Brock, the always outnumbered, always outgunned British colonel who nonetheless frustrated two American invasions.