Ah, the first day of May! A time to bask in the splendors of spring, a time for maypoles and little girls with flowers in their hair and (if you're into that sort of thing) observances of International Workers' Day.
Here in Southern California, we'd do well to bring some extra water no matter how we celebrate, since the temperature is forecast to reach 96 degrees in L.A. That's after highs of 90 Wednesday and 92 the day before.
In other words, it feels like winter again! In January, the Los Angeles Basin saw a winter heat wave, with temperatures topping out at 90 in some places. On Nov. 13, it was 92 downtown. That day I remember getting in the car after being parked at the Glendale Whole Foods for 10 minutes and seeing the dashboard thermometer register something like 107. It was all so cozy and autumnal.
Almost nothing is more tedious than complaining about the weather. I also know that compared to the "snowpocalypse" much of the rest of the country endured this winter, not to mention the tornadoes ripping through the Midwest and South this week, it's churlish to gripe about a hot steering wheel.
But I'm going to gripe nonetheless. I'm going to gripe on behalf of all the Angelenos for whom 90-plus degrees in winter and spring isn't part of the groovy California lifestyle as much as it's just a huge bummer. I'm going to gripe on behalf of those of us who do not live near the cool, breezy coast but in the sweltering lands east of the 405 and/or north of the Hollywood Hills (in other words, most places).
Because, let's face it: This weather is sick; it's wrong.
I'm not making this about climate change. While it's true the Earth is warming and that 2013 was the driest year on record in California and that the Sierra snowpack is a fraction of what it should be and that bears are sweating up their beds so much that they're coming out of hibernation early and stealing campers' kale chips, scientists remind us that weather does not equal climate. No single meteorological event, even drought on the scale the West is experiencing, can be attributed to climate change, except in the broadest terms.
But even though our drought and heat aren't necessarily signs that the world is ending, they have plenty of ravaging effects, and not just on our ecosystem. They are threatening the primary calling card of the Southern California mythos: the promise of year-round mild temperatures.
Like a physically beautiful but otherwise rather dull person who trades on his or her looks, Southern California swings perpetually between a profound inferiority complex and an equally profound sense of entitlement. The inferiority comes from its reputation, warranted or not, for a certain ... vapidity. The entitlement comes from being a total knockout in the weather department.
In Southern California, 78 degrees and sunny as a year-round condition has long been the equivalent of having a killer body. It made up for any number of shortcomings. It's what we still trot out whenever outsiders take the predictable potshots at our traffic and crappy bagels.
But beauty fades, of course. And it could be that our weather dominance is on the way out too, or at least taking a hiatus until the high-pressure system known as the "ridiculously resilient ridge" finally moves on — which scientists say could take years.
That's almost as depressing as getting older. But just as getting older forces us to appreciate our less superficial qualities, maybe loosening the grip on our weather superiority could actually be healthy for Southern California. Because the truth is we've always had more going for us than just being 78 degrees all the time. We have excellent bookstores and fantastic food and dynamic people and spectacular late-afternoon light that looks magical no matter what the temperature is. We have the mountains and the ocean. We have a disproportionate number of doughnut shops and marijuana dispensaries — two things that happen to complement each other quite nicely.
But the first step toward accepting reality is defeating denial, which, when it comes to weather, means complaining, without shame or apology. That's why I say let's give ourselves license, if only until it drops below 90, to gripe with abandon. Because this May Day feels more like mayday. Or, worse, November.