I grew up in northern California. We never had seasons, exactly, but we had what we called weather -- some rainstorms, fog, high winds and even a little snow one enchanted winter morning.
Those brushes with nature gave us a certain arrogance, particularly when we compared ourselves with cousins in southern California, whose brains and hearts we thought had been softened by endless sunshine.
Now transplanted to the south of California, I was thinking about this recently while I sat in my car and watched the Santa Monica Freeway came to a grinding halt because of a slight spring drizzle. A 12-lane highway turned into an unmoving river of multicolored steel. I had seen Washington traffic freeze up at the mere mention of a snowflake, but this was ridiculous.
That obsession with a bit of rain reveals a fundamental truth about the psychology of Southern California, a mix of hubris and naivete that affects everyone who lives here. A study of five months' issues of the Los Angeles Times in 1977 revealed that the paper had more weather stories on its front page than any other major newspaper in the country, even though the survey took place when the eastern United States was suffering one of its worst winters.
This intrigued the Times' media critic and correspondent, David Shaw. He wrote a lengthy and insightful story about weather reporting that included puzzled remarks from Times reporters about the paper's -- and the area's -- weather fixation.
Some attributed it to Times-Mirror chairman Otis Chandler's love for surfing and auto racing, among other sports. Times editor William F. Thomas, who likes to play golf, said he liked a weather story because "it's the only story every single person who reads the paper has in common."
That, of course, is only a clever rationalization. Southern Californians, even newly-minted ones like me, simply like to reveal in our good fortune. We enjoy not only our own sunny weather -- with a few brown splotches now and then -- but also like to hear about the misfortunes of our cousins battling blizzards and hurricanes back East. I enjoyed it when a colleague from The Post, a long-time easterner, came out this winter to cover President-elect Reagan. Sitting and talking in his shirtsleeves, he pondered long and hard over the possible effects of perpetual sunshine on the psyche of the new administration, and I agreed that a certain mindless optimism seemed to grow well in such a climate.
But after a while it gets to be too much, which is why westerners like the president like to travel to the East occasionally or at least read about eastern weather. The Los Angeles Times has a new expanded weather page, complete with satellite photos, but two recent satellite photo captions display the problem:
"This Thursday satellite photo held no surprises for the Southland. High pressure continued to lie off the coast."
"The [Friday] Southland weather is much the same, except that there is more of it."
The editor of one small suburban Los Angeles paper found this so monotonous that he once published the following weather story, which said simply: "Hebrews 13:8."
A look at the New Testament reveals this passage: "Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever."