Essays & Images on Cities, Travel and Contemporary Culture. A web journal of James A. Clapp, Ph.D., an UrbisMedia Ltd. Production

Vol.3.7: Climate and Politics

It’s that time of the year again. Yes, Christmas,Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, and all that. But also Bowl Games. Bowl games, particularly the Rose Bowl, instantly evoke a reverie of lying on the floor of my parents’ living room back in Rochester, New York in the 1950s, the furnace blazing and frosting the windows as a blizzard raged outside. My brother and I would be amazed that the people in the stands at the Rose Bowl were in shirt sleeves and shorts, with sunglasses on their tanned faces. I had little notion then that one day I would be living where people put Christmas lights on palm trees and Santa Clauses keeled over from heat prostration. But even such salubrious climes have not erased a seasonal nostalgia for those frosted windows, and I become a bit of the East Coast chauvinist when Southern California newscasters get a bit too boastful about meteorological conditions. I took some pleasure in a vengeful radio essay I wrote and aired in 1987.

Sunglasses, Montevideo, Uruguay, © 1998. J.A. Clapp

Sunglasses, Montevideo, Uruguay, © 1998. J.A. Clapp

Environmental Chauvinism

Immigrants to San Diego — that is, “naturalized” as opposed to “native” San Diegans — have often seemed to me polarized around extremes of attitudes towards their new city: either falling hopelessly in love with their new found earthly nirvana, or adopting the cynical attitude of lovers who have lost. There are, of course, hues and shades in between; but the latter cohort, among which I spent a protracted period of time in my early years here, is often driven to their cynicism by such vexing blandishments as “Don’tcha just love it here,” or “how could you ever go back East” (the emphasis upon “back” carrying a connotation equivalent to a devolution into primeval slime).

The most strident chanters of these chauvinistic mantras appear to be recent immigrants themselves, who apparently feel that they must daily testify a loyalty oath to San Diego out of fear that they might be forcefully repatriated to Newark or Buffalo. As might be expected, this chauvinistic fervor ebbs and flows with the seasons; however, it appears that only “native” San Diegans are capable of determining the subtle climatic changes that represent “seasons” in San Diego. How, then, do we immigrants determine the change of seasons in San Diego? Primarily through newsreel footage of hapless Midwesterners and Eastcoasters struggling through their annual floods and blizzards.

And this brings me to the motivation for my theme: that perennial weather spot on the local evening TV news that gloats over the misadventures of unfortunate non-San Diegans with the rain, sleet, and snow of their less-blessed environments. Typically, the banter among the newspersons of any local station goes as follows:

WEATHERMAN: Old Man Winter has arrived early this year in the Great Lakes region, dumping 15 inches of snow in 8 hours in sub-zero temperatures. [Footage of blizzard in Erie, Pa.; people shoveling snow, cars in multiple accidents, little old lady falling on icy sidewalk. Weatherman, almost chuckling, continues:] Power has been out in 3000 homes, a home for the aged has been evacuated, and local authorities believe that schools might be closed for weeks, as the weather is expected to worsen, with no end in sight.

ANCHORMAN: No end in sight is right. Those people can’t even see two feet in front of their faces in that blizzard. [Followed by his broadcasting school chuckle.] 

WEATHERMAN: Well, here’s how some of us San Diegans spent the day. [Footage of people sunning themselves on beaches, people playing golf, sailing and jogging.]

ANCHORWOMAN: I say a prayer every day that I’m in San Diego. To think that just a few years ago I was struggling to chip my car out of a block of ice in Cleveland. Brrrrr . . . ! [She exclaims, shaking her sprayed broadcaster-bouffant hairdo.]

WEATHERMAN [smirking]: Let’s be careful now, or we’re going to have all those frozen people coming to “America’s Finest City” to thaw out and spoil our little paradise in the sun. Speaking of which, paradise is expected to continue for the next several weeks, with temperatures in the mid-80s, cloudless skies, and . . . well . . . you know . . . [end of weather report]

There is, of course, nothing intrinsically wrong with boasting about the weather. But since the saying goes that one can’t do anything about the weather; a corollary might be that one can’t take any credit for how good the weather is, or blame for how bad it might be. Adopting a somewhat superior attitude about the weather in your city seems therefore a rather hollow boast, and may even disguise an underlying sense of inferiority.

Now I think there may be an underlying reason for the news turning to “don’t we have the world’s best weather format”: that is, the local news hasn’t been anything to rave about when we turn to the social and political climate of San Diego. With a mayor and a councilman recently convicted of illegal campaign practices and use of city funds respectively, the police chief admitting using his influence to fix tickets for friends and family, several major banking and financial and banking figures convicted or indicted for fraud, and with rising rates in several crime categories, the weather seems about the only thing left of San Diego’s heretofore charmed life.

Still, when your aunt Hortense calls from frosty Buffalo after seeing the latest San Diego public or financial official trotted out on the national news for this or that malfeasance at least you can say: “Yea, but did you see the tan on that guy!”*

©1987, ©2003, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 12.17.2003)

* While the political malfeasances of 1987 are long gone, they have been replenished by the current local scandal of three Councilmen who are under Federal indictment for taking “contributions” for a local strip club owner in return for attempting to change the legal proscriptions against “lap dancing.”
Aired KPBS-FM, Public Radio, January 12, 1987