Saturday, April 15, 2006

The Sky is Falling

As part of my treatment for depression I try to stay busy and avoid being alone, even though I can't stand my own company. So I just finished five days with my oldest daughter and grandson Jacob, and am now visiting my two younger daughters in Long Beach, CA.

Yesterday I had to drive to San Diego for a doctor's appointment, about 100 miles from here, a two hour drive. After my appointment I stopped at Costco for my prescription, then got on the road about 1 PM. But I miscalculated. It was Good Friday and the last day before spring break for many students. But worst of all, it began to rain and rain hard. And nothing so paralyzes SoCal drivers as that strange liquid.

It took me four-and-a-half hours to get back to Long Beach, and I only narrowly avoided rear-ending several herky-jerky drivers who seemed driven by Brownian motion.

Now I used to write a regular column called "View from the Left Coast," but each of the three magazines that featured it eventually went belly-up. Either my column was a curse or this is simply a reflection of the instability of small presses, especially web publications. In any event, since my column on SoCal drivers in the rain is no longer available online (previously published in Savoy, I reprint it below.

I would happily write a column for an e-zine again but I would insist on being paid. Not a lot--just enough to make me feel like a real writer, not some cyberhackwhore who gives it away for free (as I do here!)

Here's the column:

The Sky is Falling!

With our annual rainfall around thirteen inches, the Los Angeles basin qualifies as a desert. Though our climate is labeled "Mediterranean," a low elevation hike in the foothills will quickly convince you by its spiny barrenness that this is a desert-- unless you prefer a jaunt downtown, where the traffic court building has huge planters filled with nothing but dirt. We survive by stealing water from Arizona and Northern California (see Chinatown), though desalinization plants (one is currently being tested on Catalina Island) will make all this moot in the future, given technology's exponential progress.

The Sons of Champlin sang: "Why Do People Run from the Rain?" In LA we don't. Instead we undergo mass paralysis. Freeways move slower than Mississippi mud. Millions call in sick. If "Nobody Walks in LA," then when it rains, we need a stronger pronoun than "nobody"— and "Mad dogs and Englishmen" has already been co-opted by the noonday sun.

Why, when it rains, do our freeways slow to the tempo of blood through plaque-filled coronaries? Our road surfaces are good, their drainage is good, there's really no reason to go less than 60 mph on the freeways when it rains. Yet magically, when it does rain, the freeways fill like seats for The Phantom of the Opera when Michael Crawford was still appearing.

Here's some possible reasons for this peculiarly LA phenomenon, something I've never witnessed in Houston or Seattle:

1) Braking in rain requires longer distances.
2) Water from puddles can impair brake function.
3) It's harder to see through rain.
4) A gray sky makes gray freeways treacherously indistinct.
5) People fear rain by force of unfamiliarity.
6) Not everyone has a SUV just yet.
7) Rain makes Angelenos mooningly homesick for their more temperate birthplaces, since anyone who lives here and was born here is a rarity.
8) Culture shock, or geographic/habitat dystonia, i.e., rain is natural, and LA, artificial.
9) The old man is snoring.
10) The spermatozoa-like rivulets on carnuba-waxed Jaguar hoods can be hypnotizing.
11) Leaking sun roofs and convertible tops.
12) Rain makes one concentrate too much on driving to employ a cell phone effectively.
13) All of the above.
14) None of the above.
15) #5, again. And again.

I asked my favorite California Highway Patrol contact, Officer Judy, to explain the phenomenon.

CE: Why is it that Angelenos go into paralysis when it rains?

OJ: Isn't it obvious?

CE: To you, perhaps.

OJ: We have a term for it.

CE: Yes?

OJ: Toxic Terrapinization.

CE: Huh?

OJ: Notice how each driver feels safe in their carapace, err…vehicle. They can see out the windows of their shell and proceed. When rain smears the windows people begin to lose faith in their vision and thus retract their heads and limbs, so to speak, and proceed at turtle speeds with their heads up their asses. Notice I didn't say tortoise, though perhaps I should, since the tortoise is a desert animal and rain in LA forces drivers into an unwanted state of evolution, back into their amphibious past.

CE: Are you sure it isn't because they can't use their cruise control settings?

OJ: Shit, those aren't any good on our freeways, anyway. Even at 2 A.M.

CE: But don't the windshield wipers help?

OJ: Oh, no, they make it worse. Most people don't know how to turn them on, and those who do are frightened by the noise. It reminds them of the score from Jaws, another aquatic nightmare.

CE: That's the silliest thing I've ever heard.

OJ: Sillier than a cop named "Judy," whose initials remind us all of a great friend of the force, or as we affectionately refer to him, “Bronco-Man?” Strange that grief over his murdered wife nearly drove him to suicide. Hey, you know if anyone’s picked up the reward yet? Rumor has it the killer had a limp and a bad arm.

CE: Oh, stop it. The Smothers Brothers show was canceled ages ago and hear I’m giving you a second chance for notoriety and you’re turning into a bore. What, did your mother contaminate your DNA sample, too?

OJ: No, actually, I think that was my dad. Or a sperm bank.

CE: No wonder they canceled the show, with lines like that.

OJ: Stop rubbing in the carnuba wax.

CE: Ouch!

OJ: As I was saying, the AQMB (Air Quality Management Board) has succeeded in reducing smog for over thirty years, I'll have you know, but they haven't made much headway with this other unwelcome toxin. As all well-informed Californians know, rain spoils the lettuce in our irrigated central valley, causes weeds to sprout in our planned communities, and forces the homeless inside, which frustrates do-gooders, and worst of all, it can ruin the crease in your chinos in a society where appearance is everything. Didn't you know most women under thirty iron their jeans?

CE: I uhh… no……

OJ: Rain is poison. We don't want it. We don't need it. The only people that benefit from the uninvited liquid are the owners of local ski resorts, but they have snow-making machines now so who needs it? Someday they may even progress to permanent synthetic snow, the kind which has successfully adorned Disneyland’s Matterhorn for fifty years. In short, rain is the enemy of the state. Mayor Yorty told me so himself.

CE: You don't look old enough to have known him.

OJ: Give me a break. I saw him on videos then met him through channeling, dufus. Where have you been?

CE: I like to read books and don’t believe in reincarnation, FYI.

OJ: God, you journalistic-literary types are so out of it. See, rain also interferes with our psychic reception, and that's big business. It's hard to get a clear reading from Mafu when it rains. Since a lot of people rely on channeling for automatic driving, so they can use their commute time to practice the saxophone or other important business, having their guidance severed is a crippling blow to transportation and commerce.

CE: So you're telling me that enough drivers depend on spirit guides that when rain impairs communication with the upper reaches, it affects traffic?

OJ: What planet did you say you were from? This is LA!

Per usual, Officer Judy proved a big help in understanding “Toxic Terrapinization.” I'm curious whether it affects Phoenix and San Diego similarly, but not curious enough to go down there and wait for a year just to see some real rain.

Thine in Truth and Rain,

C. E. Chaffin


  1. Anonymous10:23 AM PDT

    Did you have to pick the all renewing desert rain for an Easter topic?! How can a person maintain a decent depression with all that new life?
    OJ is my role model!

  2. :-) Happy Easter! We are having some rain and snow today. The yellow-rumped warblers are eating the thistles. Ummm

  3. I found your site very amusing. If you take a quick look at my website you'll know why.

  4. Thanks for posting, esp. Repack Rider. How did you know I was a dedicated fan of The Sons of Champlin, and that I knew, from the blue album (far inferior to the first double album), the song: "Why Do People Run from the Rain?"

    My brother actually saw the guys in concert at Elysian Park, LA, so I recall.

    Miracle of time capsular recall.

    Amazing! Thanks for the link.



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