We haven’t had a good December cold snap like this in a few years. Thirty eight degrees just before sun up this morning and people are freaking. People from Buffalo and Chicago and NYC and Erie and Canada feel betrayed. I thought I left this at home they say. As if thirty eight degrees in December would even make the news back home. Southern California thins the blood, they’ll say. Those deep winter days hovering in the eighties will do it. People suffering through the Ice Age back east watch pretty young things in shorts marching in the Rose Parade, see all the short sleeves in the stands, the palm trees and flowers and all that warmth and before you know it the car is packed and they’re heading out here never to see snow again. Then comes arctic air. It slips uninvited down the coast all the way from Alaska and temperatures plummet and the mountains are white with snow almost to the bottom. Angelenos dig out heavy coats from the recesses of their closets, ladies buy stylish boots they’ll never wear again. People complain about the frigid temps all day long, and Jackie Johnson almost gets excited. Somebody downtown dies of exposure.
There was a cold snap a few years ago that took some of the valleys down into the high twenties….I remember I’d gone out to Sierra Madre to the Cafe 322 to catch some jazz. (Chuck Manning was playing tenor, maybe it was his quintet.) Afterward a few of us stood outside talking, all macho and freezing. Finally someone gave in and we made for our heated cars. As I drove home via the 210 the temperature kept dropping till it hovered at the freezing point. I decided I needed to go past that and keep driving till it got below thirty degrees. I headed up the Angeles Crest Highway into the mountains at midnight till the thermometer read 27 and the signs warned of black ice. On the way down the cold air seemed to refract the light in ways we never see down here in balmy southern California, and the city glittered like diamonds all the way to the Pacific. I pulled off and got out of the car and drank my coffee and all was utterly silent. Just me and the city and the arctic air. L.A. doesn’t do cold well, but it does it beautifully.
When I got home I wrote a long account of the night–the cold, the jazz, the black ice, the steaming coffee and the glittering diamonds. Even the music I was listening to in the car. I can’t remember what I was listening to now, or any of the details. I lost that story long ago. All I have now is this, a scant paragraph and a vision of what the city looked like from a couple thousand feet up, and how quiet it all was, hushed and brittle. At night I think maybe I should make that drive again up into the mountains to regain the details. The feel, the bite of the cold, the warmth of the coffee, the glittering diamonds of the city. The silence. But it’s so warm in the house, and there’s always a game on, or a movie, or music on the stereo or things to write. A book to read. Dessert. Whatever. And besides, maybe this time when I turned round way up there I wouldn’t see glittering diamonds at all. Just a big cold city, wishing it would warm the hell up.