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Sun Dialogue 

A couple of hotheads take on summer’s wily charms

Wednesday, May 26 1999
Illustration by TL Ary

In our collective unconscious, summer is a sweet, endless, carefree affair. Its days are spent in irresponsible abandon, pursuing hot outdoor pleasures with nary a thought of responsibilities, appointments, deadlines. Hell, who even wears a watch from May till August? This is the season for flipping the bird to schedules and routines, slipping into 9-year-old mode: barefoot, munching on a corndog, hair green from chlorine. Summer is warm nights of dancing on the beach, swilling pink margaritas, being swept off our feet by some bronzed stranger who makes love to us in a room soaked in moonlight as chiffon curtains flutter in the tepid breeze.

Reality check: When was the last time you had three months off? Danced on a beach drinking a multicolored alcoholic beverage? What’s the big deal about summer for those of us who actually work and live in L.A.?

Although we haven’t exactly been hibernating all winter, something is different. We’re not puffing into the morning cold, watching our breath mingle with the chilly mist. Instead, we’re greeted by a blazing, dry heat when we escape the office for lunch. Our faces are a shade darker, or redder, our sunroofs open, windows down. We get an iced latte in the late afternoon to celebrate longer days.

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Paradise Found

That’s why all those tourists leave their drizzly homes and come here, right? To have a few overpriced days of what we get for free. Last year, some 24 million tourists visited us; one-third of them came in the summer months.

They come here for all of the things that connote summer paradise — sand, warm weather and palm trees galore. In fact, the palms that thrive here naturally — the ones we take for granted — are coveted in colder climes. One Web site devoted solely to the palm joyfully displays those trees that, with proper care, can miraculously survive in cold-winter climates like Washington, D.C., offering the paradise seeker a taste of the tropics in her own freezing back yard.

The site, titled "Hardy Palm Trees and Ferns around D.C.," measures the "hardiness" factor of certain palms, such as the Needle Palm, which "is said to have withstood as low as –20°F," despite the common winter damage of browning of the tips and spears. With a heavy mulch covering and "protected exposure," these palms can live in places like New Jersey, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania. So while East Coasters may sip steaming hot chocolate and gaze longingly through a frosted window at a lone palm clinging to life, we in L.A. seem to live a charmed existence.

Preview Travel is one of many companies selling L.A. as a summer paradise. "L.A.’s combination of sun, sand and 72 miles of gorgeous coastline stirs flights of fancy," it claims, encouragingly.

Not without takers. Some of the most desirable hotel rooms are those with the easiest beach access. The Shangri-La Hotel in Santa Monica, where all of the rooms have ocean views, has a 90 percent occupancy rate year-round, according to manager Dino Nanni. But Nanni says it’s hardest to get a reservation in July and August — be prepared to book at least a month in advance for that well-deserved summer vacation.

Right. If you’re an employee in a medium or large private company, you’ve got an average of 9.6 days of annual vacation to work with — if, that is, you’re one of those 79 percent of American workers who get any paid vacation at all. If you’re the loyal type and have been around, say, 20 years, you can expect 20.3 days. A day for every year you’ve slaved away . . .

Weather or Not

Save those precious days for the summer months, then, when L.A.’s favors are best enjoyed, whether for a weekend getaway or a weeklong escape. The winters are foggy, the weather unpredictable. Low temperatures in L.A. typically hover around 45 degrees on January nights. In the summer, though, they can be in the 60s. It’s the difference between a wool coat and a skimpy sweater.

Weather professionals say that Southern California does have seasons, contrary to what some might think. "Sometimes they’re hard to tell apart," says Miguel Miller, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. "Winter is cool, but mild and rather wet." Not your typical tropical paradise. In fact, according to Miller, Southern California does not have a tropical climate at all, but rather a Mediterranean one. While the tropics are characterized by muggy weather like Florida’s, Mediterranean climates are classified by a strong variation between rainfall in the summer and winter, Miller says.

So it comes down to this: If you’re looking for beach weather in February, you might be disappointed when you need an umbrella instead of a beach ball, but if you’re planning an outdoor wedding in June, says Miller, "You’re locked in, it’s almost a guarantee" that it won’t rain. "That song, ‘It never rains in Southern California,’ that guy was thinking about the summer," says Miller.

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