The Weight of Snow

You can’t really blame them. Californians, I mean, especially the native-born ones. Their experience of snow is limited to Lake Tahoe and the Sierras where they go on winter break. The inconvenience snow poses is limited to traffic jams and the price of ski lifts. Not being a skier, I find it hard to sympathize, although I understand traffic well enough, having lived in New York and Washington, D.C. The Bay Area where I live now is no walk in the park, either, unless you compare it with Jakarta, Indonesia, where they estimate that over a lifetime the average person spends ten years in traffic. You don’t need to fact check that, because I got it from YouTube.

The rest of the continent may be buried under three feet of snow and battered by blizzards, but in the Golden State it’s all sunshine and golf. I don’t play golf, either, but I know people who do and they don’t give the calendar a second thought. Sixty-five and sunny with a slight breeze out of the west seems to be the perpetual winter forecast. Southern California is even more benign with higher temperatures and more palm trees. Don’t get caught in weekend traffic to the beach, however, or it’s liable to kill your chill. Something like that.

Neither do Californians think twice about going anywhere unless, of course, there’s been another oil spill on the 405. If the net population loss continues and Covid circles around with another variant (if we exhaust the Greek alphabet there’s always Hebrew), traffic may be less of a concern. Add to that people working from home or not working at all, and you’ve got ideal conditions for sitting back in a lounge chair and starting that do-it-yourself-YouTube-email-business. You know, the one where they show you their receipts.

I can’t help thinking that all this sunshine and mild temperatures affect thinking, behavior, and even personality. Being all you can be, reaching for the stars, and actualizing the many possibilities of your meta self could only have developed in a place where people don’t have to shovel snow, sprinkle rock salt, or wear something as cumbersome as a scarf. I’m not talking a French foulard here with the ubiquitous Parisian knot but a heavy Scottish Tartan shoved into the collar of your overcoat to prevent Arctic-type wind from reaching down inside and pulling you up by your underwear. That kind of scarf.

Explaining this to Californians, especially the young, would be like trying to describe magenta to a blind man. I have no doubt that there exist some common experiences and language to get you started, and it might even be interesting to describe magenta as a smell or touch, but after a while you would have to ask, why bother? Does it really profit either one of us?

Speaking of profit, I also can’t help thinking about the correlation between weather and a rebellious spirit (see California Dreamin). It’s no coincidence that computing and venture capital both arose in Silicon Valley in response to the straightlaced approach to technology and finance in the early sixties. Think of the the “Traitorous Eight” who broke away from Nobel laureate William Shockley to form Fairchild Semiconductor, the valley’s first start-up. Think, too, of the iconoclastic attitude toward religion and politics throughout the state’s history.

Then again, not every revolt is real. I still remember the commencement ceremony at the University of California, Santa Cruz, years ago in which the valedictorian put her hand on her hip and yelled defiantly, “Who needs tradition?” Then she flung her mortarboard Frisbee-like into the assembled families and guests. Faculty chuckled. Parents gasped. Embarrassed for her, I thought, you do, that’s who. Funny thing, but I don’t go to commencement ceremonies anymore.

Another funny thing: I dreamt of the Bronx last night. Who does that? Who dreams of a borough, especially one not his own but adopted? It was a pleasant dream in which I sat with friends in a cafe drinking espresso and figuring out bus routes, trying to find my way home. I could hear children playing in a park nearby. There was no snow on the ground and the air felt warm, like breath, yet somehow I felt the weight of snow.

It’s something that never leaves you.

Image credits: feature by Martin Bobb-Semple; Beverly Hills Hotel by Corey Saldana. Source material taken from Sebastian Mallaby, “Behind the ‘Power Law’: How a Forgotten Venture Capitalist Kick-Started Silicon Valley,” The Washington Post (January 27, 2022), https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/01/27/silicon-valley-invention-venture-capital-sebastian-mallaby-book/

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