Few phenomena effect as popular a change in behavior among an entire city’s population as does a rainy day in Los Angeles. A freeway closure causes a rupture in only a portion of the metro area’s transit grid, at which the fixed state of rage on the road is simply amplified. Even a special holiday like Halloween, Christmas, and Oscar Night (believe me, it’s a holiday here) takes the clichés that carve LA’s place in the world – opulent parties, grownups playing dress-up, and shopping for stupid shit – and merely cranks up the volume. But for a fleeting stint of precipitation, the rain changes LA into an entirely new place; and furthermore, it changes the people who live here. On the surface (streets), it reveals how limited the skill of driving most locals really possess – the perfect-parallel-parker and the double-yellow U-turn ninja are equally reduced to paranoid, brake-slamming gimps who allow impatience and trepidation to collide, literally, manifesting in a citywide scamper that resembles an army of fire ants racing across an oil slick. But the rain in LA brings about an even deeper paradigm shift, a polarized lens that buffs the city with a matte finish, and thus removes the Starlet from the Spotlight. LA becomes less obsessed with itself in the rain.
Think about it. The signature sprawl across five hundred square miles that distinguishes this flattened metropolis from other major cities creates an enormous concrete Temple of Apollo. We worship the Sun God year-round, empowering us to shrug off the snickers of uptight New York and San Francisco snobs who delight in deriding us as “weather wimps” (we really don’t give a fuck, because misery loves company). From any street corner anywhere in town, you can see some mountain somewhere. You need not ascend too far upward in order to catch a coveted view of the basin in panorama, and the city’s crowned elite resides in castles where their own success and self-worth can be measured in views. Even within the sloped parks and residential canyons, shade is an endangered species. Los Angeles is exposed for all to see, and it loves the attention. All the hours at the gym, all the weeks on the Master Cleanse, all the combinations of skimpy sweat-shop-free separates from American Apparel culminate in a breezy promenade along the broad beaches and boulevards beneath the fiery Fresnel above, casting everyone in a perfecting glow. LA may be the longest-running joke, but we are all in on it, and we always laugh last. Smile, you could very likely be on camera.
But the beam of illumination that gives everyone in LA a sense of “living the dream” is showered away by the season’s intermittent periods of rainfall. When this happens, life in this city changes focus and turns inward. The appeal to convince our friends and neighbors that we are unconditionally happy with everything is reigned in, and other, perhaps more truthful, nuances to our state of being seep out. We most often try to live in constant white, because acknowledgement of the black could indicate some sort of misgiving – but the rain reminds us to welcome the grays of our lives. It reminds us to slow down on the road, and perhaps even give that annoying slut on the phone in her Land Rover the right of way. It makes us walk outside with our eyes visible to the masses, our souls unsheathed, our truths unfiltered by the mask of luxury eyewear. The joke is up, and it’s okay not to laugh.
Angelenos often thank the rainy days for giving our dirty city a bath, and look forward to that crack of dawn hike on the clearest morning Runyon Canyon has seen all year. But before the clouds clear and, as Paul Buchanan sings below, we get “caught up in this big rhythm,” I suggest you take a moment to step indoors, to put the personality pageant on pause, to think about someone you haven’t seen in a while… it may be yourself.