Randall Beach: A California Christmas makes me wonder why we’re here
Picture this: last week I was basking in 70-degree weather, walking on a beach in California with my family, watching the surfers catching waves.
And now this! My wife and I are back in Connecticut, snowbound with everybody else on the East Coast, shoveling snow, coping with temperatures in the teens or single digits and that awful howling wind.
Oh sure, I know all about “Christmas in Connecticut” and “the four seasons” and all the other things we tell ourselves in an effort to justify where and how we live.
But wouldn’t you rather be walking on the beach in Malibu in your shorts, with your shoes off?
I’ll admit it was weird heading out to Los Angeles for Christmas. That’s a new experience for my wife and me; we’ve always spent Christmas in the Northeast.
But both of our daughters have moved to L.A. and this much is clear: they ain’t coming back. One big reason: the weather!
A couple of days before our Dec. 21 departure for the West Coast, I was listening to Darlene Love sing her version of “White Christmas” from Phil Spector’s fabulous Christmas album (recorded in California). She has a spoken interlude where she talks about how the sun is shining and the grass is green, the palm trees are waving.
“There’s never been such a day in old L.A.,” she says. “But it’s Dec. 24th and I’m longing to be up north, where I can have my very own white Christmas.”
I wondered if I would feel that way when I got to California for Christmas.
When we landed in Los Angeles, of course it was sunny and in the 70s and yes, those palm trees were waving. We were driving in our rental car, going past more of those impossibly-high palm trees in Beverly Hills, when Pavarotti came on the car radio, singing “Oh Holy Night.” And I couldn’t stop laughing. It was all wrong.
But soon we learned, as we looked around the neighborhoods and listened to what was playing in the stores, that Californians go crazy decorating their homes and lawns for Christmas and they play just as much holiday music as we do back East. When we drove around, we saw more homes lit up with over-the-top holiday displays than we ever saw in Connecticut.
Our younger daughter, Charlotte, told us, “I think out here people are overcompensating” for not being able to experience a “normal” Christmas season.
Indeed, when my wife and I walked into the stationery store where both of our daughters work in order to pay the rent as they pursue screenplay and set design projects, guess what was playing? Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas.”
In the days that followed, we would hear that song repeatedly, along with “Let it Snow.” Yes, and in a breakfast place we heard “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.” Well, not really. But I guess people needed to hear that.
I have to say it’s mighty hard not to feel smug when you’re in Los Angeles in late December and you’re sitting outside at a bar’s patio in 70-degree weather. That’s where we found ourselves on Dec. 24 — Christmas Eve! — in sunny Pasadena. Off in the distance I heard a street band playing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” That seemed dubious.
On Christmas morning we exchanged gifts with our kids beside the Christmas tree they had bought, as many Californians do, without the romantic trudge through a snowy tree farm.
And then we took a drive up the Pacific Coast Highway to Mailibu. Wide beach vistas! Surfers riding the waves! Yeah, dig it. Surf’s up, baby!
We got out, took off our shoes and hit the beach. I kept having to remind myself what day it was.
Back in the car, my older daughter, Natalie, cranked up the Eagles’ “Hotel California.” We also listened to “California Christmas” from the TV show “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.”
Check out these lyrics: “East Coast folks are making snowmen but that’s fine with me. ... Got no scarf, don’t need no mittens. Maybe a sweater for evening time. ’Cuz where I’m from, it’s warm outside.”
The singer continues: “It’s a California Christmas; you can go outside and ride your new bike. It’s a California Christmas and nobody wants to stay inside.”
And where were we on the day after Christmas? At a drive-in movie theater, seeing “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”! It was nighttime, so the temperature had “plunged” to maybe 60 degrees or the high 50s. It was quite pleasant for the four of us in the car. We hadn’t been to a drive-in movie together for many years. And yeah, it’s a great picture. Go see it, even if you have to sit indoors.
We were just beginning to adjust to the eternal sunshine and warmth when Dec. 28 rolled around and it was time to fly back East. Talk about your cold reality: when we landed at Bradley International Airport late that night, we were hit with a blast of Arctic chill.
We climbed into our car, numb. What did that DJ just say? It’s eight degrees?
Last night we were talking on the phone with Charlotte, who reported, guess what, the days are still sunny out there and temps in the 70s. When we mournfully told her what kind of weather we’re coping with, she told us: “That’s why out here people are in better moods. I’m very happy I’m here right now.”
What are we doing here?