Usually, you need a TARDIS to travel through time and space, but I did it on a plain old Boeing 737 recently. Technically, it was Pennsylvania, but it felt like the other side of The Wall. I wondered if I should don an animal skin and prepare for battle with the White Walkers.
And yes, I know I’m mixing my geek-squee references, but I’m still in shock from having been suddenly thrust back into the dead of winter. Pennsylvanians call it “spring.” We call it “December.” The thick, overcast sky is gloomy and sullen, and there’s no sign of life anywhere, just a panorama of brown, gray and sadness. The only color is an occasional neon glow of a WaWa sign.
(“WaWa” is Pennsylvania’s 7-11. No one has adequately explained how this chain got its name, so I must conclude that it comes from, “Wah, wah, this weather makes me cry.”)
Chilly, gray Pennsylvania was one thing, but upstate New York was worse. It was 37 degrees when we arrived in Hudson. Thirty-seven degrees. In April. I could have died, people. I could feel the inside of my skull bones starting to freeze. Meanwhile, my native Pennsylvanian husband and his father just strolled along, oblivious to our imminent peril.
Look, I’m a California tropical fish. It’s what I am. I make no apologies. If the temperature drops below 50, I could be floating sideways at the top of the tank at any moment.
I had to think fast and save my own life: I had to buy a hat. To a Californian, a hat is a fashion accessory, not a key to survival. What sort of medieval nightmare is this “Upstate New York” anyway?
So. “Spring” on the East Coast. It’s even worse than summer. Turns out, you don’t have to travel to Panama or Borneo or a nasty, cruddy boys’ locker-room to find air so thick you need gills to keep from suffocating. Just go to Pennsylvania in the summer. May through August is a thick wall of heat and stifling humidity, generated from frequent explosive thunderstorms and sheets of rain that clearly send the message that God hates us and wants us all dead.
November and March are merely gloomy gray bookends to bone-chilling ice, sleet and snow. (Which also means that God hates us and wants us all dead.) That leaves sweet, gentle April (which was fashionably late when we arrived and made her diva appearance the day before we left a week later) and storybook cool, crisp autumn in September and October.
Let’s do the math, people. You get three good months out of 12 in Pennsylvania. Three. And maybe not even that, because April proved to be questionable. Which leaves us with a bit of a mystery: Why does anyone stay there? Don’t they know the highways go in both directions? And yet, they stay, like birds in a cage that don’t realize the door is wide open and all they have to do is flap their tiny little wings and get the hell out of there.
Here’s a fun fact about Pennsylvania: While California has the highest number of people coming into the state from elsewhere, Pennsylvania has the highest number of people who never leave. Hardcore hedonist that I am, I can’t wrap my brain around actively choosing discomfort. Is there something intrinsically rewarding about enduring misery and suffering? I’m not Catholic, so I have no frame of reference about this.
But, of course, I’m an admittedly biased, soft, spoiled 100 percent California-grown jerk, who views the entire country as basically two states: California and Not California.
OK, maybe three. Hawaii is pretty cool.
Yup, I’m a California girl, through and through. I think this is the best place on earth. But here’s the thing. I recognize that I may have to leave one day. Live in Pennsylvania, even. Because Pennsylvania has something California doesn’t: Water.
Water is everywhere back there — literally flowing from cracks in the rocky hillsides next to the highways and gushing down the roadside. Rivers and streams are full to the banks, and get this: Water actually falls from the sky in little droplets back there. Crazy stuff, right?
It gets weirder: “water conservation” is unheard of. Not on their radar. Water? Pssshhh… let the faucet and hose run full blast, spray it everywhere just because we can. Water. Bah. Who needs it?
California does, that’s who. Forget the Keystone Pipeline for transporting gas. Flip that thing around and start piping water out West.
If there’s one thing my sweet native Pennsylvanian husband and I aren’t on the same page about, it’s water. The worst fight we ever had ignited when I came home one day and found him in the garage brewing beer, while allowing the hose to run full blast into the gutter.
I know. Every native Californian reading that just gasped and recoiled in horror.
I freaked out.
As in “you’re siphoning the souls of newborn kittens!!!” freaked out.
He just shrugged. What’s the big deal.
Short version of this story: No beer has been brewed at this house since.
But, years later, he’s become a California transplant, and he’s well aware of our dire drought, fearing that the state and our property values may dry up and turn to dust. He hints about getting out while we can and moving to Pennsylvania, where there’s water, water everywhere.
What if drought is the new normal here? Would California will become like — shudder — Arizona? A barren hellscape dotted with cactus, cattle skulls and Republicans as far as the eye can see? Isn’t their state motto “Abandon hope, all ye who enter”?
So: which one? A dusty, lifeless wasteland or an environmental bipolar disorder of tropical suffocation and polar snowstorms? I suppose Pennsylvania gets the nod. At least Pennsylvania offers a variety of misery. And besides, I look better in a wool cap than a Stetson.
— Email Debra DeAngelo at firstname.lastname@example.org; read more of her work at www.wintersexpress.com and www.ipinionsyndicate.com