Backstory: Hello, 911? It's like totally pouring, I'm serious.
Whole generations of scurrying southern Californians don't know how to open umbrellas.
LOS ANGELES — Hate rain? Tired of opening and closing umbrellas? Turned off by unflattering raincoats? Then it's time to move to L.A.
In L.A., "rain is viewed as a slight effrontery," observes Lezlie Johnson, who moved to L.A. from the wetter climes of Northern California 27 years ago.
It's not as if the city doesn't get soaked. An average of 15.11 inches falls here each year, National Weather Service data show.
And yet, says Joel Bartlett, weatherman on KGO-TV in San Francisco, a city that considers rain as normal as organic kale, people in Los Angeles "are apt to be taken by surprise when it rains."
The shock is understandable. It's always, to quote Randy Newman, "another perfect day in L.A." - one more of those sunny, 75-degree days that are as dry as a Noel Coward quip. Skies are usually a cerulean blue. And when clouds appear they're so perfectly cumulus they seem to have been generated at Pixar.
All is not perfection, however. For instance, the reddish-green (occasionally greenish-red) smog that hovers over the San Fernando Valley like an alien space- ship often blocks out much of that beautiful sky. But, confronted by an imperfect day, locals know they can hop on a freeway and soon they'll be gamboling in the Pacific, hiking through a sun-dappled forest, or picnicking in a bucolic meadow.
But when that perfection turned into drizzling skies this week - with a tropical storm that dropped 2 inches of the "wet stuff" on the city (and more in the foothills) from Monday through early Tuesday then, according to meteorologist Bartlett, a sense of "denial" appears. This denial, of course, doesn't extend to those serious storms that can cause devastating mudslides in the rainiest months of the year - January through March, when on average, 60 percent of the year's rain falls.
Instead, this "denial" is more likely to be directed at this week's kind of rain shower that, in other parts of the country (that routinely get 10 times L.A.'s annual rainfall), indeed other parts of California, would be called a drizzle.
That's because southern Californians are totally unprepared for, and unable to deal with, anything less than weather perfection. Whole generations have been raised without understanding the need to wear raincoats, or open umbrellas. Rain gear, if it's owned at all, is relegated to the back of closets or stuffed in car trunks behind beach volleyball nets and straw bags filled with tubes of sunblock. The time-honored trick (in other parts of the country) of not carrying an umbrella or wearing a slicker so it will pour on your parched lawn doesn't work in Los Angeles where people refuse to open an umbrella or don rain gear when it's actually raining.
"[L.A.] is all about image and looking good. And rain is the enemy of that image," suggests James Purcell, a clinical psychologist who adds that "rain ruins your clothes and your looks."
Or as Tom Williams, former editor of Zagat's Nightlife Guide to Los Angeles, says, "Rain would smear your makeup."
Many residents, or their ancestors, moved west to avoid inclement weather. So, when confronted by less than another ideal day, they hide. A very social young man who works for a prominent film production company says when it rains on a weekend, "people just don't go out. The bars and clubs feel a quarter full."
Mr. Williams, a former New Yorker, agrees: "In New York ... if concrete blocks fall from the sky it doesn't bother us. But in Los Angeles where people might have to drive 45 minutes to get to a club on a Saturday night, they'll stay home if it rains."
Mr. Purcell, also a jazz pianist when he's not seeing patients, tells of a singer friend based in Rome who was flown over to play at a private party in Beverly Hills. Except no one showed up. When she asked why, her hosts explained, "Because it's raining."
If you doubt this Los Angeles "rain avoidance" syndrome, check out Rodeo Drive when the skies open and water descends. Tourists are immediately identifiable: They're calmly opening umbrellas, taking rain caps out of their purses and continuing to walk along the street. The natives, however, hover anxiously in store doorways and wait for the "storm" to pass or a valet car parker to drive their automobile up to the door. If they can't wave down the valet car parker (who is also probably hiding from the "deluge"), they scurry from awning to awning, vainly attempting to time it so they can scurry between drops.
Of course, it's difficult to find an L.A. resi-dent on a sidewalk, rain or not. Walking for any reason other than heading to or from your car instantly identifies you as a tourist. As Mark Johnson, Academy Award-winning producer of "Rainman" and this year's snow-covered "The Chronicles of Narnia," says, "I seldom get wet. I drive from meeting to meeting" - even just around the corner.
Nonetheless, there are times when it's socially acceptable to get wet. Joel Goldsmith, a TV commercial producer from Chicago tells of one such occasion. He was dining on the patio at The Ivy, a restaurant that attracts celebrities. "When it started to rain," Mr. Goldsmith explains, "I called the waiter over and asked him to move our party inside. The waiter looked confused. 'But this is a great table, why would you want to move?' 'Because I'm getting wet,' I told him. Eventually, he moved us. Two hours later, when we left, people were sitting at our table, eating in the rain, and looking really happy."
Looking good, whether it's being seated at a good table, staying botoxed, or wearing fashionable attire is a Los Angeles necessity.
Laurie Drake, a former copy editor at Vogue and native southern Californian, is not a fan of rainwear. "I hate raincoats or trench coats. They make you look like you're standing in a hole. Like you have no legs. They make you look boxy."
How about an umbrella?
"I have an umbrella in the trunk, but I've never taken it out. Opening and closing it and finding your car keys is just too much trouble," says the beauty writer whose well-manicured nails are unmarred by wayward umbrella spokes.
The belief that rain is a momentary aberration isn't unusual. Ms. Drake, who moved back to L.A. a few years ago, says when she lived in New York, "I had to pay attention to what the weatherman was saying. Out here, I never listen because the weather is always good."
As the weatherman Bartlett says of his TV audience, "In San Francisco, people watch the weather because they want to find out what to wear."
What he doesn't add is that since Angelenos believe the weather is so predictable, the typical TV weatherman is also likely to entertain as well as forecast. Fritz Coleman, longtime weatherman on L.A.'s KNBC-TV is also a stand-up comic who has performed at The Improv. Steve Martin's "wacky" TV weatherman in "L.A. Story," tossing sun magnets at the weather map, isn't far off the mark.
Of course, no matter how much they love their city, residents of L.A. are sometimes forced to venture into a wetter world. How do they deal with these rainy places? If you're Mark Johnson, who has filmed movies from New Zealand to Romania with stopovers in places as diverse as Thailand and Texas, the answer is simple: "I try not to go somewhere where I'm going to get wet."
But, when forced to stay home and deal with "an imperfect day in L.A.," Robert Masello undoubtedly speaks for many residents when he says, "I tend to close my eyes very, very tight. When I open them the sun is usually out."