The other afternoon I received a call from a friend in Florida. It was a raw and rainy day in the New York area so I was at home when he phoned. He’d just come back, he said, from playing tennis. Conditions, he added, were ideal – sunshine and 80 degrees. I could detect in his voice a certain smugness and self-satisfaction. Whether he knew it was a miserable day up North I couldn’t tell. He simply assumed he was in a far better place.
Floridians and New Yorkers often find themselves in an ongoing competition regarding the weather. Over the years many New Yorkers have left to take up residence there or at least to winter in the Sunshine State. Invariably they will explain they could no longer “take” the weather in New York, especially during the winter months. In most every telephone conversation with them they will inquire about temperatures and conditions up North, especially how much snow is on the ground. Delighting in the fact that they’ve escaped the harsh weather they feign sympathy for those “suffering” there.
New Yorkers are not without opportunities to return the favor given the fact that heavy rains and hurricanes are an ever-present menace in Florida, especially in late Summer and Fall. The shoe is now on the other foot. New Yorkers will, at such times, express sympathy and support even as they remind themselves that this palm tree paradise is not without its imperfections and challenges. Same is true in the summer months when intense heat and high humidity produce extremely uncomfortable conditions down South. At that time many Floridians flee, often migrating back to New York. We accept their return and delicately suggest that they might be better off relocating back to the New York area. One might have assumed that such suggestions would be dismissed out of hand – but they’re not.
A similar pattern of competitive weather banter occurs with members of my family who live in the Los Angeles area. I’ve been out there and appreciate how beautiful it can be for days on end. I envy them when they tell me they’re at the beach in Santa Monica, or at a park or an outdoor mall or in the pool almost any time of the year. When it’s rainy and miserable in New York they will declare that it’s been weeks since the last rain. They can, as a result, plan outdoor events without fear they’ll be disrupted or cancelled. When I ask about smog they remind me that the problem has largely abated and that the fog burns off by late morning. And then I up the ante by mentioning drought and severe water shortages. And what about the brushfires that break out at such times? And then there are the earthquakes. Who can deny that the “Big One” could hit one day? But even putting that aside, anxiety inducing tremors are not uncommon out there.. (Earthquakes obviously are not a weather phenomenon, but they invariably get tossed into “climate debates”.) Still, Southern California may just have the edge in any weather competition, confirmed by the fact that millions have chosen to resettle over the years along America’s Left Coast.
I also have family members in Chicago, but here, weather envy is usually absent from most discussions. It’s more like weather empathy on my part. Chicago certainly has its architectural and natural attractions but it also has its issues. The summer months may find tornadoes blowing in and around the city. And then there are the winters. Frigid temperatures, icy gusts of wind – it takes a hardy breed to survive this. I maintain a lively interest in Chicago weather conditions, however, because it often serves as a precursor to what’s in store for New York. Chicago weather one day is likely to be New York’s the next. Accordingly, I credit my daughter for gifting us with delightful days in the East, courtesy of Chicago, but also hold her accountable when storms originating out her way end up battering our area. Whether she puts down roots and remains in Chicago permanently is still, for her, an unsettled question. No doubt the weather will figure prominently in her decision.
It’s undeniable that there’s no more popular topic of conversation than the weather. But, as we’ve suggested here, weather talk goes beyond mere conventional platitudes and serves as a gauge of social advantage. With better weather we announce that we’re better off..