Yes, We Do Have Fall in Southern California

I will have Autumn even if I have to make it myself.

I will have Autumn even if I have to make it myself.

People say we don’t have seasons in Southern California. After nearly forty years in Orange County, I disagree.  Sure, if you’re waiting for flaming maple trees and frosty mornings, I suppose you might be disappointed. But I can testify that we do indeed have a fall season, distinct and beautiful in its subtlety.

It was 97 degrees here today, and it still feels like fall to me. You just have to know what to look for.

Fall is in the slant of the light this time of year, the way the sunshine is particularly golden and the shadows particularly long. Fall is the shortening days and the rush to squeeze a walk into the last of the daylight savings twilight.  Fall is thirty-degree temperature swings that bring cool evening breezes and damp, dewy mornings when you can’t decide whether to run the heat or the air during your commute. Fall is the Santa Ana winds threatening in thick, dry breezes that crackle with electricity, then gusting into chaos and returning the smell of wildfires on amber afternoons.

Fall is school kids lingering at bus stops and traffic doubling as colleges return for the semester. Fall is the smell of hot, dry grass, taking me back to my brother’s football practice, triggering a double-edged nostalgia for junior high, with all its painful insecurity and hopeful possibility.

Fall is resisting the rush to sweaters and boots and embracing those last hot days in your sandals, though you’re longing for the temperature to drop, knowing that in a few months you’ll miss these sun-drenched days.

Fall is gambling on whether the last heat wave has come and gone, risking that your pumpkins will rot and your mums will wither if you put them on your porch too soon. And then, when you can’t take it anymore, fall is scattering bright autumn leaves that you bought at the craft store, lighting your apple spice candles, hauling out your Halloween trappings, stubbornly cooking chili and baking cookies with the air conditioning on, and making your own cozy season—regardless of the weather.

Butternut squash chili and pumpkin beer taste good no matter how hot it is outside. Really.

Butternut squash chili and pumpkin beer taste good no matter how hot it is outside. Really.

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Swoony McLovestruck Writes Again

So, if you read my last blog post, you know that I met someone super fantastic and I got all loopy for him. Despite my chronic worrywart headtripping, everything is going great.  I’ve seen the inside of his car, his freezer and his closet, and he has no stash of human heads or carcasses of any kind, even though we met on the interwebs. So far so good.

Seriously, since that last post, if I relayed all the cutesy-wutesy that has transpired, you would get a toothache. But I am going to tell you about one great day, because a team of romance writers could not have scripted it more perfectly.

Saturday it was “cold” here in SoCal: sparkling sunshine, light winds, dry air— highs hovered around 60 degrees. Brrrr!  That’s a wintery day for us–we break out the scarves, hats and boots the minute the thermostat drops below 70. I got all bundled up in my warm hoodie, and I wore real shoes and socks instead of flip flops.

Mr. New Guy loves to be outdoors, and he will actually PLAN things to do. (Tip for guys: chicks dig it when you plan.)  He suggested Crystal Cove State Park, a place I had never been, even though I’ve lived in Orange County for over 30 years.

Crystal Cove has sandy beaches, tide pools, acres of hiking trails and a restaurant and visitor center that showcases the vintage 1920s cottages.  In case you failed to get sufficiently excited by that sentence, I just want to reiterate BEACH and VINTAGE. Also TIDE POOLS.  And for the rest of you, the restaurant serves bloody marys on a beachfront patio.  You can’t lose in this place, I’m telling you.

We walk a short trail down to the visitor center and spend a little while poking around the gift shop, where Mr. Wonderful talks about art with me, because he’s actually interested. We check out the historic cottage display, which makes me nostalgic for times I never experienced, and then we canoodle under a tree in a surprisingly cozy Adirondack loveseat. When I remark on how comfy the loveseat is, he suggests that we try to build one together sometime. I am not making this up. When he comes out with stuff like that I want to look for hidden cameras. How does he know?

So then, no shit, we hold hands and jump across a little stream of water to the beach, because we are some kind of walking romance novel cliché and I’m just going to accept that now.

The beach is gorgeous and perfect, see?

We walk down the sand, not talking because when you’re at the beach you don’t need to talk, and then we crouch over tide pools for a time, looking for tiny sea creatures and poking anemones. Tidepools make me feel like I am 10 years old again.

One more perfect beach pic. (He took the pictures. I’d give him a photo credit but I’m trying to keep him anonymous.)

Beaches make me feel like nothing, in a good way. I don’t have any words for them because that is the effect they have on me. So I will skip to the Thai restaurant part now.

He takes me to his favorite Thai place in Costa Mesa called MaDee Thai Kitchen. As we walk in, they call out his name from the kitchen, and I feel a little pang of pride—not because I feel important, but because I’m with a good guy, someone who bothers to know the people he encounters in his daily life, someone who’s curious and considerate about the experiences of others. That’s huge for me—to be friendly and to really know people.

These people are worth knowing.  Tony and Sue, the owners, talk to us about the long hours they work in the restaurant and their plans to finally take time off over Thanksgiving. I like to listen to non-native English speakers when they put words together in ways I wouldn’t. When we ask if it’s been busy, Tony says, “Not too busy. Just easy coming.”  That expression makes perfect sense to me and I stash it away for future use. Tony talks to us while we eat, about cooking, about the ingredients in his baked mussels and where he learned to prepare them that way.

I learn that I do not like mussels, but holy cow, the Pad Thai is good. So is a dish called Crying Tiger, which does not involve tigers or crying.  It’s beef, served with greens and a yummy sauce.

On our way out, my new guy spots this on the counter:

It’s a graphophone, like a primitive record player, from the 1880s. New Guy points it out to Tony and Sue, and they call up their friend (relative?) Jay from the kitchen. Jay is an older Thai man with limited English and a face like a laughing Buddha. He’s so excited about the graphophone that he whips out his iPhone and flicks through pictures of his extensive phonograph collection. I laugh at the incongruity of his age and passion for antique technology, and his obvious iPhone proficiency. Without words to explain how he feels about the collection, he repeats in his thick accent, “I VERY CRAZY. You see? Very Crazy.”

While we’re talking and laughing, Jay opens a small canister with an Edison label and takes out what looks like a thick vinyl cylinder, but according to my in-depth Wikipedia research is more likely either tin or cardboard with a wax coating. He cranks the machine up, slides the cylinder in place, and everyone stops talking as the crank unwinds and a perfect, plinky tune wafts out from the cone-shaped amplifier. Magic. Auditory time travel.

The sound is so sweet and I want to hear it again, but I feel like it would be greedy to ask, like maybe there are only so many times you can listen to magic before it’s used up.

Instead we thank them, chat a minute longer and then head out into the chilly afternoon. In the car I am quiet, which isn’t normal for me, so he asks if I’m sleepy.  Not for the first time that day, or the last, I grin and shake my head. No words.

I very crazy, too.