EL NIÑO, ARE YOU LISTENING? I’m dreaming of a wet Christmas, just like the ones we used to know.
When streets glistened, Cachuma overflowed, and gutters gurgled.
When H2O was (relatively) cheap, and no one worried about the Sierra snowpack. No one was replacing lawns with cactus or gravel. Parks were emerald green, and fountains sprayed musically. Life was great, with the turf springy underfoot, kids and dogs racing around, just like they promised us in the “sunny California” promotions.
But that was then, and now is now. Reality has set in like your obnoxious Midwest in-laws here for the holidays, and probably a lot longer, and, “Where’s the flat-screen TV and lunch?”
If it poured today, I wouldn’t care if the uphill neighbor’s yard spilled acres of water and my garage flooded. I wouldn’t care if the roof leaked or my car stalled or water filled my shoes as I tried to cross the street.
I want to smell wet dog as my gloves dry on the stove. I want Figaro the cat to track mud in the house and roll on the rug.
I wouldn’t care if my stopped-up gutter collapsed from the weight of the water.
I’d love to see rowboats on State Street, garbage cans floating through the streets, and children splashing in knee-high mud puddles.
But sadly, there are children who’ve never seen rain. I want to see TV weather-folk waving their arms and slopping around in rain gear.
Face it: We live in The Land That Weather Forgot. The rest of the country gets hit with earthquakes and cyclones on an annual basis. But they’re hardy folk. We’re so delicate that we moan if the mercury climbs above 80 or falls below 70.
Our drought is lasting a whole business cycle. Children are born and go to kindergarten without putting on raincoats.
Old ladies lug buckets of water from the shower to nourish their petunias. Roofers go bankrupt for lack of work. Homeowners run hoses from their showers and clothes washers to try to save their backyard putting greens.
Montecito millionaires write huge checks to pay off water quota overruns. You have to put in a special order to get a glass of water at a restaurant.
Mind you, I’m not begging for a Santa Barbara disaster, either. I don’t want to see cars up to their snouts stranded in the Garden Street freeway underpass or school buses full of orphans hydroplaning on the 101.
I don’t want to see El Niño go nuts. You want massive flooding? We’ve had it. In January 1914, 9.36 inches lashed the county in 48 hours, killing two people, washing out railroad bridges, roads, and telephone lines, and virtually isolating Santa Barbara from the rest of the civilized world. (Some people think that’s not such a bad idea.)
Mr. and Mrs. Louis Jones of Montecito (the Daily News account oddly does not mention his wife’s name), a wealthy couple living at the Wildwood estate, went for a drive before the storm hit.
After visiting a country club, they headed home but found that all the roads and bridges were washed out. So they decided to walk along the railroad tracks to the Miramar Hotel. There proprietor H.J. Doulton tried to persuade them to stay. But they had four children at home being cared for by servants, so they decided to borrow a lantern and press on.
It was a mistake. Their bodies were found the next day.
One night in January 1969, Dick Smith dragged me from my Goleta bed into a downpour to cover not only a railroad crash but also a flood over in the Santa Ynez River canyon. All hell had broken loose in the tiny community of Paradise. By dawn’s ugly light the scene was one of utter devastation. Helicopters plucked 120 people from the wreckage.
“Cars were rolling and banging along” in the floodwaters, one man told me. Butane tanks were floating. Another man told me that he and his wife spent five hours on their roof. “I thought we were goners.”
At least a thousand people living in low-lying parts of town were homeless. And more rain was forecast.
El Niño, give us a wet Christmas and New Year, too, even a sopping diaper, but kid, don’t overdo it.