Much is made over the nearly identical year-round weather of Southern California, but these fences attest to our climate changes. Every year when the fences arrive, I know the ocean is getting ready to roar. And every year when the fences are pulled up and tossed into the backs of trucks, I know our moderate winter is over.
How fitting that these fences actually look like markers stuck delicately in the sand, hardly seeming like a potent force against a storm. But they serve to protect us year after year. And they serve as a marker of time, an indication that another year is rolling by.
The skies often grow darker around the time the fences go in. We might still have an unseasonably warm day, the kind that makes Easterners move west after watching the Rose Bowl on TV where we’re all dressed in shorts while they must don snowshoes and winter coats to dig their cars out of the driveway. But despite this national advertising, we do have winter.
After the fences go up, Venice grows quieter. Only locals stroll the boardwalk walking dogs and staring out on our beloved view of the ocean. We live the shorter days and the grayer skies, the cooler weather that requests a sweater and maybe even a scarf. We even wear closed shoes. We move more slowly assuming a subdued mood.
Hopeful vendors still line the boardwalk, though they often let days go by where they stay away. As the season progresses, my dog’s walks grow shorter, his thin coat leaving him to shiver, his stubbornness refusing to wear a sweater. I most often walk on the sand in the winter. The solitude is meditative, the beach more personal in the cold, a place of reflection rather than a playground. Nature’s sounds dominate those of humans. The sky poses dramatically for photos, punctuated by clouds and colors that get washed away during the bright heat of summer.
But this year it’s different. Eighty-degree temperatures arrived after the fences went in. Fresh crowds arrived in skimpy clothes moving with playful strides. And the fences stand as if they have nothing to do, no purpose to serve. The skies stay bright and sunny. The sea stays calm.
The fences feel embarrassed. I know it. I know they’d rather be lying around than standing falsely at attention like military police sent in to quell an anticipated student uprising. Such cops stand tough and strong and secretly wish they were on their couches watching a game or playing with the latest video invention. Their opposition doesn’t warrant their arrival. Their opposition is just flexing. And while it’s possible that things could abruptly turn ugly, just like a storm could suddenly hit the Southern California coastline – the only way our storms seem to arrive, sudden and on the heels of hideously hot winter weather – to lurk around, to wait for such an occurrence, feels pathetic, an act of wishing for exactly what most hope doesn’t happen. Your presence feels as if it’s inviting disaster rather than protecting against it.
In the quiet, the fences turn their attention to each other. Where Venice meets Santa Monica, the fence styles change. Venice’s are metallic and tough reflecting the historic posture of the city, while Santa Monica’s are casual and wooden reflecting a lack of concern.
While Venice is growing in wealth, Santa Monica still has the upper hand. You’d expected the newness and the shine to live in the more affluent city rather than in the Venice of aged grit and decay, a decay that itself is decaying and being replaced by shiny and fresh and recently built, transitioning Venice from its place on the fringe to a desire for societal respect.
At the border, the two styles of fences look at each other deciding whether they can be friends or whether they must stand as foes boasting of the respective assets of the cities they guard. They can’t help but assume the competitive posture, for they’ve been bred as guardians, as protectors, not as friendly welcomers.
But after some time, the fences of Venice and Santa Monica realize that on the quiet days, they only have each other, that they can boast and strut, but the reality is that they share a common goal.
They both want to go home early, assume a cozy spot on the couch and share a few beers with friends. They don’t want to stand in wait.
And when the season ends, they may even decide to grab a meal with one another. After all, they have a lot in common, and it would be a nice way to spend the off-season.
Meanwhile, I'll wait for winter to arrive, my coat hanging by the door ready for duty.