Water Signs

La Jolla Sunset

Sunset over Pacific Beach, La Jolla CA

I spent part of this week on a business trip to the southern end of our great state, training staff down in San Diego.  The ocean’s moderating influence on air temperature makes the California coast particularly appealing for inlanders like myself this time of year.  So I was surprised to learn, while watching live video feeds of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Harvey, that San Diego was under an “extreme heat advisory.”  The temperature?  85°F.  What I thought to be pleasant is apparently dangerously hot by San Diego standards.  I suppose it’s all a matter of what one is used to.

Meanwhile, back home in Sacramento, we continue to experience day after scorching day of 100° plus temperatures, as one of the hottest summers on record marches on into September.  Driving north from San Diego, we stopped for lunch in Santa Clarita before chugging over the Grapevine into the Central Valley.  The thermometer in our car displayed an outdoor temperature of 112°F.  It felt like a flashback to our three years of living out in the Mojave Desert.  Our holiday weekend promises more of the same, with the Saturday temperature forecast to hit 111° here in California’s capital.  We hide out in our tiny house and blast the A/C.  150 miles to our south, my octogenarian parents (who rarely turn on the central air in their large home) have been paying $400 per month in electricity bills just to keep the house cool enough to avoid heat stroke.

During the monotonous 1,000 mile plus round trip to and from San Diego, it was hard not to notice the roadside signs and billboards up and down the Central Valley along Interstate 5 and Highway 99.  I am a bit too young to remember the whimsical Burma Shave signs of yesteryear, but old enough to recall the goofy South of the Border signs that dot Interstate 95 through North Carolina as one approaches that tourist trap in Dillon, S.C.  Anyone remember the upside down sign emblazoned with the legend “Pedro Feex Later?”  It sounds more than a bit racist now, but as a child in the 1970s, I didn’t know any better and thought it was hilarious.  This from a New York Jewish white boy who had never met a Mexican-American and didn’t know what a tortilla is until the age of 35.

Here in California, the signs planted in the fields along the vast empty expanse of freeway cutting through Fresno, Kings and Kern Counties shy away from cheesy advertising in favor of pleas for water.  Yes, water.  You have to live here to appreciate the never-ending political and financial battles over obtaining more water for agricultural purposes.  Now, I don’t pretend to know a thing about California water politics, but I am aware of the constant shrieking and hand-wringing over the relative merits of building tunnels in the Bay Area and high-speed rail service between San Francisco and Los Angeles as opposed to making greater efforts to satisfy the seemingly insatiable thirst of our farmers.  I also hear a lot about diversion of Sierra Nevada snow melt runoff away from the Central Valley to satisfy the water needs of southern California cities.  Amidst allegations of the south stealing the north’s water, I am reminded of the nation’s bitter division during the Civil War.  Indeed, there are perennial proposals for everything from California’s secession from the Union to dividing our sprawling state into two, four, six or eight states of more manageable size with greater local control.  If you don’t believe me, check out hashtag #calexit on Twitter or this recent article from the Sacramento Bee or this one from the Los Angeles Times.  In California, land of the ballot proposition, anything (no matter how outrageous) can be put to a vote.

With water being the essence of life, it is difficult for anyone to argue against it.  However, the signs along the freeway have a tendency to pander to base instincts at the expense of rational thought.  One is led to believe that providing more water to California’s agricultural interests is a “no brainer.”  But is it, really?  And so, without further ado, I present for your entertainment two of my favorite roadside signs that I have seen in multiple locations with a number of minor variations.

“Is growing food wasting water?”  The most recent version of this sign features a photo of a young boy with a puzzled expression scratching his head.  Um, well, for starters, define your terms, please.  What exactly do you mean by “growing food?”  Perhaps you are referring to California’s famous fields of lettuce, onions and tomatoes, our orange groves and almond orchards, our world-renowned vineyards.  Or perhaps what you really mean are the vast hay and alfalfa fields that suck up water to feed, not our people, but the animals that power the state’s beef cattle, dairy and poultry industries.  This type of “growing food” leaves us with a legacy of methane gas that contributes mightily to global warming (I told you it was hot) and waterways polluted with millions of tons of animal feces.  If you should happen to think I’m being overly dramatic, by all means take a ride down I-5 past Coalinga and catch a whiff as you whizz by Harris Ranch.  The hubris of that operation in posting billboards advertising its restaurant boggles my mind.  How would you like your shit today, sir?  Rare, medium or well done?

Is growing food wasting water, you ask?  I’m surprised that the state’s agricultural industry has the nerve to bring this up.  It sure is wasting water when used to sustain hungry and thirsty livestock just long enough to kill the poor beasts and turn them into hamburgers, steaks and Chicken McNuggets.  If raising animals for meat and dairy were banned from the state, we’d have more than enough water to grow the plants needed to feed our own people and export to neighboring states and to the world.  But agricultural interests don’t want you to know that.  They must think we’re ignorant, stupid or both.

“No water for valley farms = No jobs!”  Oh, goodness, you’ve got to love this one.  Again, define your terms, please.  No jobs doing what??  No jobs picking grapes, strawberries and citrus?  Check out this article in today’s paper, suggesting that a significant reduction in the number of undocumented Mexicans crossing into the United States to perform backbreaking labor in the fields at low wages has resulted in increased automation and fewer jobs.  This has nothing to do with water.

Then, of course, one must consider the folly of the paradigm that is California’s agriculture industry.  The PR people will tell you that we are “the nation’s salad bowl” and that we feed the world.  Excuse me, but why?  Anyone who thinks about our climate for even a minute would have to at least ask.  The climate of California’s Central Valley is Mediterranean, just one tick shy of desert.  We are a very dry place.  It doesn’t rain at all here for most of the year.  Our water supply depends largely on how much snow the state’s northern and eastern mountains get in the wintertime.  The phrase “seven years of drought” is bandied about regularly.  Yes, we have year-round sunshine and suitable land, but who in their right mind would plan extensive agriculture in a desert climate with little water?  All of us need a steady, reliable water supply for our homes and families.  I say people before agriculture.

Our state’s agricultural industry is largely dependent on irrigation.  That means bringing in water from elsewhere because we don’t have much here naturally.  Wouldn’t it make a lot more sense to concentrate our nation’s plant-growing operations in areas that God has blessed with plenty of water instead of in the desert?  The Pacific Northwest and New England come to mind.  Why deprive the people of our cities of their water supply in order to run the Rain Birds and sprinklers that prop up the state’s agriculture?

When the sign says that no water means no jobs, what it really means is that no water means no agricultural jobs.  The state’s big agricultural interests would have us believe that we’ll all be out of work unless we kowtow to their demands to commandeer our scarce water supplies so they can keep making money.  This is a lie, pure and simple.

I have to laugh when I hear the wry suggestion that the entire valley be paved over to bring all the call centers here from India and the Philippines.  I do get it, though.  We have evolved into a post-agricultural, post-industrial economy that focuses on the information industry.  Concentrating our state’s economic efforts in that direction instead of wasting them on irrigation not only fits with the realities of climate change but would also create plenty of jobs and bring renewed prosperity to California.


Uncle Guac’s Stupid Sign of the Day

(Hand-written on green construction paper and taped to a telephone pole.  I wish I could have taken a photo of it, but I was driving.)

I will buy your house for ca$h!  Call Larry.

Oooh, Larry, now aren’t you a stud?  Put that dollar bill away, you big spender, you.  Actually, I’m not looking for ca$h.  I was kind of hoping you would pay me in chicken eggs.  Bawk!


Lefty Loosey


This post brought to you by the letter W!

Water is a funny thing.  In some parts of the world, having an unlimited supply of clean water available is little more than a dream.  In North America, however, we pretty much take it for granted and rarely give it a second thought.  You just turn on the tap and, voilà, fill up that glass!

While water is freely available to most of us, it is not free of charge.  We either get that water bill in the mail or our water charges are included in our monthly rent.  Some of us pay a flat rate, while others have a meter to allow the local utility to monitor the amount of water used and charge accordingly.

We may have our water use restricted during the hot summers or on particular days of the week or during certain hours of the day.  But this mainly pertains to watering lawns, washing cars and the like.  We rarely have to worry about not being able to take a shower or make a cup of tea.

What I’ve discovered, however, is that there are many places right here in the United States where the water isn’t very potable.  For three years, we lived out in the middle of the desert and found that the tap water was so bad that we couldn’t drink it.  At first, we couldn’t figure out what was wrong.  My wife wondered whether she had forgotten how to make iced tea.  The taste and look of our tap water was somewhere between dirty dishwater and windshield washing fluid.  Sometimes it even stank.  That’s when we received a notice from the city government filled with gobbledygook and statistical information that featured the term parts per million and basically meant “don’t drink the water if you value your life.”

Wash your dishes in an electric dishwasher?  Those things are very convenient, to be sure.  We had one in the kitchen of our rental house.  The water was so hard that when the dishes came out of the dry cycle, they were covered with thick scum and had to be washed all over again, by hand.  There was no point in even bothering.  My wife hand-washed dishes until the skin on her hands turned scaly and cracked.

Wanting water that tasted decent and would not risk our health, we followed the lead of most people in town and contacted a water vendor.  They installed a 100 gallon tank in our pantry and, about once a month, would pull a huge water truck into our alley and drag the hose across the grass to our back door so they could fill ‘er up.  Now, finally, we had some really delicious water.  But it was an added expense, particularly during the seven-month desert summer in which the 110°F to 120°F temperatures would cause us to go through as much as three gallons of iced tea per day.

When we moved 600 miles away from the desert to northern California a month ago, I never dreamed that we’d once again find ourselves in a place where the water is undrinkable.  But here we are.  Repeating like a bad dream.  This time, we came up with a different solution.  Rather than depend on a water truck, we have a Britta pitcher that we use to filter the tap water before we turn it into iced tea.  As for drinking plain old water, we buy bottled water by the case and keep it cold in the refrigerator.  I don’t think I will ever take drinking water for granted again!

Whether or not you live in an extended family as we do, the washing machine is an essential element of daily household life.  But this is where I’ve run into yet another water conundrum.  It did not take me long to discover that taking a shower is not compatible with use of the washer.  More than once I’ve stepped into a nice hot shower, only to have it turn ice cold just as I’d shampooed my hair good and lathery.

Wait… there’s more!  One of the things I learned as a child was how to turn the water taps on and off.  It’s really rather basic, and an important skill to know when you are required to wash your hands all the time.  It usually doesn’t take long before you have the whole clockwise/ counterclockwise thing down and can do it without thinking.  When we arrived in the desert, however, I quickly discovered that our bath taps were (oh, Lord) backwards.  As I’d finish my shower, I’d have to remind myself how this works again to avoid scalding myself.  It didn’t take long before I came up with a valuable mnemonic.  All I had to do was sing a snippet of Beyoncé: To the left, to the left!

Well, now that we’re up north, I find that my three years with Beyoncé were all for naught.  We have decidedly normal water faucets here.  However, after all that time singing “Irreplaceable,” every day I now have to repeat the very useful phrase I learned from my nieces and nephews when they were little:  Righty tighty, lefty loosey!

Won’t you please leave a comment?  Tell me I’m a weirdo or a wiseacre or just plain wrong.

With baited breath I await your witty and wonderful wisdom.

>NaBloPoMo November 2013

Water and Ice


It’s hot.

There’s not much more to say about it.  Friday afternoon, when we took off for a weekend in Nevada, the mercury here in the desert mocked us at 122 degrees.

Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse, on both Saturday and Sunday, when we walked out to the car, the digital thermometer read… well, see photo above.

So we live in a blast furnace.  On Friday, my nephew emailed me to remind us to keep hydrated. 

As if I needed a reminder.

Water has become my best friend.  And I don’t even like water.  It makes my belly ache.

Living in Hell, however, has significantly changed my outlook on H2O.  If you don’t believe me, I will tell you that the big truck with the long hose that the guy drags in through our back door paid us a visit on Thursday and filled our tank with 91 gallons of drinking water.

I intend to drink all of it.

Some of it may find its way into our iced tea pitchers (we bought two more in Nevada) and some of it may become pink lemonade.  Jugs, glasses, cups, pitchers — they all become convenient way stations for the pouring of water into the temporary home that is our bodies.

I say temporary, because it goes in one end and out the other.  I am wearing out the path from the kitchen to the bathroom.

My wife loves ice and has to have it in every drink.  If we are staying in a hotel, the bucket must be carried to the ice machine and back at least once per day.  At home, we have the purple bowl of ice in the little freezer and the ten pound bags of ice in the big freezer.  When we start to run low, a visit to Smart ‘n Final is in order.  If they are closed, Burger King is open 24/7 and they sell big bags of ice out of the drive-thru window.

As for me, well, ice is not my thing.  I am more than happy to open a bottle or can right from the pantry or to tap the water tank as is.  If I’m out in the heat, sure, a cold drink is welcomed.  But sitting at home or at work in the air conditioning while the sun sizzles outside, room temperature liquids suit me just fine.  I think ice is overrated.

I don’t drink alcohol, but I can understand why beer is often served “warm” in England.  In fact, I am told that in the U.K., ice is not an expectation and drinks, hard or soft, are generally served without it.

I must have been a Brit in another life.