Winter of ‘78.
I am sleeping off last night. A quiet deliberate knock awakens me. Mom’s voice in a stage whisper: “Uncle Bill is on the phone.”
My clock says 6:15.
I get myself vertical. I make it to the kitchen and pick up.
“Steven? (He always calls me Steven) “Have you been outside yet?” He sounds like he’s twelve.
“Get dressed and get your cameras. I’ll be there in five minutes.”
He is there in five minutes. He lives around the corner and he drives a 300ZX (Uncle likes his cars). I’m half-way to the driveway when I feel thousands of ice-cold needles poking my face and hands. My lungs are crystallized. I am glad to have my trench coat. I open the door. Uncle Bill leans across the seat.
“Go look up the street.”
I do as I am told. I take shallow breaths. It is remarkably cold. My eyeballs feel cold.
As I clear the pine trees in our yard my breath catches for a different reason. To our north, above our housing tract, the San Gabriels are covered in snow. I see them so clearly – like I’ve never seen them in my life.
Something has happened overnight. It wasn’t rain or wind, but something else. The drop in temperature, the dryness of the air – both – has cleared the air in Southern California of decades of accumulated pollution.
We drive to the harbor. On the way, Uncle Bill describes what it was like growing up when the smudge pots from the orange groves used to be the problem. But following the war, the orange groves were sold and developed. The oily, sooty smoke from those grove heaters was replaced by smog.
We arrive at the harbor and drive around looking for a specific angle. When we find it, we park and unload our gear. We deploy tripods and mount our cameras. We began shooting. I use 35mm Nikkormats, he shoots with his Hasselblads. The image is striking – downtown Long Beach backed up against the snow-covered San Gabriels. You would have thought it was Seattle.
It is still the most beautiful morning I’ve ever experienced.