A weekend of extremes in California gets Angelinos talking about the weather

Wildfires and flash floods hit the state suffering its fourth year of drought

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The Independent Online

The abiding staples of British small-talk – the weather and the traffic – rarely come in useful over drinks and nibbles in Los Angeles, where there’s never weather and there’s always traffic. But last weekend the two topics collided like a cattle truck with an 18-wheeler. First, on Friday afternoon, a fast-moving summer wildfire swept across the I-15 freeway in the Cajon Pass, on the mountain route from LA to Las Vegas. Some 20 cars were destroyed as their drivers fled the blaze on foot.

California is in the fourth year of a historic drought; brush fires are an inevitable by-product. But two days after that conflagration, the unthinkable occurred: Southern California received its heaviest ever July rainfall in a single  weekend. Lightning struck a palm tree on our street; the torrent turned our sidewalks into riverbanks. And in the desert, between Palm Springs and the Arizona border, a section of the I-10 freeway collapsed in a flash flood which almost washed away a poor man driving a pick-up truck. The closest town to this hole in the road is a little place named Hell, California, which earned the spot a nickname: “the pit of Hell”.

The day after the downpour, with the skies still grey and the ground still wet, a local visitor whom I’d never met came to our house to see my wife. After I answered the door and she declined my offer of a cup of tea, we stood awkwardly in the kitchen, wondering what to talk about while we waited for my better half. “Isn’t this weather great?” she said at last.

A Compton comeback

Straight Outta Compton, a new biopic of gangsta rap group NWA, is coming out next month. To mark its release, NWA’s surviving original members are reported to be planning a reunion tour of Europe, with Eminem standing in for their late colleague, Eazy-E. The tour was instigated by Universal Studios, which is producing the film. “We don’t have anything settled yet with everyone’s schedules,” studio chief Donna Langley told The Hollywood Reporter. “But we think it can create a lot of buzz.”

It’s 25 years now since NWA were known as “the world’s most dangerous group” for their visceral evocation of life on the streets of South Los Angeles. Their 1988 debut album, also called Straight Outta Compton, contained classic tracks such as “Fuck tha Police”, which sharply articulated the rage felt by urban, working-class African-Americans towards the authorities – a rage that climaxed in the LA riots of 1992, a year after NWA’s disbandment.

Interesting, then, that the group should be planning a European tour and not (so far) a US one, given how vividly that rage has resurfaced in the wake of police killings in Ferguson, Staten Island and North Charleston. Now that Ice Cube is a movie star and Dr Dre a billionaire, the establishment is no longer so terrified of NWA. But the film ought to remind them that the group’s work is every bit as urgent and potent as it was a quarter-century ago.

From the horse’s mouth

If, like me, you’ve stuck with Series 2 of True Detective, you may be wondering whether its gritty depiction of Greater LA is the least bit accurate. I spoke to a spokesman for Vernon, the industrial suburb on which True Detective’s corruption-riddled Vinci is based, who insisted the show’s portrayal is pure fiction. “If you actually made a programme on the real Vernon, I don’t know whether  people would find it entertaining,” he said. (He would though, wouldn’t he?)

So, let me recommend another show, which to my mind offers a spiritually accurate approximation of a real LA. Netflix  animated comedy BoJack Horseman is about a washed-up sitcom star who happens to be a horse. His lodger and ghost-writer are humans, his publisher is a penguin (geddit?), and his frenemy Mr Peanutbutter is a golden retriever. The anthropomorphism makes for great jokes – BoJack is the walking embodiment of why-the-long-face – but it’s hardly the point of BoJack Horseman, which may be a truer depiction of depression than True Detective is of detection.

Licence to fill your face

What a time to be a man with a spare tyre. In March, a pretty college student wrote an online essay singing the praises of the “dad bod”, which she defined as: “a nice balance between a beer gut and working out”. The dad bod became a media phenomenon, thanks largely to that disproportionately influential demographic, slightly overweight fathers, who saw it as proof they could eat another doughnut and still remain attractive.

Now, researchers at Northwestern University have published a study suggesting the dad bod is a near-inevitability. After tracking more than 10,000 men, they saw a weight gain of 4.4lbs in the average 6ft fellow in the years after he had a child, while his childless counterpart shed 1.4lbs. We recently had a baby, so I showed my wife the study to warn her what to expect. Now I’ll get fat not because it’s inevitable, she said, but because the study gives me tacit permission to go to the doughnut shop. It’s a chicken-and-egg problem, with a bacon-and-waffles solution.