Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Remembering Rain

I'm racking my brain, trying to remember what rain is like.

Here in north central Texas, we're burning through the 33rd day straight of 100-plus degree days, and our last measurable precipitation was in June.

And I got to thinking about the time when I was living in New York City and we got our first thunderstorm after an unseasonably long summertime dry spell.

You see, both hot and dry aren’t the usual descriptions for New York City summers. Usually, the humidity hangs like a sticky, soggy blanket, while the air punishes every move with drenching heat that can suck away your breath. But this particular summer was hot yet atypically dry, dry, dry.

Rain isn't always welcome in the City, especially if you’re a subway commuter. Draining rainwater pours through cracks and patchwork asphalt down to the tunnels below, and waiting passengers sometimes open their umbrellas underground as dirty runoff sprinkles from overhead.

Not that even above ground, you can keep clean in a New York rainstorm. Standing by a curb, you're bound to be splashed with oily water as cabs and buses charge past next to the sidewalk. Standing water around clogged drains can create miniature lakes across crosswalks through which pedestrians must wade.

Yet that summer, as weeks went by without rain, those problems melted away in the relentless heat. Layers of dusty grime eventually coated just about everything. The city desperately needed a good washing-down.

So as usually happens in New York’s predictable unpredictability, the first rain in a long time came during an afternoon rush hour. When people who had dressed for work with leather shoes, silk blouses, and hand-made silk ties - all completely inappropriate for exposure to rain - were leaving their office buildings eight hours later.

Yet here we were, walking on the newly-slick concrete and granite sidewalks to subway stations, bus stops, to our apartments, to our reserved black cars, double-parked and idling: All getting wet.

If this was just another thunderstorm, and this was just another day of rain after many other days of rain - meaning the rain was not special or particularly novel - the wetness would have been greeted with disdain, a sea of umbrellas, and stretched legs as pedestrians dodged puddles.

But as I walked home from the 28th Street subway station, rushing under my umbrella, and jumping over puddles, I noticed a curious phenomenon.

People were walking briskly, yes, as is normal for New York; but not in an agitated manner, like pedestrians usually walk when its raining. People were not treating the rain as if it was their enemy. They didn't hustle along with their shoulders hunched, squinting as if it helped keep the rain off their eyebrows. Puddles weren’t obstacles or destroyers of leather shoes. Umbrellas were neatly folded. Drenched hair was dripping over faces and ears, but not to the consternation of their wearers.

As people enjoyed the rain!

So I closed up my wet umbrella and folded it, realizing the rain was truly refreshing. And I walked along, my starched dress shirt first speckled with wet spots, then soaked. My necktie became a soaked strip of silk dangling from my throat.

Granted, Manhattan has no Elysian fields of grass or hay whose idyllic, seasonal aromas can be unlocked by a nice rain. Still, the bouquet of that rain, that day, held an urban sweetness and a promise of freshness as trees were rinsed, sidewalks were scrubbed, and building facades were washed.

And we walked home, we relieved urban dwellers, reveling in the wetness.

Leather shoes will dry out, shirts will be cleaned, and there are plenty of ties in the city. Those are prices we willingly paid for the beauty of rain after a long, hot, dry spell.

Although here in Texas, if and when it rains again, since the temperature has been so high, it probably won't feel as refreshing as it did in New York City.

Probably not as bad as a scalding hot shower. But to tell you the truth, I wouldn't even mind that at this point!

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