No Weather Today

     On my first day on the job, 26 years ago, George the city editor taught me how to edit a daily newspaper: news judgment, wire reports, layout, how to code headlines and so on – it took about 3 minutes.
     As a final thought, George said: “If you’re busting deadline and you’ve got a news hole to fill, drop in a story about the weather. People always like to read about the weather.”
     “Are you out of your mind?” I thought, fresh off the train from Hooterville. “I’m not going to drop in a story about the weather. I’m going to look for news!
     Of course, George was right.
     I will read any story about the weather, at any time. Makes no difference where it is: China, Antarctica, Guinea-Bissau, Nebraska. Show me a story about extreme weather, and I will read that sucker and then think, “Huh.” And then forget all about it.
     Same thing with a story about a hero dog. There is no way you can stop me from reading a story about a hero dog.
     I don’t know why I am irresistibly drawn to stories like that, but I’ll bet millions of other people are too.
     Look at the trashy tabloids, which sell jillions of copies of utter balderdash every week. These rags limit themselves to five subjects: sex, celebrities, weather, crime and death. Once in a while a fat person.
     Try to find a tabloid story about anything else. Politics doesn’t count, because the tabs treat politics as celebrity – and if possible, as sex.
     Fear not. I am not about to launch into a diatribe about global warming. I’m not talking about global warming. I’m talking about weather.
     Here in Southern California we have no weather. It’s too hot in the summer and nice in the winter. That’s it. Oh, maybe seven days a year we’ll get a little weather. We had some weather on Wednesday. Lightning crashed and it rained. Water fell out of the sky, if you can believe that. That’s probably all the weather we’ll have until November.
     Here’s a weather story for you. It happened at that newspaper.
     When I edited the Sunday paper, the last thing I did every Saturday night was to put the weather box on Page 2. The weather box is a list, in alphabetical order, of high and low temperatures in cities around the nation and the world. The Associated Press sent the weather box over the wires at 11:50 p.m. every Saturday, in electronic coding.
     Don the news editor taught me how to edit the weather box.
     “If it’s too long, and it will be, just delete a city every couple of lines until it fits. Don’t delete a bunch in a row, or it’ll be obvious. And don’t delete Billings, Montana.”
     “Why can’t I delete Billings, Montana?” I asked.
     “Because we’ve got a subscriber whose daughter lives in Billings, and if you cut Billings, she’ll call you up and give you hell.”
     So I never deleted Billings. Here’s what I did do, though.
     Because our newspaper assigned exactly one editor to work Saturdays, to put out the whole damn paper, it was a 12-hour shift, or worse. So by the time the weather box came in, I might be in a foul mood.
     I managed to look forward to it, though, because in addition to deleting Rio de Janeiro, Dakar and Melbourne, I made up a couple of cities and their weather every week, and put them in the paper.
     On a bad night, I would give the residents of Turtle Flats hell: 107 high and 92 low. Take that, you bastards. On a good night, I would invent a city and give it a wonderful day. Center City: high 82, low 57. No rain.
     True story. If you don’t believe me, look in the newspaper.

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