Wednesday, December 30, 2009

It's SAD (Sucky Affective Disorder) Season

When Hell freezes over ...
... it'll be just like Bend.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (or Sucky Affective Disorder, as I like to call the Bend version) afflicts millions of people in the United States during the gray, gloomy, dark months of winter, causing depression that can be severe enough to trigger suicide. The grayer and gloomier and darker conditions are, the more likely people are to develop SAD. (It's estimated that as much as 8% of the population of Alaska gets it.)

If you're prone to SAD, that's another excellent reason for NOT moving to Bend, Oregon.

First, there's the darkness. Bend sits at 44 degrees north latitude, which is almost halfway to the North Pole. That means in winter the days here are short -- not as short as Alaska's, but damn short. At this time of year the sun doesn't come up until about 8 and sets a little after 4. That's barely eight hours of daylight.

And then there's the grayness and gloominess. Chamber of Commerce bullshit about "300 days of sunshine a year" to the contrary notwithstanding, Bend is NOT sunny. It isn't even significantly sunnier than notoriously gray and drizzly Portland, as a look at the objective data shows.

Take a look at this chart from the Web site tracking the amount of daily sunshine in Bend through the year. Notice that the dark green line representing Bend's sunshine is BELOW the national average almost all year. Only for a brief period in July and August does it creep above average. From mid-October to mid-March (six months a year) Bend is far less sunny than the national average.

Now contemplate this chart showing Portland's sunshine levels. Notice it's almost identical to Bend's.

How can Bend possibly be as gray and gloomy as Portland when Portland is so much rainier? The explanation is pretty simple: The storms that blow in from the Pacific dump their rain on Portland (and snow on the Cascades) so there isn't much moisture left in them when they get to Bend -- but Bend still gets the clouds.

And then there are our sucky INVERSIONS, which we have described at length earlier. Portland doesn't get them as a rule, so it's sunny there on many winter days when Bend is socked in with iron-gray skies and freezing fog.

If you develop SAD, of course, you have various options for handling it -- antidepressant drugs, light therapy, taking a vacation in Cabo or Palm Springs. But the best option is to avoid it by living someplace that doesn't suck as hard as Bend does.

Monday, December 21, 2009

I'm Dreaming of a Sucky Christmas

You'd think that, since they have to endure eight months of winter a year, Bend denizens would at least get the partial compensation of a white Christmas, right?


White Christmases are a rarity in Bend. (I'm talking about IN Bend, not up on the mountains outside of Bend.) Blackdog has lived here for 25 years and can remember only three or four white Christmases. One was last year, when we had a shitload of snow. Another was the year I arrived. There were one or two others in between.

Almost every year the weather in Bend at Christmas is like it is today: gray, dreary, drizzly and dismal. In other words, it sucks.

Just the same, from here in gray, dreary, drizzly, dismal, sucky Bend, your old friend Blackdog is wishing you a merry Christmas and a suckless New Year.

Postscript: 2:30 p.m. Christmas Day. No snow. 23 degrees. Another of our delightful inversions -- cold, gray, grim. Freezing fog in the forecast. Gosh, Christmas is just SWELL in the "Oregon sunbelt."

Friday, December 18, 2009

Our Sucktacularly Stupid Transportation System

Should you be stupid enough to disregard old Blackdog's friendly advice and move to Bend, you will soon discover that this city of 80,000 has a transportation system that's more appropriate to a cowtown of 20,000, and consequently has traffic jams like those you'd expect to find in a city of 200,000.

Two-lane farm roads are made to serve as main arteries. There's no rhyme or reason to the street layout in most of the town -- streets change names in mid-route and stop dead, to resume somewhere else a couple of miles away. As Blackdog's Yiddish-speaking friends would say, it's completely meshuggah. And the public transit system is a joke. (In fact, incredibly, until a few years ago there was no public transit at all.)

The best part, though, is the railroad line that runs north-to-south through the town, dividing the west side from the east side. Sometimes a single long, SL-O-O-O-o-o-o-w freight train blocks all of the major east-west crosstown roads at once. (The railroad seems to like to schedule such trains during rush hours.)

Replacing the railroad grade crossings with overpasses would solve the problem, of course. But for the past 30 years the city has encouraged haphazard growth without worrying about how to pay for the public services that growth demands, and consequently it's now broke and can't afford to fill potholes, much less build overpasses.

But at least when you're sitting in your car for half an hour waiting for a freight train to pass you can enjoy gazing at our beautiful mountains -- provided that you're headed west rather than east and that there isn't a shopping mall or some hideous STD (suburban tract development) blocking the view.

Monday, December 7, 2009

A Really Suctackular Place to Retire

The forecast in yesterday's paper called for "snow flurries." As I write this there's about eight inches of snow on the ground and the temperature is in the single digits. Sub-zero temperatures are predicted tonight, and more snow is expected on the weekend.

There's been a big PR effort to promote Bend as a swell place to retire. A couple of magazines even got conned into putting it on their "Best Places to Retire" lists a few years ago.

Take it from your friend Blackdog: If you're considering retiring in Bend, or Central Oregon -- DON'T.

Do you want to be shoveling snow and falling on your ass on the ice and busting your hip when you're 70 or 80? No, you want to be out on the golf course or out on a boat fishing or sitting by the pool with a drink in your hand.

Besides, our winter weather makes travel "over the passes" to Portland and the Willamette Valley even more difficult (sometimes impossible), heightening the sense of isolation that comes from living in the ass end of nowhere.

Bend also does the shittiest job of snow removal of anyplace I've ever lived. The main arterials get plowed and sanded, more or less, but the residential streets -- fuhgeddaboudit.

The only people who should even THINK about retiring here are the fortunate few who can afford a second home in a warmer place to flee to during Bend's frigid season -- that's October through May.

FOOTNOTE: Here's some medical evidence why Bend is a sucky place to retire:

"We heart surgeons have long known that there are many more heart attacks in the winter -- in fact, a whopping 50% more. When you go outside in the freezing cold, your blood gets thicker and your blood pressure rises, which creates the perfect storm for a heart attack. Plunging suddenly into freezing cold water can cause this to happen, but just being outside when it's cold can increase your risk if you are unprotected. Cold air also causes tiny cracks in lining of the bronchial tubing in your lungs which then swell and produce fluid. The expression "come inside and put a coat on before you catch a cold!" was referring to this process -- there weren't more cold viruses out in the snow that your grandmother was referring to, your poor lungs were just having a heck of a time with cold dry air. Flu viruses thrive in cold temperatures also, and we have an entire season named for the flu as a result."

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Our Sucky "Inversions"

We are currently experiencing a particularly sucky weather phenomenon, common to Bend in winter, known as an "inversion."

When an inversion happens, a blanket of (relatively) warm air slides in on top of a layer of cold air, trapping the cold air beneath. A layer of cloud forms where the two layers meet, producing a cold, gray, gloomy, dreary weather situation.

Often the cloud layer extends all the way down to the surface, producing fog. And when the air is cold enough -- as it usually is in Bend in the winter -- we get the delightful phenomenon of freezing fog.

Until a new weather system moves in to push the blanket of (relatively) warm air away, the inversion will linger -- often for a week or more. You haven't experienced the full suckiness of Bend until you've been through 10 days of an inversion with sub-zero temperatures and freezing fog.

What makes an inversion doubly infuriating is that it happens during periods when high pressure dominates, so if it wasn't for the sucky inversion we would be enjoying clear, sunny skies. During an inversion the tops of the nearby Cascades mountains are cloudless, as they are today. (See Mount Bachelor's webcam.)

Bend's inversions are so famous, or notorious, that the locally based Deschutes Brewery has named one of its ales in its honor -- Inversion IPA. Only in Bend would people actually celebrate sucktackular weather.