It’s probably surprising to hear a Brit ask for more rain. You would think, having spent the first 29 years of my life in the U.K., I would have long since had my fill of being pelted by stinging pellets of half-frozen slurry; of being constantly damp from slow, insistent, trickling sky-piss as it slings itself unerringly inside the back of my collar; of having my hair utterly destroyed by week-long sheets of fine mizzle, seemingly suspended in mid-air like mist, but with none of the associated charm or mystique. Describing the weather in England’s winter months is like that scene in Forrest Gump where he lists off all the types of rain in Vietnam, only he just says, “Cold and shitty” over and over again while trying to warm up his hands by rubbing them vigorously on a damp bus seat.
As Bill Bailey so eloquently noted of Britain, “52 percent of our days are overcast, so as a nation, we’re infused with a wistful melancholy.” For months of the year, the sky is not, as you might think, stuffed with moody grey rain clouds — that would be too dramatic for the endlessly reserved country of my birth. Instead, the sky is white: A crushing, featureless, blank expanse, stretched taut from horizon to horizon, dim and gloomy yet somehow coupled with a tense, unsettling glare that makes your eyes tired and your head ache. This perfectly smooth alabaster ceiling drips relentlessly, sometimes hard, sometimes softly, but never enough to actually clear the cloud cover. It’s miserable.
But here in the U.S.?
Let me tell you something you may not be aware of: Rain in America is fucking brilliant. Massive, bombastic, flung confidently from the sky with the reckless abandon of a drunk party guest urinating into an ornamental fountain. I’ll never forget visiting New York for the first time and, in the middle of what seemed to be a perfectly clear, sunny, late-spring day, an ocean was suddenly turned upside down over our heads. Despite there having barely been a cloud in the sky just moments earlier, suddenly people were screeching and rushing for cover, crowding together under narrow bodega awnings, giggling and pointing as the sky vented wet fury down upon them. This was no mere rain shower: I was drenched all the way down to my underwear in a split second. It was to English rain what being lobbed from a helicopter into the middle of Lake Superior is to stepping in a puddle. It was amazing.
I don’t have too many good things to say about Florida, but I often revisit the memory of one stupefyingly humid July night in Orlando, when the heavens opened and suddenly the sky was doing its best impersonation of a five-star hotel shower head, hosing us down with great torrents of bath-warm water while bolt after bolt of wild, jagged lighting hurled itself at everything in sight. I understood in that moment why American audiences are so obsessed with special effects — you basically live in one.
There are exceptions, of course. I’ve never been to the legendarily moist Seattle, but Portland seems geographically close enough, and the rain there, certainly, felt very much like the revolting British drizzle I grew up with. Rain in L.A. is less of an infrequent blessing than it is a sort of grudging, ironic effort — not even close to sufficient for washing the endless grime off the streets, just enough to streak up your windshield and remind you that, yes, everything here actually is filthy.
But compared to those of my youth, most of my wet weather experiences here have been a joy. Take a minute before a big summer storm in suburban New Jersey, toward the end of a punishingly hot August when everything is dried out and brittle, the grass and leaves dusty and wilting in the amaranthine heat. Watch the sky slowly turn the color of a week-old bruise, light diffusing through the swampy morass above and making trees glow like neon against the darkening backdrop of the massing thunderclouds. Listen for the distant rumble warning you of the deluge to come, notice how all the animal sounds have stopped as bug and bird alike scurry for cover. Feel that first fat, heavy drop plop on your bare forearm and charge indoors, a monsoon at your heels. See the squall hammer at your windows, the trees bending impossibly under the weight of the downpour, the huge, sputtering puddles forming in mere instants. Lie down, close your eyes and let nature’s perfect white noise hypnotically regress you to a past life, hanging by your tail from some great Kapok tree in the rainforest.
And when it’s all over, step outside and feel the hot steam rising off the sidewalk. Breathe in that rich, petrichor scent and see the grass and leaves, now scrubbed clean, gleaming; a deep, iridescent green, sparking a thousand miniature rainbows. Do all this and tell me that it doesn’t make you feel like everything is brand new again.
That probably seems like an absurdly literary response to a bit of seasonal precipitation. But after three decades of “cold and shitty,” these big summer rain storms now seem to me like a gift — a welcome respite from the season’s trademark long, dry, listless days; a reminder that we all yearn for constant renewal; an opportunity to simply enjoy the pyrotechnics of nature, up close and personal.
But most of all, and the part that makes it so deeply rewarding and personal to me: It’s a really good reason not to do any fucking grilling whatsoever.