Ahhh, I’ve made it to Southern California. El Cajon, just east of San Diego, to be exact.
Truth be told, I’m not sure if I should be exhaling with a satisfied “ahhh”. The drive down here was nothing like I expected. I made great time and arrived much sooner than I expected. It was not the twenty hour trek I was expecting.
Southern California has changed so much since I moved here in 1982. I left in 1990 and have visited several times since. It has become so much more relentless since then. The pace of life has accelerated to a cancerous degree. I was driving through Los Angeles at 11:00 p.m. and the volume of traffic along with the speed was unnerving.
Now, Portland traffic cannot compare to L.A. traffic. There are ten million people in Los Angeles County. When you add in four million from Riverside and San Bernardino counties and three million from Orange County, you have quite the population concentration contributing to the issue. So, of course, I will notice the extreme difference.
Nevertheless, everything seemed to be “in your face”. Advertising and billboards are freaking huge. There are more high rises, more enormous shopping centers, more housing developments. Things have marched forward at a seemingly astronomical pace.
When I reached northern San Diego County, I drove by my old place of work. I drove by my old apartment building in Escondido. Driving down the 78 freeway, I marveled at the urbanization of the area. Fields were gone, cypress groves were gone. It was all city from Oceanside to Escondido. Communities formerly with 18,000 people now had 90,000 people. Six lane boulevards were everywhere. Subdivisions marched up the hillsides.
Yet, I still felt a slight sense of nostalgia. Perhaps it was due to the 80’s mix I had playing through my stereo from my iPhone. Nothing like augmenting the sense of hearing to exacerbate an experience. “Maniac”, “Every Breath You Take” and “Down Under” brought memories flooding back.
Standing in front of my old employer and my old apartment I could almost see a 23-year-old Bob Mulkey walking through the door. Skinny, awkward, taking his first real steps into the big, bad world. I could see that uncertainty, that self-consciousness. Yet, I could also see the exuberance and excitement at taking those very steps in a new environment, different than anything I had ever experienced. The whole world was ahead of me. It was my oyster and I was cracking it open.
I could see that year 1982 in front of me as I sat in my 2012 Hyundai in 2014 with its elaborate stereo system, a high-powered computer laptop in the back seat and a state of the art mobile phone at my side that takes pictures and videos and stores music. Blasting tunes through my car stereo.
What a juxtaposition of past memory versus current reality. It was “Back to the Future” in 3D. A living, breathing movie experience as I marveled not only at how far society has come, but how far I’ve come.
How can it be that that 23-year-old boy-man is now on the down side of sixty? Where did that time go? Where did that boy go? I strain to see the images and dreams I had. They seem to be as transitory as the technology that inhabits (infects?) our lives. Who could have dreamed that every household would have a computer? Who could have dreamed we’d have something like the internet? Who could have dreamed that we’d be tethered to mobile phones or that we’d even HAVE mobile phones?
And on a personal level, could I have ever dreamed that I would know an extended family in Italy? Could I have known that I would never marry or have kids? Could I have known that I would struggle professionally and, consequently, write a book?
The world changes. I believe if we are smart, we change, too. I don’t want to be that same exuberant yet self-conscious kid I was in 1982. I want to be the man I am. Do I wish that some things were different? Sure. Doesn’t everyone? Do I wish I had made some different decisions? I guess. But I think that that making different decisions just would have put me on a different path to where I currently am.
So what has lasted? I left Southern California twenty-four years ago. I returned to Oregon, assuming that I would re-enter a slower-paced, simpler life. Well, things remained slow for awhile before the growth-induced, Madison Avenue monster arrived. Life was simple for awhile. Then my mom developed cancer and survived. My dad’s health went downhill and he died. My mom eventually died. I met my extended biological family in Italy. And on and on. (If you wanna know the rest, buy my book!!!)
But in re-tracing these steps down here in Southern Cal, I’ve found a strange sense of not only déjà vu but also completion. Things have come full circle. I don’t know why in hell I feel this need to piece things together. Perhaps it’s because I’m not sure where I’m going and the only thing I have that seems concrete is the past. That’s something definite. It’s something I know for certain. And re-tracing my steps is allowing me to re-visit a very fun and important time in my life and almost watch my progression from afar.
So what has lasted? Love. Friendship. Friends are sending me Facebook messages asking if I will be in their city. They are asking if they can see me. I find that overwhelmingly flattering. Yes, Facebook allows us to re-connect with people. But I just feel truly blessed that so many people really want to see me.
I don’t want to sound arrogant or self-aggrandizing. I think anyone who reads this would probably find the same thing happening if they went back to their old stomping grounds and people knew about it. For those reading this post, try it. I don’t think you’d be disappointed.
For me, I’m just very gratified that I can come back to some place nearly a quarter century after leaving and find that people want to see me. Technology is disposable. Possessions are finite. Environments change. But friendships last. Love lasts. When I am with those I care about and those who care about me, I forget about how much things have changed. We are here. We are now. Even when we part, we will still be here. We will still be now. The friendship will still be there despite the distance. And the love will remain.