My inner Southern Californian

I’m getting in touch with my inner Southern Californian. When I left Oregon for this trip, I was anxious about driving these freeways, especially with the behavior of some of the drivers. I remembered how rude they can be. I remembered how they are reluctant to let you into traffic or move over a lane. Yet occasionally someone would do so. “Probably a former Oregonian”, I reasoned.

I’ve been flabbergasted to see how the freeway system has changed down here. Today I was driving on the 15 (Escondido Freeway) in eastern San Diego County. I used to live in Escondido and moved thirty years ago this June to Huntington Beach. Thirty years ago the freeway was eight lanes. Now it is fourteen lanes in most places heading to San Diego and EIGHTEEN lanes in some spots. The traffic was moving fast and there were, of course, tons of cars.

And you know what? I fit right in. I was in the slow lane doing seventy until I moved into the fast lane and boosted it to eighty-five. I suppose once you’ve lived in a place like this, there’s a little bit that stays with you. Perhaps it’s the survival instinct. Whatever it was, it was amazing how quickly I fell right back into my old mode.

And I marveled at the freeway system in this state. In Oregon, freeways are the “F word”. Try building a freeway and everyone enters apoplexy. Hell, just widening a road will bring out environmentalists. But the freeway system down here is necessary. With 38 million people in California, freeways are the most efficient way to move them all around this huge state.

I drove all around San Diego County. I went to La Jolla Shores where for two years I used to tan when I lived in Escondido. I walked along the promenade and allowed my mind to go back to 1983. A time before Starbucks, Home Depot, Target, cell phones, internet service and CDs. A time when I watched Michael Jackson for the first time do the moonwalk on TV in my little apartment. A time when I could afford a one-bedroom apartment on the salary of an assistant manager at Toys ‘R Us.

The world changes so rapidly. Looking back over the past thirty years, I’m astounded at how our lives have changed. Yet it HAS been thirty years. Of course there’s change. But then so many things stay the same.

I watched the people at the beach. I saw the (same) septuagenarians bronzed from years in the sun, resembling overcooked Polish sausages. I saw the plethora of Mercedes populating the parking lots. I guess people change on the outside, perhaps not that much on the inside?

And I drove up Highway 101 along the coast. Del Mar. Solana Beach. Cardiff-by-the-Sea. Encinitas. Leucadia. Carlsbad. Oceanside. All these towns, many of which used to be little burgs populated by surfer dudes, are now studded with million dollar-plus mansions, trendy shops and upscale bistros. Indeed, a colleague of mine from TRU lived in Leucadia back in ‘83. Could an assistant manager in a retail store do that now? Is it even remotely affordable to live in these communities anymore?

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Minor things, like a non-descript office building bring back memories. Images in my mind of lying on the beach or eating at El Torito in Oceanside bring back a flood of memories, despite the fact that El Torito is gone and I’m too fat to take off my shirt in front of the babes and studs at La Jolla Shores. Nevertheless, the images remain.

But you know, there is still, for me, something seductive, almost erotic about Southern California. Yes, it seems that everyone is blonde and bronzed with a perfect body. Yes, there’s the languid vision of palm trees bending in the wind. Of course there’s the sun and the dream-crashing glitter of Hollywood.

Southern California can definitely be likened to the song of the Lorelei. That seductive temptress who beckons but sometimes destroys. Who reaches out, promising to caress—and, in the case of Southern California, sometimes actually comes through.

I can be seduced, too. I have been seduced. I came here in ’82. I stayed until 1990. By 1990 I strained to hear that enticing song. It had been drowned out by the din of freeway traffic. The vision had been lost behind layers of smog.

Yet still I’m entranced. Eight years in Southern California almost makes one a native.

And while my inner Southern Californian drives down the freeway with windows down and the Beach Boys blaring, I know that I’m living a seductive illusion. California excels at illusions. And I don’t mind.

Allow me my illusion, however transitory.

But, my inner Southern Californian has grown a layer of green grass and fir trees from the rain and clean air of Oregon. The baking sun and high winds in El Cajon have dried up the moss and blown it away for now. My inner Southern Californian is awake and wide-eyed with excitement, maneuvering the freeways and savoring vivid memories. Meanwhile, the underlying soul of Oregon quietly and confidently anticipates my return when it will again regain supremacy. Then my inner Southern Californian will return to dormancy, patiently waiting.




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