Tarun and I recently escaped to the west coast, southern California to be precise. The (in)famous saga of the two coasts has gripped us for the last 35-odd years with a mantra: we like the seasons, the greenery, and winters; who needs earthquakes, fires, and endless traffic jams? I suspect Californians with their eco-friendly lifestyles probably think of us as the planet-destroying cousins. We flew with equal parts excitement and trepidation, the thought of bright sunshine tickling our senses from afar. At the car rental lot, as we stepped off a bus with strangely fuzzy windows, this canopy set our mood for the rest of the trip.
The first gasp of WTH hit us when we entered the freeway. It took deft maneuvering to get through several lanes of traffic to the high-occupancy lane. Tarun and I were thankful that the state does not impose egregious tolls like they do on I-66 near us. The remarkable thing about the LA traffic is that it moves!! Eight lanes wove together in an intricate and rhythmic dance while we dismissed the accounts of the legendary LA traffic jams.
Wilshire Boulevard, Burbank, Thousand Oaks flew by, bringing memories of visiting Beverly Hills, Hollywood, and the studios several decades ago. We headed north to Santa Clarita, thinking of the Netflix series by the same name. The terrain was incredibly hilly, first green, then "brushy", finally brown. As we traveled the hills north of LA, the temperature in the car dash rose with every mile, 70s to 100F in half an hour.
In the evening, we stood on a pier near Venice Beach watching a "school" of surfers. They looked like a group of dolphins, strapping men and women in their black suits, dotting the water. From our perch above them, we got a panoramic view of the gentle waves rising and then cresting right where the surfers were ready on their boards. With perfect choreography they positioned themselves on their board, perpendicular to and facing away from the incoming wave, then they stood up at the right moment, and rode to the shore, chased by the breaking wave. Sometimes, the "dudes" fell backwards into the water, sometimes the waves went over them. Again and again they got back on their board fearlessly, while I safely oscillated between the thrill of watching them and soaking in the sun. Behind us was a fellow in flip flops, shorts and a Hawaiian shirt with a typewriter on a rickety table and a "Poet for Hire" sign. Tarun promptly offered that as a retirement option for me. I wouldn't mind but for the shirt.
The next day we drove south to San Diego through the hills of Orange County. Familiar names went by on our right and left - Newport Beach, Long Beach, Santa Ana, Irvine, and San Clemente. In a single visual frame we saw the ocean and stucco homes with tiled roofs on cloud-tipped hills. It was like being suspended in southern Europe barring the wide highways running up and down the terrain.
The weather was divine, the food was authentic, and the homes and towns were lovely. We sensed the vibrancy of the fifth largest economy in the world in each town we visited. San Clemente was love at first sight! The train line runs right on the shore and you crisscross the tracks until the train horn blares and propels you to the side with an invisible blast of terror. The station with its June blooms and the perfectly manicured walking trail filled us with peace.
The houses on San Clemente beach hugged the cliffs by defying physics and standing still in the most mysterious and precarious ways. Umm, bring on the snow!!
I am sure that the area has its problems and eccentric people just like we do on the east coast. Yet, after a stiff winter and and an endlessly soggy spring, it was refreshing to be bathed in warm sun for three perfect days. Rejuvenated, refreshed, re-energized, we have returned to our nest in the east, ready for the seasons and holding new memories of the west close to our heart.