I have a long and fractured romance with California. Its part delusional, part opportunistic and part magical. It’s like Leonard Cohen’s Hydra calling me back once again. But mostly it’s a comfortable relationship that seems to bring out the flip side of me that a lot of folks never see. It is at once my friend, adviser, irritator, and councilor. It forces me outside of my Midwestern comfort zone.
The first time I stepped foot in California, it was off a Great Northern Railroad passenger car from Minnesota. The year was 1946. I was three and my sister two. Along with my mother we had ended up in Carmel, from the Twin Cities. My Mother, by then separated from my father, had been encouraged to come out west to become a housekeeper for a past client out of St Paul’s Summit Avenue.
When we finally arrived on the coast, broke and hungry, my mother was informed by the old woman’s son that she had gone senile and would no longer have use of my mother’s services. My mother was literally stuck on the beach with no place to go and two kids in tow. She got the next train back to Minnesota. So much for California dreaming.
My second time in the Golden State was in 1964. Fresh out of basic training, I was on my way to my first assignment at the Presidio of San Francisco. Along with three other trainees, we were crossing the country in a 1960 Buick that could go 120 on the open road. When the front end of the car started to drift off the road at 120 mph, I slowed it down to 99 and crawled the rest of the way through Nevada.
Life at the Presidio was a Camelot-like existence that ended all too soon eight months later. Nevertheless, it gave me wonderful material for three future novels to be written.
The third time to bask in that warm California sun came back in 2000. Our family was staying at a friend’s condo in Palm Springs. It was our first introduction to desert living. The dye was cast and we were hooked.
Thus began a twenty year intermittent love affair with that diverse community and all of its surrounding amenities. As much as the state changes and evolves, and stumbles and leaps ahead of others, it remains a pathfinder in so many areas.
Vintage California hints of a glorious past and an ever-evolving future. The Coachella Valley is no exception. Alongside its staid traditional communities down Valley, Hollywood East still provokes memories of a rich and tawdry past; full of tinsel, illusions and entertainment. It’s a diverse, irreverent, creative, and wonderful playground for mind expansion.
That inland ocean, the Salton Sea and its surrounding oddities like Salvation Mountain, Slab City and Bombay Beach provide a post-apocalyptic landscape to inspire the imagination. The mountains, canyons, and desert expanse paint a background tapestry of wonderment.
It’s become home in more ways than one. It’s a cradle upon which the imagination gives birth to creative, frivolous, silly and enlightened ideas, concepts and story-lines. It inspires me and mocks me at the same time. It’s the flip side of that routine called lifestyle. If ever there were a balance in my life, it would be called the Minnesota-California connection.
What can I say... it works for me.