learning California

I have a notification on my computer that tells me how many days it has been since it was last backed up to my external hard drive. The last time that happened, we were just leaving South-of-the-River for the west coast. My computer tells me it’s been 212 days since my last back up (No worries — the back up notification is a holdover from my previous setup. Thanks to Husband, I now have a cloud and don’t need to fuss with external physical drives).

Two-hundred twelve days ago, our house was sold, cleared out, and locked. We woke up in the dark in a steaming hot hotel room. It had been 100 degrees for a week and the hotel’s AC was broken. With us, we had our three cubs and all of our most important possessions and paperwork, and five tickets to SFO. Dear friends came to see us off. One drove us to the airport. We got out of her car at departures and went inside the airport, inside the next chapter of our lives.

Sometimes it seems like a lifetime ago that we walked off the plane at SFO. Sometimes it seems like last week.

Meanwhile, I’m learning California’s hills and low places, the ripped seam at her western edge, then the Pacific. The lush foothills and the barren edge of the bay. I’m learning her pinball-style roads, u-turns, parking in a space the size of a shoebox. I’m learning to dress in layers — cold in the morning, warm afternoons, then chilly in the evening again. I’m learning the slight California accent, the vowels a little softer than our clipped midwestern speech, everything more laid back here, even words. I’m devouring many, delicious, handmade corn tortillas and fresh seasonal fruits and veggies.

I’m learning to be unfazed by signs like this:

from the archives

And store displays like these:

western kitsch at the peninsula's oldest electronics store -- move over best buy

I remember when we visited last May — a weeklong trip to “look around” — everybody looked so happy here. I was decidedly not happy at the time, so it made quite an impression on me. Now, I kinda get why: it’s a really lovely place to live in terms of topography, weather, and a million cultural attractions to fit every interest. I have a theory that one reason people are happy here is because, unlike in the midwest, they don’t have the psychologically-ingrained worry about surviving the winter (I say that to be funny, kind of — but really, it wasn’t that long ago in human history that you really did have to worry about surviving the winter in colder climates).

There are some things I’m not used to yet: spending 40 minutes driving around the College Town for a parking place; dentists booked out for six months to a year; a line for everything, everywhere; the hyper-focused achievement culture of many Silicon Valley schools and parents (don’t worry, we’ve already hit the opt-out button on that one).

But slowly, I am learning California. What do I know? Not much yet, probably. I’m a long way from claiming this place as my own. But I wish I could show you the 280 — wide open space and soaring hills, livestock grazing. I wish I could really describe the way a thick, grey cloud bank coming in from the ocean curls over the foothills. I wish I could show you the sky at night, sans light pollution, the stars and planets close enough to touch. And I wish I could show you the tumbledown strips of El Camino, shop after mom-and-pop shop: The Happy Donut (those two words belong together), The Glass Slipper Inn (I want to stay there!), Barbecues Galore (need a grill anyone?).

What a long, strange trip it’s been….. but I’m enjoying the ride, looking around thinking, okay, okay, I think I could sink some roots down here…. wait, wait…. was that an earthquake!? 🙂

4 thoughts on “learning California

  1. Molly, I love your the descriptions in those last paragraphs. In them, I am reminded of Joan Didion, and her brilliant essay-observations on California. Worth a read, if you haven’t already.

    • I read her collected non-fiction several years ago, including Where I Was From and Slouching Toward Bethlehem. I’ll have to go back and read again as I get to know California.

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