There’s No Place Like …

Yeah, it’s nice to be back.  Cold, though … most of Wednesday didn’t get too far above 65, which was a shock after a week straight of high 90s.  We settled in, slept in; I gardened for an hour today.  It just feels like fall.  Odd, and impossible to precisely pin down: why has that summer something vacated the joint?  It’s been a clear, sunny, lovely day, but a fall day nevertheless.  Sad.  My freedom, it is coming to an end.

Echo and I had a good time in SoCal, all things considered.  Winter visits are always good – the sunshine is most appreciated at the end of December – but the holidays add a layer of stress and bustle that’s not pleasant, and I always feel that I’m missing out on something by not having a homey holiday and baking my own cookies, sledding, ya ya. (And snowshoeing – did I ever tell you I love snowshoeing?  Love it!) This visit was definitely more relaxed in that respect.

But … yeah, there’s always that niggling little “but,” isn’t there?  Summertime in that knot of freeways is its own specific challenge.  Things that struck me this time:

The driving styles, the extremely childish driving styles.  Why on earth would an adult stomp on the gas and rush headlong towards a yellow light?  Why accelerate directly towards a stop sign?   Why tear off, trying to hit 45 mph in six seconds, on a narrow residential street?  For the pleasure of slamming on the brakes, I guess; apparently, few drivers in the Southland have realized that this … uses … gasoline.  Hmmm.  Wonder if anyone’ll break the news to them.

More and more mixed-race partnerships – large families, lovers, young parents.  Years ago, when I’d been living in Santa Cruz about 2 or 3 years, I went to the L.A. County Fair (something I’d done every September of my childhood, a ritual I still adore and miss deeply).  Walking through the fairway, among the games and rides, deep-fried crunchies and blaring top 40, lights flashing against the sullen, starless night sky, I stared at faced – or no, not stared, but let my eyes glide from one face to the next, trying to feel what I’d moved away from, what had become strange to me.  Santa Cruz, both the university and the town, are overwhelmingly white, and this fairway was antidote and antithesis to that.  It wasn’t the superficial fact that people looked different that suddenly struck me that night; it was the palpable aura of distinct culture, language, mores that seemed to surround each group, and the way that aura seemed to create a buffer around each knot of people.  Mexicans sporting a pachuco look, teardrops on temples, wifebeaters and small babies, drifted by gangstered-out black groups, all do-rags, braids, and gold, past young South Asian men in white Ts, black sneakers, immaculate baseball hats … no eye contact outside each group, no intermingling, no young moms smiling at a baby in another mom’s stroller.   Each group seemed invisible to the others, but with an underlying sense that were any stray elements to collide, violence would irrevocably follow.   It was an ugly sense, and it stayed with me since … but on this visit, I saw the opposite.

Luxury.  I hardly saw a kitchen without granite sinks, a couch with a worn spot, a refrigerator with a bare shelf, this whole visit.  That’s nothing new, in fact, but it makes it interesting to come home to my 1940’s tiled kitchen, my stained and worn hardwood floor, my aging and battered laptop.  And I say ‘interesting’ without irony.  I so prefer this rumpled setting, my chaotic garden, my mismatched plates in this hundred-year-old house; I am a slob, and I love old things, and I suppose I’ll be that way the rest of my life.

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