Leaving the U.S.A.

Well, it’s been 15 days since I last posted and half a world away. I’ve been here for a week settling in and, frankly, procrastinating about posting. So much stuff has happened, it’s seemed daunting to wade into it all.

For those of you with short attention spans, the executive summary is that everything’s OK – you can go now 🙂 .

So, I left the Seattle area on November 6th and flew down to LAX and then got a rental car and drove down to Aliso Viejo in Orange County where my son, Dan, and his family live. I spent three days at their place and this is all written up here in “At Dan’s Place“.

After three days at Dan’s place, I spent a fourth evening at our friend Lare-Dog’s place out at Silverado Canyon where he lives in an RV. On the last day at Dan’s, he, Lare-dog and myself spent the day riding around Southern Orange County in Lare-dog’s restored 1951 Chevy. What a great trip down memory lane that was. It made me remember growing up in Southen California and being a beach bum when I was younger. It made me remember going to the beach, summer days, cruising around, drive-in theaters, drive-in hamburger stands and the 60’s. In those days, the sun was a friend.

At some point, we stopped at a great Mexican restaurant along the coast called Olamendis. As we walked in and looked around, I remembered the many long and wistful on-line conversations among American expatriots now living in New Zealand about missing Mexican restaurants and Mexican food. So I shot a lot of fun photos of Olimendis for them.

The big ride-around and our visit to Olimendis along with all the photos are written up here in “A ’51 Chevy and Olamendis“.

When I left Lear-dog’s place the next morning, I headed back into the heart of Orange County and caught the 405 freeway and headed up towards Los Angeles. That route takes you through Long Beach where I grew up and lived until we moved down to Orange County in 1980. Curious, I jumped off on 7th Street and pulled into my Alma Mater, California State University at Long Beach.

I’ve done this before – like every few years when I’m down. And it is always a trip down memory lane for me and a feeling of wonder both. I remember all the places that amazing things happened to me on Campus and I also see all the buildings and development that weren’t there when I attended from ’72 to ’76.

From there, I drove further into Long Beach on city streets and passed several of the places I lived in the 70’s. It is amazing how memory fades. I’m losing how to get from place to place there now. Those maps we all build in our minds of places that we so take for granted have started to seriously fade. I had to wander to look to recognize things so I’d know where to go next.

And, then when I found the place I was looking for, it was so small. The streets seemed smaller and dingier. Across from where we lived when Dan was in 3rd grade, there’s an elementary school. I remember so clearly going over and meeting his third grade class and his teacher and we took pictures which I think we still have somewhere. When you sat on our front porch, the entire school yard was just across the street and on the far side, a long ways away, there were the permanent school buildings.

Now, there are temporary school trailers (the kind that inevitably become permanent, if a neighborhood is struggling) right up against the school fence all along our side of the street and everything looks crowded and small.

I remember how happy we all were when I graduated college in 1976 and my first wife, Rose, her sister Ernie and myself all sat smiling and all dressed up on the front steps there. And the neighborhood was full of light and it was a good place to live and to be.

Now the people seem furtive and the neighborhood is a lot more run-down. The light I remember seems to have fled the place.

From there, I drove over to Long Beach Blvd, a major north-south artery connecting downtown Long Beach with North Long Beach, or Northtown as we called it then. I decided to drive up the boulevard all the way to the areas I lived in before I joined the service in 1966. All my time from fourth grade until I went off in the Military was spent there. I knew from previous trips what I would find. The town I grew up in, which was blue-collar white, is gone. All the faces now are brown and black and it looks like a war zone to my eyes. Ten foot fences with barbed wire surround the schools I attended. And if you drive by one of your old houses, you’d better not linger too long looking at it least a gang-banger comes out and asks you, “What for“.

But, I didn’t make it that far. Even half way up to Northtown, it got too desperate and too raw and I decided I just wanted to go and not destroy any more memories. So I jumped back onto the 405 and headed towards Los Angeles again and lunch with my long time friend and college buddy Freddie.

At some point, I passed a sign that said I was now in Los Angeles proper, population 3.7 million or so. And Los Angeles is just a small piece of all of it. From the home of the Valley Girls in the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles to the beginning of the Camp Pendelton Marine Base south of Nixon’s Western Whitehouse town of San Clemente, it is solid unrelenting people and concrete. And every year, it gets more and more densely entwined and relentlessly expands into every empty lot and every unclaimed hillside. The smart and affluent ones move upscale to the newer areas and the less affluent and the less intelligent stay behind and city spreads and leaves a slow decades long type of living gangrene behind. It changes so slowly that the people who live there can hardly see it. But, when you’ve been away, it breaks your heart.

In southern Orange County, some of the hills are still not developed or they are being retained as wildlife corredors. Dan and I took his son, Cody, on walks in some of these areas. I pointed out to Dan, that beneath all the glitter of the California lifestyle, the freeways, the shopping centers and the endless distractions, it’s just a coastal scrub desert. If it were not for the huge amounts of water being brought in and the trucks and trains running food and supplies in night and day, the number of people who could actually make a living off this land would be small, indeed. I told him it all hangs by a thread and that he should pay attention to how vulnerable he and those he loves are if the systems that are Los Angeles and Southern California ever begin to shut down. Mad Max won’t begin to describe it.

Having said all of that, we’re having a beautiful California-like evening here in Christchurch tonight. It was a hot afternoon and I went down and practiced tennis and then swam in the lap-pool. Now, I’ve opened the west facing curtains since the suns gone down and I’m sitting here shirtless typing. The sky is a dusky yellow fading up into the lightest of blues over the Southern Alps in the far distance. Around me is the South Island; half the size of Colorado and with only a million souls, total. Indeed, I’m in the center of the island’s largest city with 340,000 folks. It is paradise in the deep South Pacific. I’m am very blessed to be here.

But, I digress. So I continued up and met Freddie and we had a great lunch and drank endless cups of coffee and talked about all the stuff that we always seem to talk about – politics, religion, meaning and purpose. He’s a brilliant man and I am proud to call him my friend.

Then to LAX, turn in the car, check my checked luggage, call my sweetie-pie wife and wait to fly off to the other side of the world.

Next: “New Zealand Arrival“.

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