California Dreams

There are so many facets of California, both mythic and real, that created, nurtured, formed and molded me.  My beliefs, my politics, my continuing education, my standards of living with and being among people anywhere and everywhere, are deeply rooted there, in my experiences and more importantly in my memories.

I grew up in Southern California and lived there for the first fifty years of my current sixty-one.  I was born on April 26, 1955, at Daniel Freeman, a Catholic hospital which no longer exists, in the city of Inglewood.  I lived with, my parents and younger sister, in Gardena.  We moved to Torrance in 1965, where I graduated from West (Torrance) High School in 1972.  I completed my BA in International Relations at The University of Southern California in 1976 and my MBA from UCLA in 1980.  I had various jobs in Hawthorne, Los Angeles, Torrance, Seal Beach, Downey, Lakewood,  Redondo Beach, Manhattan Beach, Huntington Beach, Cerritos and Los Alamitos.

When I met my husband, who’d come to live with his brother in California in 1972, he owned a home in Long Beach but before that he’d lived in apartments in Fullerton.  He’d had various manufacturing jobs in other local areas and was currently working at the port. Our first home together was in Lakewood.  Both of our daughters were born at Long Beach Memorial Hospital.  Our family moved to Huntington Beach in 1994, and we lived there until we moved in 2006.  My mom moved to California in 1944, traveling by train from New York with her parents and younger brother.  My dad flew to California from Germany by way of England in 1945, with his single mother so that they could join her older sister and her family, who had been lucky enough to find their way to the Golden State of opportunity several years earlier, before their family and home were decimated by World War II and the Holocaust in Europe.

After the famous Gold Rush to the West in 1849, California’s name became indelibly connected with fast success in a new world, the “California Dream.” California was perceived as a place of new beginnings, where great wealth could reward hard work and good luck. The notion inspired the idea of the “American Dream.” For people flooding the fields there, California promised the highest possible standard of life for the middle classes, the skilled blue collar workers and small farm owners. Poverty existed, but was concentrated among the migrant farm workers made famous in The Grapes of Wrath, who were seeking the dream, too. It was not so much the upper class (who preferred to live in New York and Boston). The California Dream meant an improved and more affordable family life: a small but stylish and airy house marked by a fluidity of indoor and outdoor space, such as the ubiquitous California bungalow, and a lush backyard—the stage, that is, for quiet family life in a sunny climate. It meant very good jobs, excellent roads, plentiful facilities for outdoor recreation, and the schools and universities that were the best in the world by the 1940s. Even if, for many if not most migrants to the golden state, “the dream outran the reality, the California Dream (was and) is a love affair with an idea, a marriage to a myth.” Even today, observers report a common stereotyped perception that people are happier in California, a perception anchored in the perceived (though I have experienced it to be real) superiority of the California climate.  Later cultural phenomena – the rise of the Hollywood film industry, Silicon Valley, California’s aerospace industry, the California wine industry and the Dotcom boom – continued to feed into the California Dream during my lifetime.

The Spanish explorers originally thought that California was an island.  After all, the name California comes from a mythical, some might say dreamy, Spanish island ruled by a queen called Califia that was featured in a Spanish romance written in 1510.  California is the most populous state in the United States with the nation’s most populous county and its second largest city.  The state is bordered by the other U.S. states of Oregon to the north, Nevada to the east, and Arizona to the southeast.  Unlike most of the country’s “flyover states,” California shares an international border with the Mexican state of Baja California to the south and of course the vast Pacific Ocean is its entire western frontier.  California’s diverse geography flows from mountains in the east to coastal beaches, islands, bays and cliffs in the west, from the redwood forests of the northwest, to desert areas in the southeast. The center of the state is dominated by the Central Valley, a major agricultural area. California contains both the highest point (Mount Whitney) and the lowest point (Death Valley) in the contiguous United States.

Mount Whitney
Death Valley

Mount Whitney (l), the highest point in the Contiguous U.S., is less than 90 miles(140 km) away from Death Valley (r), the lowest point in North America

The state’s current and modern economy is centered on the “clean” and “shiny” businesses of finance, government, real estate, technology, science and other “professional” services, though its “dirtier”  agriculture industry has the highest output of any U.S. state. If it were a country, California would be the 8th or 9th largest economy in the world, and the 35th most populous.  California is the 3rd largest state in the United States in area, after Alaska and Texas, and itself is often geographically bisected into two regions, Southern California, comprising only 10 large and diverse counties, and Northern California, comprising 48 additional more homogeneous counties.  Its Sierra Nevada mountain range embraces Yosemite Valley, famous for its glacially carved domes, and Sequoia National Park, home to the giant sequoia trees, the largest living organisms on Earth.

As part of the Ring of Fire, California is subject to tsunamis, floods, droughts, Santa Ana winds, wildfires, landslides on steep terrain, and has several volcanoes.  Earthquakes are common because of the state’s location along the Pacific Ring of Fire. About 37,000 earthquakes are recorded each year, but most are too small to be felt.  Although most of the state has a Mediterranean climate, due to the state’s large size, the climate ranges from subarctic to subtropical. The cool California Current offshore often creates summer fog near the coast, especially famous in San Francisco but also a moderating climate factor in the other major coastal cities of San Diego and Los Angeles, though more so in many of the beachside suburbs listed above, where I lived for most of my youth and adulthood.  Just a few miles inland, though, summer temperature extremes are significantly higher, with downtown Los Angeles and other famous and infamous interior suburbs and cities, like Pasadena, San Bernardino and even beautiful downtown Burbank, where Johnny Carson once reigned, being several degrees warmer, and smoggier, than at the coast.

Brentwood, Tennessee (not California)

Brentwood is an affluent neighborhood in the Westside of Los Angeles, California.  As a member of a group of nearby neighborhoods that are affluent, it is known as one of the “Three Bs”, along with Beverly Hills and Bel Air.  This Brentwood is now most famously known as the site of the 1994 stabbing death of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, by her ex-husband, the now infamous, O.J. Simpson.  Brentwood is also a city and an affluent suburb of Nashville located in Williamson County, Tennessee.  This Brentwood is little known outside of the Nashville area, unless you’re an already wealthy local celebrity or an aspiring country music star.  I certainly didn’t know anything about the Brentwood in Tennessee, until we made the difficult decision to Relocate there in 2006.

Husband had been working for the same large company for 25 years.  We were both in our very early 50’s when husband’s employer told him they were moving from the L.A. area to the Nashville area.  At first, I didn’t want to go.   My entire family lived in California, I had a good, cushy and flexible job, and I was spoiled by the whole situation, but knew we would not be able to stay in California unless husband could find a good new job that he might like to do for the next 15 years at least.  In 2006, I had been working for a small company for almost 10 years, and for the last five years of that part-time, which gave me a lot of flexibility as a parent.  Our two daughters were of high school age; one about to enter and the other with two years to go.  We reluctantly decided that a move at that time would be the least disruptive of our looming unsavory options.  After all, Tennessee’s climate is relatively temperate.  We thought there would not be too much snow in the winter, compared to the far northern US, and not too much heat and humidity, when compared with the Deep South.   There was no state income tax and the overall cost of living in the Volunteer State was low compared to the Golden State.

We started house hunting in Brentwood in late 2005.  We’d decided to settle there since it was touted as having the best public schools in the Nashville area.  I might have known right off the bat, though, that this city would end up being not my kind of place, when the realtor made a point of emphasizing that it was only a day’s drive from the beach, by which he meant Florida.  Blind and overwhelmed fool that I was, I assured him that this fact was unimportant, since I’d lived near the beach all of my life but didn’t go there very often anymore.   More so, I should have taken a clue as to the pending uncomfortable affluence of the place when he showed us houses in a private gated golf course community and a home formerly owned by a current country music superstar, on that first visit.   It’s amazing to look back on it now, but the golf course homes were “too much” and Trisha Yearwood’s house was not enough, maybe because she didn’t have kids, I guess.

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Snowfall in February 2006, when we signed the purchase contract

On our second trip, we finally settled on the purchase of a home The Highlands of Belle Rive, the third or fourth subdevelopment in one of the town’s older subdivisions i.e. after Belle Rive I, II and III.  Passing the signs with fancy-shmancy subdivision names, like  Carondelet and Concord Hunt, Fountainbrooke and Fountainhead, The Governor’s Club, King’s Crossing and Princeton Hills, should have been my second clue that this city would end up being not my kind of place.  This was also the first time I recall ever hearing anyone use the term “subdivision” and we’d always lived in usually unnamed and untitled i.e. anonymous neighborhoods that, if anything, were identified by the closest major intersection.

The HOBR (Highlands of Belle Rive, the very fancy title of our swanky and exclusive-sounding “subdivision”) and our new house, on a quiet interior corner, and steeply pitched, lot, did have beautiful views, ready access to Brentwood High (3.5 miles down the hill) and the Deerwood Arboretum (1.5 miles up the hill).

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Photo of view taken from our patio, the only flat spot in our backyard!

When we completed the second of our two moving trips in the early summer of 2006, we made two startling new discoveries, both courtesy of my mom who had come out to help us settle in, inspect the place, and prove to herself that it wouldn’t be too hard to visit us in the future:  (1) Two of our new neighbors were also California transplants due to relocation by the same employer and (2) summers in Tennessee, even if it wasn’t Florida, could still be extremely hot and really humid.  It was so uncomfortable to be outside, even in the evening, that none of us felt like going to the park down the hill to watch the July 4th fireworks.  Mom was also the person who bestowed the title “The Beverly Hills of Tennessee” on fair Brentwood, after she found out what it would cost to finish the basement.  This ended up being nearly a third of our purchase price, mainly due to the city’s requirement to have a bedroom window for egress and where our classy and meticulous contractor found a boulder that required a few weeks between storms to remove.

School started in August and in September the HOBR HOA held a Labor Day get to know you potluck supper up the hill at the closed end of my new short cul-de-sac block.  By then, the weather was closer to comfortable and I met some of my more-established neighbors on that socially level and financially egalitarian playing field, including some young transplanted (from Seattle and New Orleans, I think) entrepreneurs who took pity on my lonely soul a few years later by employing me to write some of their press releases on contract.  Found out when I was working for them that they were also Emmy winners who kept a condo in a downtown Nashville high rise as their office space.  Still pretty fancy for this California bumpkin!

By now the reader may have an inkling that, as noted in Wikipedia, Brentwood, Tennessee, is also known for its rolling hills as well as being one of the wealthiest cities in America relative to the average cost of living, and is also Tennessee’s best educated city, proportionately, with 98.4% of adult residents (25 and older) holding a high school diploma, and 68.4% of adults possessing a bachelor’s degree or higher (2010 Census).  On top of that, Brentwood is located in  Williamson County, which is ranked among the wealthiest counties in the country. In 2006 it was the 11th wealthiest county in the country according to the U.S. Census Bureau, but the Council for Community and Economic Research ranked Williamson County as America’s wealthiest county (1st) when the local cost of living was factored into the equation with median household income.

As I set out to “find myself” in this strange new place, this atypical California girl encountered many unexpected roadblocks, which proved frustrating to my pursuit of new friends in real time, i.e. in my five year residence there, but, in the comfort of my current and comfortable 20/20 hindsight, I now find them to be oh so understandable.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/relocate/

 

Avalon

Avalon is the only incorporated city on Santa Catalina Island of the California Channel Islands. Close to one million people travel to Catalina Island every year, many of them from Los Angeles which is, in the lyrics of the song, “26 miles across the sea.” The sons of Phineas Banning bought the island in 1891 and established the Santa Catalina Island Company to develop it as a resort, making Avalon a resort community. They built a dance pavilion in the center of town, an aquarium, and created the Pilgrim Club (a gambling club for men only). Just as the Bannings were anticipating the construction of a new hotel, their efforts were set back on November 29, 1915, when a fire burned half of Avalon’s buildings, including six hotels and several clubs.

In February 1919, chewing gum magnate William Wrigley, Jr. bought a controlling interest in Santa Catalina Island and its associated properties from the Banning Brothers. Wrigley devoted himself to preserving and promoting it, investing millions in needed infrastructure and attractions, including the construction of the new Catalina Casino, completed May 29, 1929. In its heyday in the 1930s, due to its proximity to Hollywood, Catalina Island was a favored getaway destination for Hollywood stars such as Clark Gable. The island also served as a filming location for dozens of movies. In order to encourage growth, Wrigley purchased additional steamships to service Avalon and brought attention to the town by having his Chicago Cubs use the island for the team’s spring training from 1921 to 1951, absent the war years of 1942–45.

Avalon town and harbor 2012

Avalon town and harbor 2012

Glass bottom boats tour the reefs and shipwrecks of the area, and scuba diving and snorkeling are popular in the clear water. Lover’s Cove, to the east of town, and Descanso Beach, to the west of the Casino (far right in photo), are popular places to dive. The area is famous for the schools of flying fish and the bright orange Garibaldi which teem in local waters.  In 1958, the song “26 Miles” by the Four Preps hit number 2 on the Billboard charts. The main theme of the song is summed up in the last line in the refrain, stating that Santa Catalina is “the island of romance”, with the word “romance” repeated four times.

Two Harbors is the second, and much smaller, resort village on the island, located at the isthmus of the island, north of Avalon. There is also a place called Camp Emerald Bay on the north end of the island that was a Boy Scout camp until 1991.  The Girl Scouts were also forced to move from their camp at White’s Landing, when its lease with the Catalina Island Conservancy expired that same year. “The Catalina Experience™” now takes you to White’s Landing — gateway to Catalina’s interior and positioned on the island’s most expansive beach.

camp white's landingOn http://www.vintagegirlscout.com/campCA.html, I found this ancient photo of this magical place, described as follows in the camp song that I still remember.

“Camp’s White’s Landing-

We canoe and we row

Lots of places to go.

There are boars and S’mores and a beautiful view!”

I don’t remember how big the place was, how primitive it was, or what its proximity to the Boy Scout camp was when I was a Girl Scout camper there for a summer or two in the late 1960s.  The main thing that sticks out in my mind from my time there was meeting a fellow GS camper who told me she wanted to convert to Judaism after reading Leon Uris’ Exodus.  I guess we were all impressionable young teens then and, even though I myself was heavily into the romance of the Jewish state portrayed in that novel, I thought this girl was crazy for wanting to be Jewish if she wasn’t born into it!

In retrospect, I guess the Girl Scouts had a bigger impact on the formation of my adult ideals than I was aware of at the time.  I was a member of the organization from first grade almost until high school graduation.  The GSUSA timeline on their website describes the 1960’s in the excerpt below and includes a photo of Girl Scout Cadettes on Earth Day, 1970, which was also a cause in the forefront of my still-forming political awareness at the time.

 “During this tumultuous and vibrant decade, Girl Scouts held “Speak Out” conferences around the country to lend their voices to the fight for racial equality, launched the “ACTION 70” project to help overcome prejudice and build better relationships between people, and viewed the Apollo 12 moon landing at Cape Kennedy, Florida, as guests of NASA.”

Places of My Life

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With thanks to this post The Struggle of Backstory which refers to another post The Shocking Truth About Info Dumps.  Both of these posters are fiction writers.  I may or may not have a dream to join them, but right now I’m trying to limit myself to non-fiction.

In this pursuit, I have kinda sorta started two blogs, but have not put very much on either one so far.  This series and this challenge, then, represent my first real attempt to contribute, to give something back, to the bloggers I follow.  I have learned a lot from them.  Mostly I have learned about them, to care about them, and to look forward to their thoughts, their feelings and their lives, on a regular basis.  I usually comment, which gives them my thoughts and experiences, so I hope they are still interested in learning more about me.  There are also some bloggers who “said” they would follow me but seemed to be a little out of my current wheelhouse.  I don’t follow or read them on a regular basis but wanted to give them an opportunity to drop me if they find me to be similarly “strange.”

Over the last year I have also written some vignettes for two memoir classes.  Out of the process of figuring out what I want to leave behind for my twenty something year old daughters to learn about me, why I am the way I am today and why I raised them the way I did, I discovered that many of my memories are tied to the places in which they occurred, be they real or imagined.