It's no secret that I have not posted in a while. The drought began one month after I started working at Invoca, which is not a coincidence. But today's post actually predates that period and is actually about a series of adventures in Virginia and California.
Back in late 2013 Melch and I went out to Virginia to stay with her ailing father. Northern Virginia's home, as Neil Diamond would say, but it ain't mine. I left the stop lights, traffic jams and cookie cutter McMansions behind, but I also left behind family and friends and that makes every return somewhat bittersweet.
It was awesome to meet my new nephew (see him here), to hang with my brother's friends and play a few ultimate tournaments together. I got to help my parents with their computers and spend a rare christmas in my old house. In 20 years east and 10 west I hadn't noticed the difference in clouds until I viewed the weather with a pilot's eyes.
Still, it's not for me. The traffic and congestion are like the Bay Area without the tech or LA without the (good) weather. Beyond that though, there's also the mood of the city. I'd like to preface this by saying that, for the most part, people are people wherever you go. They want to eat and be safe, to love and be loved, to find a mate, to care for their kids. In the US however, we can move about with relative freedom and some self-sorting tends to happen. There's a tendency towards fashion in NYC. LA has its music, actors and surfers. The SF Bay Area has it's techies.
DC has politicians, bureaucrats, lawyers, lobbyists and government functionaries. P.J. O'Rourke once said "no drug, not even alcohol, causes the fundamental ills of society. If we're looking for the source of our troubles, we shouldn't test people for drugs, we should test them for stupidity, ignorance, greed and love of power." DC is growing rapidly and the cause is greed and a love of power. As for stupidity and ignorance? Well there's a good chance that I spent some time in a traffic jam on 395 or the Beltway with a guy who's afraid of 4oz of water (TSA), who ISN'T afraid of subsidizing High Fructose Corn Syrup or who voted for ketchup containing that syrup to be classified as a vegetable. Someone in that sea of cars is working on the legal case for the US to execute foreigners with predator drones in countries that we aren't at war with. Some pharmaceutical lobbyist is working on getting folks addicted to Ambien while still supporting the drug war against marijuana.
Why? Well to get a house in a good school district. A two-story colonial, of course. Three windows on top, two surrounding the central front door on the bottom. Two-car garage on the side. 2500-3000 sq feet on 1/5th of an acre. Made of brick if you're doing well, at least the front is. They call that a façade, how about that... Postage stamp lots but the acreage that counts is inside, not out. That's the house that I grew up in. It's the house that my wife grew up in (her door was to the LEFT of the front windows, crazy!). It's the house that all of my friends and all of her friends grew up in.
You'll need a car too, for all that traffic. No kids yet? Mazda 3 for the commute (seriously, stop at any light and you'll probably see a few going each way), 3 series if you're doing well. Move up to the Lexus SUV once the little ones arrive.
There are folks working on getting wheel chairs for veterans too, of course. Folks lobbying to save the whales, the ozone layer, the deficit and the poor. And the area's not all bad. There are cherry blossoms in the spring and leaves that change colors in the fall. Summer is hot, humid and filled with mosquitos, but there are community pools if you're into that kind of thing. To my SoCal friends, these are like the ocean but with chlorine and concrete instead of waves and dolphins. Winter is long and cold but the smell of wood burning is nice. To my SoCal friends, fire is something that they do INTENTIONALLY in Virginia and isn't anything to be afraid of there.
The parks are beautiful and the countryside is too, but residents would never know. There are only three months in Northern Virginia: September, April and "inside." I never really thought about it growing up, but it was interesting playing city-league ultimate in the parks around DC and seeing no one there. Out here you'll always be fighting the soccer players for field space, folks will be walking their dogs, playgrounds are packed, the beach has walkers, bikers, roller blades, sun bathers. Imagine if Venice Beach or the Santa Monica pier had no one on them at 1pm on a Sunday! Even on decent-weather days, we'd sometimes be the only ones in the park. I have photos of lakes with no one walking around them or boating on them. Rivers too. The only way to make that happen in California is to call your lake a "reservoir" and then post a lot of signs about fines. N.b., that is of course, a factoid from back when we HAD water.
I'm exaggerating differences of course, and NoVa was a pretty okay place to grow up. But I don't harbor that "home" attachment to it. When we were in New Zealand, we learned of the Maori practice of burying the placenta at home, symbolizing the attachment of the person to the land. Melch knows that the Hawaiian slice of the Pacific is "her" ocean and swimming in it provides her the relaxed comfort of home.
I don't find that to be true of my childhood subdivision, of a drive down 66 to the Beltway or of Reston Town Centre. Sorry for the aside another clarification is necessary for the SoCal friends. In SoCal, the "center" of a town is usually a popular road running perpendicular to the ocean. Santa Monica has its Boulevard, Santa Barbara has State Street, in Huntington Beach it's just "Main Street." This is a common feature of cities that are built around geographical features or cross roads. DC was built on a swamp. Its towns didn't come to be because they had safe harbors or were near a nice bend in the river. The feature that drives a city in outer Fairfax or Loudon to be created is money, not water or mountains. The folks with the money build their towns out all at once, with a planned "center" that's zoned as such from the start. Depending on land availability it might have to be at the edge of town!
Melch's dad died in December. He died of cancer and I have nothing more to say about that that hasn't already been said. There's actually a song by Counting Crows called "Long December" and I've taken to calling our trip the Long December. The song deals with Adam Duritz's December visiting his friend in the hospital after she'd been hit by a car. In 2013 we lost my father-in-law Kerry and our dog Kogane. I broke my ankle early in the year and spent the beginning of December in the hospital myself for appendix surgery. There were great things too - my nephew was born and Melch and I bought our first place - but it was a rough year filled with lost loved ones and rehab.
In January when we were preparing to return to Santa Barbara, I was putting together a playlist of California-focused songs to listen to on the way home. The first line of the song is "a long December and there's reason to believe, maybe this year will be better than the last." Following discussion of the smell of hospitals in winter, the song concludes "I can't remember all the times I tried to tell myself to hold on to these moments as they pass. And it's one more day up in the canyon, and it's one more night in Hollywood. It's been so long since I've seen the ocean… I guess I should." Needless to say, "Long December" made the playlist.
I don't have an ocean like Melch does, but if I did, it would be the one around Santa Barbara. It lacks the warmth of Hawaii, the blue of the Caribbean, the salt smell of the east coast. There are no WINGS stores like at Myrtle Beach has. We might have a pier, but we don't have an Ocean City board walk. But it's not without its charms.
I still remember the first time I rounded Gaviota Pass in 2004 and saw the Pacific stretch out in front of me. It was our honeymoon and we were moving to Santa Barbara, but I'd never been there or anywhere else in California either. We were filled with the excitement of unlimited potential. It's the kind of little-money/big-dreams stuff that I think you can only have when you're 22 and setting off with your newly-wed wife. I still think about that moment whenever we come through that way
If we're instead coming up from LA or parts south, the moment is when you leave Ventura and the ocean stretches out to your left hooking around the bend from the Rincon to Summerland. When I'm flying from Vegas it depends on the marine layer haze but I can usually make out the water by the time I'm over Fillmore. To quote a different song by a different man, "mother, mother ocean, I have heard your call…"
Sitting there in the 13 degree dark of Virginia, staying up late listening to California songs on Spotify, I was hearing the call of the ocean from 3500 miles away. Pretty loud. The next year I actually got to see Jimmy Buffett at the Santa Barbara Bowl, a concert venue from which you can watch the sun go down over that ocean. When he played that song, the background image on his stage was a shot of Stearns Wharf and the Santa Barbara Harbor. The crowd cheered when the image came up and he said with a smile in imitation of the audience: "hey, that's our harbor!"
It is, indeed, my harbor. I didn't come out here for a harbor. I came out here for my wife to get an education and for us to try and make our fortune as many other California-bound youngsters have tried. My wife is educated and I have my fortune but having my little harbor feels a bit more important. Now it looks like I have to go, I'm about to be late for some ultimate frisbee on the beach.
|p.s., I made it on time for my game.|