I first discovered that I like Southern California sixteen years ago when I had a chance to pitch story ideas to Rene Echevarria for Star Trek Deep Space Nine. I flew out from Atlanta and on the shuttle from the airport to Hertz, two people were arguing about a movie like it really mattered. No one ever wanted to argue with me about a movie, except to tell me, “I just go to be entertained.” 

I could have moved there earlier in my life, but I didn’t realize I would like it.  My family always made fun of Southern California.

I grew up thinking that northern California was the better California. That’s the impression my dad gave me when he talked about going out to see the LA dodgers not long after they were stolen from his beloved Brooklyn (he may have been partial). They clapped politely, and brought picnic lunches and played with beach balls and looked at him funny when he yelled, “DUKE!”

Or maybe it was that two of my cousins out there got divorced from people who ended up marrying each other. And then their kids were cousins and step siblings. “Fucking California,” that’s what we said.

What’s ironic is that when I ended up leaving New York it was for the southeast, an area I was even more judgmental towards due to its history of overt racism. Those judgments weren’t founded either, at least to the extent that racism is everywhere, and definitely in New York.

After school, I came close to making the decision to move to San Francisco, but not Los Angeles, even though I liked a girl from LA who I met because she was visiting her Aunt in NY who had worked with my dad. We got fixed up, and I took her to the Ear Inn an old local bar, named because their neon sign that said “Bar” didn’t work right and said “Ear” instead. I didn’t tell her that I never knew it had existed until introduced to it by a friend who also happened to be from Southern California.

Moving somewhere I thought I didn’t like for someone I didn’t know that well seemed presumptuous to me at the time, and probably would have been if she was the only reason to move. I didn’t know if she liked me that much, and I was too insecure to ask. At some point I concluded that to think she did was conceited. I dated someone local, told her about it, as if she would be happy for me, and never heard from her again.

So, I could have moved there for a job, I could have moved for a career change later on, I could have moved there for a girl. I sometimes wonder if I would have been happier if I had moved regardless of the reason. I have family there I rarely get to see, who I like. The ex-spouse step parents are even on good terms now. One of my brothers lived in San Francisco after I neglected to do so and then ended up in LA himself for awhile. And the friend who introduced me to the Ear Inn, had moved back to LA.  I could have been there for him before he died of cancer.

So that’s why as I visit LA, I can’t help feeling a sting of regret for the path I never followed. This alternate reality exists only in my mind, but it is perfect. I could have been a writer, near family, and happily married to the perfect woman. I would have modeled myself after her and been saved from myself. She’d never get mad, love me for what I wanted to be, and even protect me from vitamin D deficiency by teaching me about the perfect tan.

Gone would be my actual wife, who knows me too well after 20 years, and doesn’t love everything about me. My three kids would be different or not at all.  No, it hasn’t always been easy, but life is supposed to be real, not easy.

Still, as I enjoy the sunrise over my cousin’s cabin in Crestline, only two hours from the beach, in the mountains just east of San Bernadino, sitting in a hot tub, outside the snow covering trees and ground, even though it’s warm in the valley, I can’t help but wonder, “could I have been doing this for the past 25 years?”

Some would argue that there’s no point in dwelling on what could have been, especially when there’s that smart, reliable, funny woman with whom I’ve helped to raise three multi-talented children (almost as talented as I could have been). And I live, now, in a politically progressive oasis, believe it or not, in Georgia. It is a walkable community, like New York City, with good schools, where people care about recycling and there are many pubs from which we can walk home whenever prudent. They even make movies here.  It’s the new LA, minus the beach, the mountains and the medical marijuana.

But I feel there can be some purpose in reexamining the past and asking myself, what am I still missing? Could I be happier? I can answer these questions in my imagination. I have to use if for something. It’s not disloyal. While some missed opportunities can never be regained, there may be aspects of that life that I can incorporate into this one. Maybe it would help me to understand what held me back the first time around. My relationship with my wife can always get better. That perfect woman? I know she doesn’t exist. She represents the ideal relationship I want, and I understand that. I never really got to know the person I based her on that well. Things can improve, if you know how. That’s what I’m saying. I can still write. I can even spend more time in California, if I like it that much. I can send my daughter to school there, visit her, and then ditch her for that tan.

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