I first discovered that I like Southern California 16 years ago when I had a chance to pitch story ideas to Rene Echevarria of 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. No one ever wanted to argue with me about a movie, except to say, “I just go to be entertained.” I wanted to live there.
I could have moved there earlier in my life, but I didn’t realize I would like it. We always made fun of Southern California in my family.
I grew up thinking that northern California was the better California and that people in LA were basically crazy. 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 Brooklyn (he may have been biased), how they clapped politely, and brought picnic lunches (what was wrong with hot dogs?) 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 the cousins were also step siblings.
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 racial discrimination. Those judgments weren’t founded either, or at least prejudice is everywhere.
Before I started my working career I came quite 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 her Aunt in NY had worked with my dad. 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.” I didn’t tell her that I had been introduced to it by another friend who also happened to be from 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 for some reason I didn’t want to ask. I dated someone local, 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 happy there if I had moved regardless of the reason. I have family there I rarely get to see. One of my brothers lived in San Francisco after I neglected to and then ended up in LA for awhile. And the friend who introduced me to the Ear Inn, who later died of Cancer had moved back to LA. I could have been there for him for a little while.
So that’s why as I visit LA, I can’t help feeling a but of regret for the path I never followed. It’s an alternate reality that exists only in my mind, and it is perfect. I could have been a writer, near family for sure, and happily married to the perfect woman. I would have modeled myself after her and been saved from myself (not sure what she would have gotten out of it). She’d never get mad, love about me what I like about myself and would even protect me from vitamin D deficiency by teaching me to tan on California beaches.
But of course gone would be my actual wife, who knows me (maybe too) well after 20 years. And my three kids would be different or not at all. 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, the mountains, just east of San Bernadino, 2 hours from the beach, sitting in a hot tub, outside, the snow covering trees and ground, I can’t help but wonder, “what if I could have been doing this for the past 25 years?”
Some would say there’s no point in dwelling on what could have been, forsaking that smart, trustworthy, reliable, sexy, funny woman with whom I’ve helped to raise three multitalented genius children (almost as smart as I am). And I live in a wonderful, politically progressive oasis, in Georgia, believe it or not, where there’s no shortage of moms, more than a few of my kid’s friends have two. It is a walkable community with good schools, where people care about recycling and there are many pubs from which residents can walk home whenever it’s prudent. And 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 to redressing the past to asking myself, what am I missing? Could I be happier? Will I always feel regret? I can answer these questions, if I live, in my imagination what could have been. It’s not disloyal. It’s actually part of a forward thinking outlook. While some missed opportunities can never be regained, there may be aspects of that life that I can actually still have, if I know what they are, and maybe it would help to understand what kept me from getting it the first time around. My relationship with my wife can always get better, maybe a little more like the one I have with that imaginary woman. Yes, she is nothing but a representation of the kind of relationship I want, not real, and it is useful to understand that. And I can still write. I can even start spending more time in California, if I like it that much. I can send my daughter to UCLA and visit her there, and then ditch her for a tan.