I rather like the classic song California Dreaming, written and recorded by the Mama’s And The Papa’s, or maybe it was just by that one lady and her husband, the guy that left his wife for the younger singer lady, right before the younger singer lady left that guy for the other guy in the band. I think the other guy was a Canadian, so whatever he knew of California likely came to him only through rumor. Even so, the song is terrific and serves as a remarkably potent example of the way California views the country and the way the country views California. I’d be safe and warm if I were in LA, the song chides. Generations of children from the Midwest and Northeast grew up assuming that statement was true.
When I was a child, I didn’t know much about California. I only knew an uncle of mine lived there, and he had some modest fame generated by some inventions that he patented while working for Mattel, or maybe another company. The hidden hinge that allowed Barbie Dolls to be pliable without exposed screws and brackets, I think. Anyway, that was my initial exposure to California. Then, when I was a little bit older, my dad took me to California on a trip that he repeated three times in total, once with me and each of my brothers. The goal of the trip was to teach us that wisdom was the most important thing. If Solomon asked for wisdom, then I should, too. I remember that, so the trip was a success. But I also remember renting an aqua-blue Geo Metro and driving great uncomfortable distances across that large state. I remember watching the Bulls vs Lakers championship game on the tube television in our Motel 6 room, waking up later that night to the sight of my dad coughing and spitting from the side of his bed. He was chewing glass, he said. And he was spitting it in the way that you would spit if you, too, were chewing glass. Except there was no glass and he was only dreaming. It was a difficult night for the both of us.
Later, the Red Hot Chili Peppers sang of Californication, and I was impressed with the concept. California, a wild and reckless place filled with movie stars and athletes and beaches and mountains. If you like Lake Geneva when it’s 75 and sunny with low humidity, a client of mine tells me often, then you should move to LA. Los Angeles, a place where dreams come true and the sun shines and if you’re lucky you might catch a glimpse of some movie star walking into Starbucks. Imagine such a place. Pop Culture is created and tuned there, then broadcast over the rest of the country for our enjoyment, or at least bemusement. Los Angeles, now that’s a real place. Midwestern children have, for generations, believed in their inferiority when compared to that magical distant land.
And so with that understood, I took my family to California last weekend. We needed to see a show at the Hollywood Palladium, and we needed to fly in and out of LAX. Being aware of my keen distaste for congestion and the vitriol I spew when in overwhelming traffic in a foreign land, I decided against a car rental and in favor of Uber. That meant I needed to be close enough to LA to keep my Uber charges somewhat reasonable. We stayed at Shutters in Santa Monica, and as a spoiler, “reasonable Uber charges” in LA means $184 for the one way from SM to Hollywood. Nice.
The details of the weekend don’t matter so much. It was foggy and cold. The street life was a bit more animated than I’m accustomed to, so the walking about town wasn’t that much fun. With terrible weather, our beach vacation was spoiled so I rented a car to drive to Malibu, which I found to be exceptionally meh. Thousand Oaks looked like any other suburb. The dried out hillsides were fine, I guess. I think my family liked the concert on Saturday and I very much liked my breakfast surroundings at Coast, so in that, the weekend was fine. We flew home late Monday and melted into the comfortable surroundings of home.
The next morning, I drove my daughter to school. It was sunny and crisp, as November mornings can be, and we chatted about the day ahead. My daughter is 15, and presumably wrapped up in all of the things that 15 year old girls find interesting. But on that normal November morning she looked to the distant farmer’s field where the wound up bails of corn stalks littered the frosty field and she said, “that’s beautiful“. She didn’t say that once while walking near the Pacific Ocean. She didn’t say that while dipping through the hills of Malibu. She said it when driving down a rural road on a boring November morning in Walworth County. If I do nothing else in this life worth remembering or applauding, please remember that I raised a daughter who doesn’t spend any of her time California dreaming.