Something Light For A Saturday Night: There And Back Again

I always fret going home to California.  At thirty years old with two very young children, it’s not like it used to be; galavanting around, looking up old friends and scaring up old haunts.  It’s now pushing strollers and lugging around car seats.  Making sure we have enough diapers packed, and for the love of all that is holy, eating eating eating.  Anymore, when I go back to the land of my birth, I find that I spend so much time eating that I begin to forget that there’s anything else to see in California.

And still, despite all the apprehension, the moment we get in the air, I can’t help but feel that excitement.  Not that feeling you get when you go home, California has long since stopped being my home, but instead that weird sense of hope and jubilation you get just by going there.  It’s enough to make the actual traveling there not only bearable, but actually happy.

Then the wheels hit the tarmac, the whole plane lurches and shudders and finally groans to a stop, and you find yourself in this amazing place, that place that everyone wants to visit at least once in their life.

To be sure, it still takes a little bit of time to remember everything about California, the bad as well as the good. It’s always there; you can’t get rid of it for every, but there’s something strange, and I don’t know if it’s just the place, or if everyone has the same thing happen to them when they think about places in the past they have lived. But for me, it’s the good that I remember in clear images, solid shapes and brilliant colors. The bad… well, that stuff all just eventually becomes a joke, a punchline in a story you tell about how violent and destitute Stockton can be.

But you do remember, eventually. You remember that this place you once called home came packed with plenty of devils along with angels. We were driving in downtown Stockton, taking the city streets home from a dinner at a fancy Chinese restaurant. It’s the oddest thing. Since last time I’ve visited, there’s been much reconstruction, new buildings with fancy neon signs and clean walls not yet tagged with graffiti. It was enough to almost forget what Stockton used to be until we snaked our way through those dark and filthy streets.

In the dead of winter women stood on the corners, bundled up in parkas and ragged jeans, their faces etched with more worry lines than their years should have permitted. There was a tired and empty look that seemed permanently fixed on their faces, even after you made eye contact and they forced the muscles around their mouth to form some shadowy semblence of a smile. Desperation, too, hung thick for eye contact was all it took. Even going ten miles an hour a look in the wrong direction would send one of these hopeful women scurrying in your direction.

This all set to a backdrop of run down buildings, businesses with their signs chipped, cracked, and faded. Windows were patched and repaired with duct tape and all of the stores were reinforced with iron grating to keep the thieves at bay. In that cold, desolate place, men didn’t sleep in beds, or even in tucked away alley ways as they so often do in the movies, but right there in the open on the sidewalk. They weren’t hunched against a wall, either, but dead in the center, a head resting against an arm, and I wonder if they are just begging to be shanked in their sleep, begging to be mugged, begging to be noticed, begging for some thoughtful soul to almost trip over them and toss some change in their direction.

I wonder if they don’t sleep there for safety, because who knows, and who cares what happens out of their line of sight in a dark and empty alley?

Again, down in L.A. I saw them. Whole living rooms furnished underneath bridges; beds and night stands and dressers. It just seemed as if someone forgot to put up walls. You forget, you turn it into a running joke, but going back there reminds you of the devils that inhabit that fairytale land.

And just in time for you to fully take in the experience, it’s time to go home.

I can’t say that going home was any quicker or slower than getting there. But it was undoubtedly sadder. Despite the dark side of the sunny state, it was my home for two thirds of my life. I grew up thinking it was the best place in the world, and in some ways it still is. But good or bad, I had to wave good bye to it from the oblong window of the jet home. I couldn’t help feeling sad, regretting what, I’m not sure. All I did know for sure is this strange emptiness that filled me as the plane pointed its nose East, and the fasten seatbelt light was turned off.

And so here I am. Back home. My current home. I’m not a teenager anymore. Midnight races from the Valley to the Bay are long since passed, so too are the fires on the beach, the house parties, and finding that at one in the morning, there are secret pockets of California that are just getting started. In two days I’ll be thirty again, with a decent office, a decent job, and a side thing going on that I love to do. It’s not quite as exciting as what my life used to be, but I’m happy with it for now, and I always have memories to take me back to when I was young, and danced between the light and dark sides of California.

One Response to “Something Light For A Saturday Night: There And Back Again”

  1. Macswain says:

    Welcome back. I see you haven’t lost your fondness for brevity. Heh.

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