Going Coastal

I used to think living by the beach was all about the water, that proverbial patch of blue. The Holy Grail of all water to watch, sense, smell and best of all, hear. But you know…its so much more than that, Way more.

Just the sky as a daily changing canvas is worth the adoration. It is as if a painting constantly in the works is presented for you, from sun-up to sundown. Just in the last 45 minutes, I have noted the clouds go from white to cream to pale blue, and they are on their path toward slate gray any minute. Some evenings, a smidgen of lavender has melded into the closing colorful pallet. Often, this celestial blanket spread above appears soft and textured and elicits one’s imagination to wonder about the tactile feel of it all, if it were possible.

In my semi-circumference of view, are palm trees whose windy waltz interplays against the warmth of golden light that has been a constancy for eons. This bright orb that travels the coastal sky from dawn to dusk has been the subject of myth, folklore, history, science, music, art, dance, poetry, architecture, sculpture, lecture and even fashion. Every single culture that has existed on this earth has paid homage to our Sun and has revered her to the height of appointed Deity. Without our Eos, our beaches and sand, our hills and mountains, our greenery and flora, our creatures who walk the land would just not be. How poignant each day becomes at the behest of our great Star, the star from which our very own elemental existence simply could not even have begun. And what a backdrop for that shining globe- the expanse of shimmering sea!

To live by the beach is to adopt a lifestyle. First and foremost, is attitude. A bit of Hawaii in your every reaction. Is it the roll of the waves, the lull of tide, the hush of the breezes? What is it about a surfside town that makes her inhabitants so relaxed and calm? Take things in stride…”Cazh” is the word, its all cool, it’s all casual. Upon arriving to settle down and live in a beach town, the first person I encountered was a real estate agent. When he heard I was new and looking, he spilled forth: “Well, welcome to town!” Mind you this is a city, but there is a hometown heart here. My neighbors are openly friendly. Smiles, offers of aid, first names shared. Wow. Am I still in Southern California? Even my plumber who came to check out my sink the other day wore Bermuda shorts, sneakers and a t-shirt that read: “Have you hugged a Plumber today?” I mean, that’s just cute. Seriously! Cute. There’s hints that this is an ocean town…Surfin’ Donuts, a tall standing surfboard flanking an outspread hung USA flag in a post office lobby and a taco joint that has a surfer dude riding the waves for the logo. When one contemplates surfers, one thinks of the sort who take the time to ride the curl and hang a ten. These things take finesse, and devoted, carefree time. It seems that’s the seaside lifestyle. Prioritizing one’s life to commune under the Sun and in the water.

Is it coincidence that everywhere I look, I see people wearing Hawaiian shirts, sandals and sunhats as the clothing options of choice? Now, it isn’t easy to lose your temper with someone when either you or they or both are dressed in this manner. I mean really…how can you get angry when giant hibiscus flowers on a field of green are advertising peace, beauty and nature on one’s shirt, or their shirt?! Everyone has one skin tone here, regardless where they are from…it’s HEALTH tone! There’s appled cheeks, kissed from the sun noses, tans and browns of every degree. Plus, as you walk the sidewalks, a scent of suntan lotion drifts about every so often. Only those with a happy disposition spending time in the sunshine could acquire such robust coloring. A women’s clothing shop sign claims how it caters to the “Bohemian Lifestyle” with flippy, swishy skirts and sundresses. There are restaurants entitled with Patio, Lounge, Grill, Bistro, Nook and Corner on their marquees.  All these terms evoke relaxation, no hurrying…tarry awhile. References won’t let you forget you are in a laissez faire setting…there’s cabanas, coves, barbecues, and there’s even dolphin inns and seahorse shanties. The maritime whimsey is all around. It coddles one’s mentality. It navigates the disposition of the people.

Everything about living along the shore is a positive. Who wouldn’t want to live where the weather is temperate, with predictable morning and afternoon cooling zephyrs? But, in my coastal oasis, the desire to succumb to afternoon siestas is an overwhelming  indulgence. I can see how Spain, Portugal, Greece, Italy came to adopt this integral part of the day. It is taking time to relinquish one’s thoughts to what naturally feels good. A nap in a sailor’s hammock will do quite nicely, especially if outside in the open air. To appreciate these kindnesses from nature is important. After all, we pay enough attention to the opposite phenomenons in nature- the tornados, floods, and earthquakes. Why not engulf oneself in the sweet gift the ocean offers us every day- those winds from the big blue?

I notice in my new locale, there is a wide variety of people not only from varying walks of life, but from many ethnicities. As I strolled into my new bank the other day,  I saw patrons whom with normal ease were conversing with one another- each quite oblivious to any difference of any kind. This made me stop and think: why did I even notice this in the first place? Have I been living in THAT sheltered of a place in the past? I don’t think so, but there is an added ingredient here. I think it is the forward thinking acceptance. Everyone is just happy to be hangin’. Period. Living in a cosmopolitan place is definitely inspiring. Perhaps, this conglomeration of folk hails from a populace garnered from arrivals by boat, train and plane. Not too far down the coastline is a Marine Base. Some of these citizens might be veterans or relatives of those in service. No matter why people are here- they find themselves along for the wave of ease, happenstance, thrill and adventure!

Then there are the birds. At first, I thought there weren’t any. But, the other afternoon, as I ascended my outdoor stairway, I heard a mourning dove in the distance. When I reached my landing, I heard his mate answer back- and then the conversation ensued for several minutes. Funny, I felt invasive, so I stepped inside and a bit later noticed outside my door, on the closest wire to my home, sat the two birds. They were doing just what everyone else here seems to do…just hangin’ together, checking out the scenery- and perched, facing the ocean. I thought, “Wow, even the birds are romantic!”

There are many, many dogs. They are beautiful. Always on a leash and with a fit as a fiddle owner. Because where I live is quite hilly, people slip on their sneakers and  everyone’s “Best Friend” leads them along, as they trudge up and over the undulating land. The day I arrived, my neighbor in the house next door introduced himself, and his dog felt he must do the same. Maybe the pooch was excited, but I did hear his dog bark quite a bit for several hours. It has been nearly a month now, and I have not heard him since or any other dog. I see plenty of them, just not hear them. So living here are content four legged ones as well? Great! People, birds, dogs…everybody is happy!

Originally, the land that comprises much of this modern-day municipality was owned by a Spaniard. All of it, for miles far beyond what the eyes can follow, was his Rancho. Then, in the 1930s, an out of place Norwegian decided he wanted to build a “Spanish village by the Sea”. He bought la tierra, and immediately set to paper a few hard and fast rules. Mainly, he wished to expound on the adobes with red-tiled roofs that were already a long-time complement to the virgin landscape. Thus, he decided to create a city ordinance stipulating that all new buildings must reflect this historic, Spanish style. Eventually, some infiltration of other forms of architecture dotted the cityscape, but for the most part, the original adobes and the initial builds for his Spanish hamlet have survived and been untampered.

The earliest village “Ole Town” streets are still here, and in fact, my home is on one of those streets. They twist and turn and there is absolutely no rhyme or reason to them. Creating a grid to follow, just did not happen. Authentically, as in the days of past centuries, roads were created more as foot and cart paths threading amongst cottage-size homes; not streets for the modern motorcar. I love this aspect, because it trains my brain to be observant and to imprint pictorial paths in which to go hither and thither. It makes living here a bold enterprise every time one sets out to go somewhere! However, in my travels, I have found a few long, intersecting -across the village- thoroughfares that do help. Out and about, are residents walking, biking, skate-boarding, as well as driving. No matter how you traverse this town, the views of homes clifftop-perched at every angle to catch a glimpse of Sun and Ocean, is breathtaking! In panoramic breadth, contemporary homes somehow harmonize with the echoing of architecturally historic visuals of young California. This serves to entice and entrance those who gaze upon it all- as they pass along. It would seem they are under a spell, perhaps long-ago cast by Neptune’s rolling waves of the sea.

Throughout the city are Spanish detail references. Over-reaching some main boulevards arch wrought iron Spanish frilled street signs and lanterns. Colorful tiled homes and buildings are in abundance.  They often have original ceramic tile as exterior decoration, or in their inner courtyards. One can glimpse painted tile designed as borders around windows and doors. There are crafted large, inlaid mosaic-tile medallions set into low walls along the village main street, while others name beach access tunnels. I have even noticed old “cobblestonesque” sidewalks up and down the rows of shops. There is some stained glass, but it is that familiar red roof tile and crisp white-walled adobe that adds Mediterranean flair to the surroundings.

A colorful brush has painted this seaboard town. Blue, white, red, and the nearly chartreuse green rounded hills with abundant mustard in bloom, create a primary color feast for the eyes. In addition to these rich hues, are the violet spires of Echium Candicans, and the purple clusterings of Limomiun Statice Perizil. Orange beaked Bird of Paradise or Flower Strelitzia are everywhere. Cranberry red Bougainvillea grow prolific and spontaneously along the coast.  Much of it is planted to add rich contrast to the white-washed walls of the adobes. Also, indigenous to the coastal shale soil and climate, and growing with profusion, is the Malva (Lavatera) maritime bi-color blooming shrubs, showcasing pale lilac and deep purple. Just gorgeous! Look closely, as one can see red Calistemon, or wild growing bottle-brush in clusters of ground cover. Remembering childhood, my eyes have zoned-in on the hot pink and magenta Carpobrotus Acinaciformis, a native succulent to the shoreline cliffs and crevices. With such a splash of color on every turn, it is no wonder as to how California became the land of dreams.

Having officially set anchor in this new “berth”, I’m certain there will be a bounty of discoveries in the next upcoming months, after all, summer is around the bend. I have read there are surfing contests, bowlings on the green, street fairs, farmers’ markets, festivals and outdoor concerts in the works. Meeting people and relishing the fine weather are expressions of daily routine. My gratitude for having this new zip code in which to dwell is immeasurable. It all began with the Pacific as my magnet. Yet, living by the ocean is so much more than mere gazing at the azure jewel sparkling out to the south, west and northwest. Knowing this, I still pinch myself to prove it is real.

 

 

 

 

Yin and Yang,Though Mostly Yang

Yesterday, I experienced the yin and yang of life.

Since my life has been teetering on a most abrupt precipice of late, the day began in the new “normal” style: one slated for adventure. I jumped into my Sun Goddess, started her up and took off for the beach. After all, it was a glorious, crisp, California-winter sort of a day! I knew the ocean must be looking spectacular with the skies awash in bright blue. The divergent cloud clustering sprinkled sporadically here and there could only add to the panoramic skyscape. Well, needless to say, I was not disappointed.

I took the 57 to the 5 which is not a route I drive usually. Why not? There’s ocean south of Malibu! Once I reached Orange County in a flight of vehicular fancy only Southern Californians dream about, I spotted a strip of blue just a bit past Los Osos, I believe. Next, I noted the artistic carving of swallows on wing in the freeway side walls as I commandeered my wheels past San Juan Capistrano, down the 5 which courts the coastal lands.

And then- I spotted it! My muse. The Pacific. She lived up to her name, all smooth like a blue plane of glass-an azure shimmer at peace. Not a sailboat on the water, no mark of humankind, just outstretching calm.

I was grateful the freeway, itself, was flowing like a body of water. That allowed me to appreciate the beauty. But after many miles I hit cities that were further inland and the 5 no longer hugged the shore.

But, still, even as cities these people were so lucky to be so close to feel the ocean air. Maybe they can’t hear the pounding surf, but the air is quite different than inland. I knew this was why I was driving on a whim. I was in quest of sea songs carried on sea winds. I think my car has a “Seaward” button to press for immediate automotive splendor.

Further on, the 5 lined up with the coast again. The long stretch from well before San Onofre through and past Camp Pendleton, slicing through Mission Viejo, has that bright blue platter of water-served up as an irresistible feast for our eyes…Oceanside, then Carlsbad, Escondido, etc…a reception line of communities welcomed me all along the way.

Finally, on impulse, I veered off the road taking an offramp to somewhere… I just made sure my trail was headed west. Well, I drove to the beach. Kids were just coming out of school and skateboards were at play, getting riders to their destinations. A friend’s house? After-school tutoring? Music lessons? Grandma’s? The burger joint? Starbuck’s? Home to hug their mom or the family collie?

I then spotted a place that might be a good place to live one day. I zipped into the driveway and had a look around. A realtor was there showing it to interested potential residents. She was very sweet and quite willing to explore any question or concern That popped into my mind. I admired her savvy. She knew her facts and knew what people need to know. After a fairly short look around, I walked back to my parking space. All the while I was thinking… imagine living down by the beach?!

Well I backed out and shifted my sweet ride into Drive. As I moved forward about 75 feet, suddenly to my dismay, the engine turned off. Just shut off like the snap of one’s fingers. This has happened a few times before in the last three months. Same scenario. I go from reverse into drive and then the engine decides to take a hiatus!

Well, the bad thing was, I was in the middle smack dab of the driveway…cars could not leave nor enter as long as I was a sitting duck. Not even a swan. A duck. Of course I panicked! Of course I tried over and over to start up the engine! But to no avail.

Now, the realtor with perspicacity drew lines from point to point with a mental pencil and straight-edge ruler. She determined before I even call for AAA, that I secure myself and my little roadster off to the side. I thought, “Sure, Brilliant! Who has my I dream of Genie bottle? Where did I last pocket my Bewitched magic nose?” I suggested we go ask a neighbor to help push the car.

In a flash she went to elicit help and a gentleman flatly denied saying he had back problems. Well, “Mavis, the Marvelous”, returned to say she was going to push me herself. I told her no, that she will injure herself! She replied, “So what? I’m 78!” I countered with a pleading that was laced with wonder as to how anyone could think so cavalierly about their heart and Health? I implored her to just let me call a tow-truck. I was too fraught with worry for her.

But folks, there are miracles in this world. Mavis the magnificent told me in all of her senior citizen shrewdness, to put my car in neutral. I did. And before I could get out to help, she commanded me to stay put and steer to the right. Her hands placed on my side mirror and door were primed for action. You know, that fierce “I am Woman, hear me roar”, feistiness fueled her to move me and my wheels just a few feet to clear a drive path!

With my jaw dropped and queasy stomach churning in anguish for her well-being, I witnessed a bonefied miracle. She HAD to get to her next appointment- and by golly she mustered the strength to get the job done so she would!

I wanted to thank her and pay her and exchange information— but she hopped into her own car, carefully eeked it past me looking straight ahead, and took off for location unknown… in a dash of time.

My friends, if ANY of you say being older is debilitating, please eat your words. Mavis was Superwoman yesterday as well as Supercitizen. She proved women can do what we set our minds to do. Her determination became my miracle. I am EXTREMELY indebted to her. But most of all, I’m in awe. What a gal! Thank you, Mavis!

After much incongruent cell phone communication, and a time lapse of about 40 minutes…my car simply started up on a first try. I had no choice but to just go- GO!

You can all guess the ending. It took me nearly 3 hours to get home to our snowy San Gabriels. It was pretty much the most horrific, frightening, nail-biting, topper of all driving experiences driiiive home of my long life. But, I’m here, in one piece.

The Sun Goddess? She’s here, and on punishment. Shame on her. I need to solve this problem. But, I will ever be grateful for a Mavis, a woman with Chutzpah to have crossed my path in a HUGE , important way.

 

On the Cusp of Autumn

🍂🍁🍂🍁🍂🍁🍂🍁🍂🍁🍂🍁🍂🍁🍂🍁🍂

Autumn in Southern California is an unpredictable thing. Not only is it hard to know when it will finally “feel like Fall”, but when it will actually occur is also an uncertainty. Of course it will happen! We will all rejoice and sigh relief from the oppressive, baking sun we endured the long-drawn our summer. But, when it does indeed make its presence known, everything will seem all the better.

We have already had some precursory signs which both tantalize and frustrate. Obviously, one cannot fight the laws of the celestial heavens. Our sun is seen at a different angle in the sky now, and we are beginning to have shorter days. Thusly, the marine layer is creeping in at night from the coast and its fingered fog is reaching far inland, up into the northern desert nether lands, and burrowing deep into the valleys and Orange County. Overnight, the thermometer in Southern Cal is dipping into the 59s and low 60s, and if you are hunkered down in a cabin up at Big Bear or Arrowhead, you are on the brink of 32 degrees, with a chance of snow. But, none of this noted drop in temps is lasting too long. During the day, there has been a 20-30 degree rise. By 4 pm, it is not quite hot enough to warrant the air conditioning, but it is such that seeking shade and liquids are still priorities. Therefore, tis the season of dangling the proverbial “autumn is approaching” carrot over our heads.

I for one cannot wait to open my front door one morning, and smell that fall has indeed come home. The air will feel wetter, heavier and have a fresh scent to it. Everything will be drenched in deeper colors and a portending mood of promise will linger all around. Even the cement may have a hint of scent of pre-sunrise precipitation, This immediately excites something within me. It is like a trigger. I will soon be reaching for an umbrella and scarf; and none too soon!

When on my walks I first spot that first leaf turned red, or orange, or yellow, I will know Autumn is upon us. So far, nothing. It is just past the first week in October. Patience is important, yet, I know it likely will arrive as late as the last week of the month. Typically, my children would have to wear sweaters or jackets to go “Trick or Treating” on Halloween. There are rare occasions though, when even by Halloween, Autumn is still in the wings. I can remember back to childhood having to tug along my pillowcase jammed with a candy trove, breathing steamy breath through my dime store mask. Eventually, I’d give up anonymity, and push it on top of my head in order to breathe freely and cool off a bit. Having this memory, I know full well that just because September 21st is the autumnal equinox, doesn’t mean immediate glory days.

And how glorious the months of Autumn can be! Once here, we revel in trees ablaze in reds, golds, tangerines, even deep purples. In California, the nurserymen are much to be credited for finding and planting species that do have showy fall color, and are able to withstand the extremes of blistering summer heat. In decades past, far underground have flowed waters that today’s trees if mature enough, can still tap into for resiliency. When Fall has finally stepped up to the stage, you can discover this plethora of different types of trees that will indeed display color galore. I am grateful to all the landscape architects who have designed with a rich palette in mind, for it brings a vibrancy to our environs that is nothing short of spirited. Having green and lush most of the year is definitely soothing, but, also having a demonstrative Fall botanical fanfare for all to enjoy is quite special, if not invigorating.

I love the Fall for the crisp in the air, the bite of an apple and in the brisk of the wind. Seeing that first swirl of autumn leaves evokes cozy thoughts and spurs on promise. It’s the same effect you get when you style a toddler’s lock of hair and as the brush pulls away, the hair bounces enthusiastically into an expressive curl. Even the first fireplaces put to the task, send out a plume of good things to come. Where there is wood burning there is a hearth, and where there is a hearth, there is a home and where there is a home, there is much to be appreciated.

Sitting near the fireplace, for the first time in Autumn, every sense is heightened and brilliantly noted. That smoky scent, the flush over face and hands awash in warmth, one cannot help but feel entranced by the sporadic snapping percussion of spark or the “hushed” glowing of ember. Immediately, this scenario calls for one of several engagements. There, before the hearth, the choice can be made. Either engage in quiet pondering, read an intriguing book or hum a heartfelt tune. Maybe knitting a secret present or whittling a small token from wood are past times of preference. Not everything must adhere to modernity. Perhaps, a sincere conversation or an impromptu tale to be told may fit the bill and savor the experience. Better still, is there a harmonica in your pocket? A dulcimer in the corner? A fiddle upon a hook? A recorder on a shelf? How about a banjo by the woodbox? Any of these instruments put to fine use on the brink of the moment is worthy of performance, remembrance and gratitude. All are fitting ways to rein-in long desired Autumn.

This is what the season of Autumn does, I believe. It brings us back to home, back to the fold. It focuses us near to the most meaningful part of our lives; our family. Even if your hearth is far away from loved ones, just coming in out of the cold, settling down by the fire, and kindling the thoughts of good things either gone by or good things yet to come, is invaluable. It could be this is why the seasons are the way they are. On the third of four seasons, we witness a final profusion of color. Its a last testament to what life can and maybe has been. The celebration and acceptance of change, the gusting of wind with coil and spin, and temperatures calling for shelter all hone us in like the shine on a sickle. We are honed in to home. To hearth. To heart. To Family. To dreamscape and imagination. To prayer and resolve. To praise and guidance. To warmth and peace. To safety.

Is it any wonder that so many of us residing in Southern California love the Fall time of year? It would seem Fall itself is magical. There may be an “Old Man Winter” waiting up in the canyons, ready to take over in a blanket of frost and white. But, in Autumn, we have “Wise Man Wizard”. with the sweep of his invisible wand, he summons moisture and rain. Then, he flicks it again to stir- up the winds. With that mysterious touch, he commands the temperatures to fall, and the leaves to grandstand their dramatic hues. Then, oh so subtly, he gently twirls his wand, capturing crisped leaves in his design to be noticed. Our eyebrows raise. Our footsteps pause, our heads turn to listen, and our heartbeats do a mini bellyflop from within. We know its here. Autumn has come!

There, at home, is the cinnamon in the applesauce on the stove, and the pumpkin bread cooling from the oven. A log just softly cracked in two in the fireplace, and the kitten opens one eye, spots it, shuts his lid again, and goes back to his undercurrent, slumbering purr. There’s the door, the latch is lifting….another pair of boots has come home.

Those Eyes

A while ago, a relative of mine, posted something that caught my attention on social media. It was a very fine photograph of a VERY fine lady she and I both have loved our entire lives. Our grandma. Seeing that photograph got my synapses firing. I clearly remember when and how that picture was taken. My grandmother had come to visit me. She was with her only son, my uncle. He snapped a shot of the two of us sitting on my bed with my harp behind us. Grandma had come to hear me play my Troubadour Lyon & Healy harp. I remember absolutely nothing in particular about this “command performance”, but I do recall the walk with her afterward. I lived in a beach city at the time, and it was fitting that she came to see me there, especially since she is the one person who cemented my love of oceanside living.

While on our deliberate and visually fulfilling constitutional, my grandmother chatted about this and that…the trees, the flowers, the baby strollers, the birds we could hear over the din of cars on a nearby main boulevard. As I listened, I drifted off at times, to snatch bits of thought I kept in the ‘hallways of my memory’, always being easily available to ponder and enjoy. My uncle walked along with us, and eventually we wanted to reach a landmark diner to have a delicious meal. Grandma was in her mid-eighties but, didn’t really seem to be. She stood and walked straight. Her upright stance was as demonstrative as her upright attitude. She exuded quiet confidence, and could flatten a naysayer in their tracks within a matter of a phrase. It wasn’t malicious, just setting the record right, that’s all. We all knew that. Thus, our conversation was often punctuated with these characteristic pieces of wisdom. Oh, if only I could hear her say more….For now, it’s those remembrances waiting in the wings of my mind that will have to suffice.

How sweet those hallways of thought can be, with her in them! Most of my memories of Grandma center around her darling duplex home in Southern California. It looked just like a bungalow with a sloping wide A- line roof. It had front criss-cross paned windows bedecked underneath with cheery window boxes spilling forth her favorite, red geraniums. Her home also had prolific, lush front and inside gardens that most certainly were prize-worthy. Her house was painted a soft, deep tan; the hue enriched by a tad more brown tone, than a yellowy tone. This was such a pretty color that made a perfect backdrop to all of the foliage and flora on display. Her small plot of lawn was continuously vibrant green. It was a rich color that beckoned you as a child to lie down on it and feel the coolness below your skin. This natural “carpet” brought soothing relief on even the hottest of days. Bordering the grass area were plantings that brought delighted smiles to anyone who took the time to inspect. My favorite plant was the Fuchsia, or the “ballerina bush” as I would childishly call it. Hers had vivid purple and magenta flowers that danced in the breeze like ballet gowns swishing across a stage. She had several species of Azaleas, and they yielded a feathery, almost gossamer-like accent of pinks and lavender. Tantalizing to the eye, for sure was this beautiful bounty out in front, but the magic continued up the walkway and back to her inner side-yard oasis.

In my grandmother’s inside garden, were serious plants that seemed to command respect due to their sheer size and vigorous presence. Two of these were the trumpet vine and the honeysuckle vine. They had been borne from her gardening enterprises; from cuttings dipped in Root-tone F to the magnificent adult climbers on fence and post that they were! She loved her vines and would let us taste the honeysuckle from the blooms, which made us feel quite cavalier! There were several massive vines at work, having set their tendrils out in quest for further heights and expanse. The trumpet vine was really one for fascination. I never saw it devoid of a profusion of flower. They would hang down almost as if they were a string of musical notes in a composition. Though all the names of her vines escape me, I am positive she had flowering shrubs as well.

At one’s shoulder-level, I recall the showy camellias. There were at least three varieties, some double petaled, even! I could never mistake the signature scents of the lower-thriving gardenia and her night-blooming jasmine. She had heliotrope and hydrangea, spires of goldenrod and giant, statuesque gladiolas. If that weren’t enough, bordering her flower beds were lobelia and begonia. It was such a thickly endowed garden, that there was just enough room for her glass picnic table with wrought iron matching chairs. Grandma loved serving us lunch out on the patio, amidst all the greenery, fragrance and dazzling color.

To sit at a transparent glass table impressed us as children. We could watch our feet dangle and play footsie with one another. Grandma always thoughtfully set the table in style. Placemats were a must, and very often they were bright, happy colors and either made of woven cotton or straw! The napkins came with napkin rlngs of course, and our grandmother loved her colored glass! Thus, our goblets were made of glass and usually a translucent color in which to visually enjoy her homemade pink lemonade. Sometimes, we might drink out of her equally festive 1950s style colored-aluminum tumblers. Teal, magenta, red-orange, chartreuse and yellow….a feast for the eyes every gulp of the way! The “pieces de resistance” were the unique sipping straw stirrers. The tippy top of them had a tiny round ball with a hole in it for a mouth piece to sip on.  It was lavender colored and infused with silvery speckles,. The ball shaped mouth piece was connected to a thin silver metal straw, which joined at the bottom to a matching lavender/silver speckled and slightly pointed well of a spoon. We thought this was the best invention next to our dad’s Osterizer! We each had our own sipper straw spoon and we probably spent more time stirring and giggling and sipping and bubbling than she probably would have liked. But what are summer visits at Grandma’s in her beach cottage garden for? Being silly and carefree of course!

Further back in our grandmother’s inner sanctum was a narrow walkway flanked by her clothesline. That’s where our bathing suits and damp towels would end up. We would also line-up our pails filled with claimed seashells and starfishes, for surveying and comparison, later. We would walk all the way to the back gate. This led out to where Grandma’s garage and tiny plot of green alongside it opened up into her back alley. Now, here, quite nonchalantly placed, so as not to cause too much attention, was the prize of all prizes.

Her fine horticultural specimen sat indiscriminately all year long. Then, once a year, this jewel of a plant would have its moment of glory. In the night, well past sundown, Grandma would take us in our pajamas, robes and slippers out to see her secret. She would tell my brother to hold the flashlight to mark our path as it was quite dark. We would follow single file, in stealth-like, soft footsteps. Once we were exactly there, stooping down in hushed, fragile patience, she would shine the light on her epiphyllum oxypetalum; the “Queen of the Night” flower! As if worshipping the nocturnal luminescence, it would fully open its bloom to the moon. All white itself, and surrounded by blushed at the base slender, pronged petal adornments; it had lacy stamens and pistils which seemed to float upward from inside the blossom. Her petals appeared to glow as they spread wide with frilled edge…a most dramatic exhibition! The “oohs” and the “ahhhhhs” could not be kept at bay. Our eyes stared in wonderment, and I absolutely know this was the solidifying factor in all our lives that made us become stewards of the Plant Kingdom. Having us partake in this annual event speaks volumes as to the kind of person our Grandma was.

Looking back at that picture posted on social media, I reminisce fondly. My Grandma and I were sitting in tandem. shoulder to shoulder on my bed, with my harp prominently in the background. You see, I believe my grandmother brought many splendid things into my life. She was the one who played her piano and accompanied my violin playing. She once walked me to a neighbor’s house who was a member of the Philharmonic to have him hear me play, (even though he was gone that day). Never fear, she let me read books for children about Beethoven and taught me to play along with her, Mozart’s “Minuet in G”. This attentive lady believed in me, and I believed in her.

Beyond that, there is something even more. Philosophical, really. Grandma’s eyes that were caught so well in that photograph ~~ say it all. Her soul behind her eyes was a Knowing Soul. She knew life was music. It could even be a symphony! Not only was music the expression of tune and rhythm, but, it was an essence we could all “see” if we just looked hard enough. Music is in the curling “melody” of growing vine, the “toned” fragrance of flower, the “dancing” curve and shape of leaf and patterned petals. Music is not reserved for just our ears. Our eyes can “see” Music, too. This is what I learned from my precious, sweet Grandma. This is what upon occasion, brings little ‘dewdrops’ to my own eyelashes; when I see the gentle beat of a butterfly wing, a hummingbird’s blur, or a medallion-shaped silver dollar Eucalyptus leaf twitching in the breeze. Thank you Grandma May. I love you.

Where Did My Childhood Summers in Southern California Go?

Okay, I get it. We are in a warming funk. It may only last another thirty years, but, it is a funk. How I long for the days of old…when I was a “Sea n Ski” gal with my white sunscreen nose, floppy sunhat, rubber flip flop thongs (we wore them on our feet, folks), my ruffly bikini and my straw and wooden beaded beach basket tote! That was living in style! My little sidekick sister sported a matching but different color handmade corduroy beach cape with yarn ball trim and silver fancy button hooks. We also had those nifty little plastic eyeball protectors that you’d set atop the bridge of your nose as you lay down to soak up the sun and build that “brown as a berry” suntan. Suntanning was serious business to the Real McCoys that we were: the Little Surfer Girls of Corona Del Mar…The only preliminary was jumping into our big brother’s forest green bomb ’56 Chevy Sedan, and flying down the 57 with “Wipeout”, “The Monster Mash” and “Witchy Woman” blaring out of the radio

This is what all children from the San Gabriel Valley would do multiple times, week after week, all summer long. And our summers were the full three months, baby! At times, the beach was often a different deal compared to where our homes were. We would leave in the mid-morning when the sun was beginning to bake at 80 degrees, only to find the the beach’s marine layer was lingering around until at least noon. That meant double doses of suntan lotion,…for everyone… had learned the cloud refractive process can redden fair skin to a ripe red lobster hue if you dare to lay under cloudy beach skies in the summer. But that was okay, because mostly I remember many carefree days playing on the shore with a cool breeze coming off the waves. It was delightful conditions such as these that borne the creative, gleeful escapades with my little sister and brothers.

We loved doing so many things together, such as beach combing for sand dollars, seashells that looked pretty, and digging for sand crabs as the tide would recede. We loved hopping over the mounds of seaweed being attacked by the fiendish little flies that loved buzzing all over them. As insouciant children can only do, we cheerfully chased the waves and would stop to dig our toes into the wet sand; for this always tickled relentlessly as the water would pull away. These were simple rituals we must do each visit. Every time, we walked the length of the beach with the intention of getting to the jetty. There we would search for starfishes and bring one home in a pail. Climbing over the rocks would be rough and very hard on our toes, but by the end of summer, we were in condition and our feet had toughened from the practice. Perhaps the most memorable summer was the one when we staked our claim at the summit of Pirates’ Cove. We discovered above the cave, if we clambered up to the very top, nearest the edge where the waves would dramatically perform their sea-song of crash and spray, was a strongly anchored pole. We painted onto an old white cloth our own flag emblem, and tied it to the pole as if this beach, cove and cave were our very own. It was OUR mystery to know; OUR realm to rule.

These summers of youth are a blessed memory. I know my siblings and I have heartfelt remembrances of our sweet Grandmother who taught us to love the beach. She is the one who took us literally into the waves as she herself would gather-up her pedal pushers or ruck-up her skirt and tie it around her waist so she herself could wade through the ocean along the shore. She encouraged us to use our eyes and look into the water, to find things, imagine things, to adore and respect the sea. Because of her, I learned to brave the waves, and body surf. She taught us to be strong and smart and to be one with the water. My little sister and I would pretend we were mermaids while we dove and flipped and frolicked as any fabled sea-nymph would do. The ocean was a multi-faceted playground and our affinity for this gifted place was always a huge part of our childhood summers.

The beach-goers of today have a far different experience. It is no longer a spontaneous excursion. Instead, it is a destination often requiring parking reservations. Too often the crowd is indifferent to the beautiful tableau before them. Instead of consideration of others’ and their space, disregard and flagrant selfishness is often made manifest. It is typical for there to be loud, overbearing conversations, blaring music, and unsupervised little ones running amuck kicking sand everywhere and onto everyone. The lack of clean-up is appalling, too. Trash just left indelibly leaves an ugly testament to modern-day indifference. Where is the respect for our planet? Where is the social conscience? Thank goodness not all beachgoers behave in this manner.

How I miss those innocent, oblivious summer days on the beach. My transistor radio softly played “Oh, Sweet Pea come on and dance with me”, while my “sunbathing” Barbie Doll greeted her boyfriend Ken who “drove up” alongside her in his snazzy convertible. He’d “hop-out” to join her in her fun…I even miss my own casual gawking at the surfers and lifeguards, and reading on my stomach so I could scope out the rest of the male population from behind my sunglasses. When I think of all those beach days, I recall delicious picnics comprising tuna fish sandwiches, grapes, lemonade, Fresca or Squirt, brownies and Ruffles Potato Chips. Lively conversation and giggles always accompanied such a meal. The beach was a place where imagination, dreams and giggles were allowed free-reign. No wonder the fondness for such a place kindles strong in my soul. The magic of childhood is a blessed thing to experience in such an unfettered way.

When the sun began to go down, the whole ambience of the place would change. Those beach goers remaining, were hoping to see that sacred orange ball dip into the horizon. They always sat in muted, pensive, still repose. Everyone was in their own thinking world. A hush would fall over the total beach almost as if it were a sanctuary of some sort~a special world requiring honor and afterthought. All sea worshippers would hear the symphony of rhythm persevere; thunderously rolling white-capped waves; pounding evermore.

Childhood summers to me are not memories of the broiling asphalt blacktop and car outdoor thermometers registering 115 F. degrees. They are not the cranky drivers, nor the insanely inflated gasoline prices. Summer is not the watering lawn restrictions or the drying up of trees and shrubbery. Yes, we did have fires back then, but not as many, it would seem… I guess what I am trying to say is, summer meant worry-free times. We don’t have that anymore. I’d like to hope that the summers of yore will return once more.

 

Chasing Down the Past

Just when life seems to be fairly ho-hum, a snippet of one’s past zips by into view, sending you into an emotional tizzy. Such is as follows:

“Oh! That’s my car! My VW bug! 1974! It HAS to be! Nobody else thought to have Earl Sheib paint it an aquamarine-blue back in the day! It was one of a kind! Oh, my gosh, I have to follow this guy!”

Well, I had just exited my garage in a quick quest to purchase some potato bread. I love potato bread almost as much as I love egg bread…thus, when the whim came over me, I hopped into my Red Thrill and zipped out and down my driveway. Thankfully, out of sheer habit, I stopped at the sidewalk to press the garage door down to close. That’s when in my rearview mirror, the Blue Wonder put-puttered on by…

Is there anything so fun as a Volkswagen Beetle’s engine sound? It’s just plain “cute” sounding, although I suspect some other descriptors must be famously held in place because a large cross-section of society loves their Volkswagen Bugs. By the way, we are talking the original engines, not the newly revised, this last decade, engines. Uh uh. Not the same animal. Or insect.

Vintage VW owners tend to personify their idea of what the Volkswagen sound is to them. Almost any age person and gender might call it a sporty, spunky, “in yo face”, sweet, cool, funky, upbeat, humble, nostalgic or California-surfer-free-spirited-unfettered “athlete’s life-style”… sound. Certainly there’s even more! Obviously, this is because the era the Bugs took flight was the 60’s, just when Creativity was King.

Since the earlier decades up to now, VW owners have gotten involved. THEY “personify” their car’s sound by “fulfilling” the role. Thus, you might STILL see little old ladies wearing a sunhat and shades with hippie beads dangling from the mirror. Daisies might be spilling out from the front wing windows, too. One might see male drivers of all ages, wearing Hawaiian shirts, with their own set of sunglasses and, of course, donning scruffy, willy-nilly beards. But the aura doesn’t stop there.

It used to be: to have a Volkswagen; must have a rack on top. Though today, the racks seem to be used more for bicyclists, rather than the two surfboard minimum, considered “hip” and “with it” back then. Today, if you keep your eyes peeled, you might STILL catch VWs en route with Indian Bells tinkling and incense swirling in time to the rhythm of the put-put sound or the sitar strains emanating from the 8 track cassette player on the dash. You might also spot those owners who still love anything from the ’50s, so you’ll see pony tails and greased up waves in the profiles of these drivers. The point is, owning a Beetle is often a thematic experience.

Now, to love your car, is to drive your car. There is the group of owners who know the TRUEST joy of a VW Beetle, is not to hug the curvacious bends of the PCH, but instead, the whiplash mountain roads, where the Volkswagen automobile itself, was born. These exultant travelers are merry, a tad fierce and blazingly adventurous. They are the ones who can be seen tossing the map out their window in reckless, carefree abandon. They WILL follow the ROAD LESS-TRAVELED. This is how VWs became loved by all of America. They have put-putted over hill and dale across this widespread country; careening ’round the curvy switchbacks of elevated mountain peaks in Montana, to the leafy, lackadaisical swish of the Smokey Mountain Range in the South. As they do, they bring with them their owners’ own views on life.

It’s that driver’s spirit that has driven this fine bugger of a car all over Creation. The love of our planet and the fresh outdoors has lured the VW enthusiasts to motor their car right up to the ski lodge, rather than take the cogwheel train, or village shuttle. This is what “cool” Volkswagen owners do! Why be a passenger, when you can be a DRIVER? Even more fun, is the work involved shifting the gearshift or nailing your foot to the floor, as you try to eek out a few more mph from the buzzing little bug’s engine. Anyone who has driven a VW up in the altitudes, knows it takes sheer chutzpah to get that sucker up over steep inclines. Once you’ve made it– there is a moment of cheerful accolade, always involved with congratulating the adorable little contraption you love to covet so immensely.

And that’s the thing- the impetus for why this entire piece got started. I DO love to covet memories of my Volkswagen. After all, my ’74 aquamarine “Blue Bit of Magic” had a way of perking up my day. It felt uplifting to get into my car, turn the key, and hear her start up. If I must put gasoline in her tank, well, it was quite inexpensive. I knew I was always paying a third less than everyone else. It was my own kind of “elitism”. Once I was going, the wind wings in the front seat were the best! They were a natural air conditioner that I relied on way more often than I did the actual heat and air system. It was really fun to drive my car for a variety of reasons.

In retrospect, I think the put-put sound reminded me of the sound the roadsters make at Disneyland’s Autopia Autobahn Ride. Maybe, that’s what taps into our inner-child and makes so many of us love that sound! Hmm? Another point is the fact that when someone was driving a VWBeetle, you knew it. If you were in your house stirring the spaghetti sauce, you knew a V-Dub was driving by, because your ears would catch its signature half purr, half rumble and your brain would conjure up all kinds of ideas. If you were awaiting the return of someone using your own VW, then it was a lilting feeling to hear that car come into your driveway. In all these ways, my ’74 Volkswagen sounded happy to me: that is simply the crux of it.

That Volkswagen “Iridescent Blue Beetle” I drove, had quite a “life”. It all began when my brother brought home his own vintage VW that was a stick shift model from the early ’60s. I tried to learn to drive it and kind of failed miserably. My dad tried to teach me how to do all four steps at once, but this pea-brain just couldn’t handle it. After my younger brother accidentally drove my older brother’s car into the avocado grove, in reverse, my folks started to think about purchasing an automatic.

When I was truly in need of a car, and for me it was after my first year of college, my folks surprised me. They drew up an agreement to partially fund me with a $3,000 Automatic-Stick Volkswagen. I had to first work that summer to pay my half, which I did, gladly, and hence, I returned to school in the fall relying on four wheels rather than my Dr. Scholl sandals to get me around. A lot better!

“Beetle Bug” started off her independent life in the very “happening” coastal town of Malibu. The Native American Chumash name means “The Surf Sounds Loudly”, and boy, did my car know what the ocean call was. I was supposed to be living in Malibu earning a degree in Education! Well, I have to say, collegiate life in Malibu with my venturesome little car was really, REALLY “tough!” How hard it was to NOT drive down the hill from “Peppy-Tech University” to go and “study” up the highway at Coral Beach. Many a free afternoon was spent reading on the sand with the waves pounding their song, and my car parked within earshot, surveying it all.

Additionally, I recall how “frustrating” it was to have to incessantly drive my flock of friends down to Malibu Colony and check out the cute waiters at Beecher’s Cafe, while pretending to be engaged in a “Study Group”. Oh, sure👍, we were studying, alright. Still other times, the “poor” VW had to drive up through the canyons to take me to my community service credit locales. Often, her wheels zoomed us northward up the Pacific Coast Highway to Trancas, so we could accidentally “run into” surfers while researching the California coastline and its many inhabitants (ahem: habitats)…yes, very hard to do that “research”… Friends along for the ride, we would make trips to Zuma Beach or Paradise Cove and take in the “scenic” beauty. We saw surfers all the time, and sometimes movie stars. We knew which notables lived in which houses. All this was “fact-finding” material for this “academic” throng. To think of all the work involved, having to drive with best buds in tow, to Santa Monica, so we could look up information at the local library on Sixth Street.  Oh, “the information” we gathered!

Further endeavors led us to Point Dume, or the inspiring overlook spot at Point Mugu. (Such “arduous” tasks to endure as a college student, utilizing the wheels of freedom! So much “responsibility”!) You get the idea. Those newly acquired set of radials burst open my world. It was sheer dazzle and dream. The experiences with friends were treasures, and the gorgeous scenery was unparalleled. When I think of these things, I gratefully think of my zippy, put-putting automobile. And maybe vice-versa?

Not wanting to belabor every detail of my car’s life, I can tell you “she” has been there for me in the best of times. I owned her 13 years. She wasn’t perfect. She needed an entire rebuild after I stupidly drove her into the ground. What can I say, I was a girl who didn’t know much about automobiles. It was a unique car, too. One experimental year, the fine engineers at Volkswagen decided to build a car that looked like a stick shift, pretended to work like a stick shift, but without the extra pedal. . In fact, this one of a kind “automatic shift”  had a set of fuses underneath the glovebox that had one fuse which monitored the transmission. When parked, if it was removed (in a split second action–a quick easy), the car’s transmission would lock in place and make it veritably thief proof! This came in quite handy, I can tell you!

I had a good friend who enjoyed my vehicle to the hilt, would fiendishly make my car “flinch” while I was driving, simply by touching the gearshift ever so lightly. He would crack up every time. He also had a hilarious way of hanging on to the window bar that separated the wing window from the passenger window, by rolling the side window down, and pretending he was clinging onto it for dear life if I reached a maximum speed of sixty. Very funny are my memories connected with this particular “on the road” companion.

If we ever were on an outing making our way home from Ventura or Santa Barbara, and were taking the 101 inland route south, we’d have to tread up the “Great Incline”, or the “Conejo Grade” between Camarillo and Thousand Oaks. He would act as if thrusting his chest back and forth, while grunting in the process would help me “make my car” get enough “oomph” to reach past the maximum speed of 40 miles per hour!

Essentially, …the effort would begin at the bottom of the extremely steep 7% grade with an onset speed of 60; (if there weren’t other cars in the way). Our ascent was tenacious! Gradually, as we drove up the incline, the top speed would DECREASE steadily down to forty, after I had made it to the halfway point on the hill. With foot pedal pressed to the floor, I would hope and pray and pay homage to “Mercury the God of Flight”, while cracking up at my passenger’s protruding and flexing of his Alpha-Male chest! We would not lose any more speed before the summit was reached. It was actually an awful lot of excitement and drama which made for a most “far from boring” ride. Yes, that Beetle had nosed and trudged its way through many a taxing terrain.

This same car has been my “wanderlust traveler buddy”. She is the one who took me to a number of places that have filled my soul with all those memories I have alluded to. I can say that without her, I may never have known some wonderful things about our country and our earth, for that matter. With the “People’s Wagon” wheeling me to places unknown, life has been a richer palette for sure.

One of my earliest adventures was to drive over the Golden Gate Bridge. Overwhelming and almost other-worldly, it was. Massively huge, too. The engineering marvel is connected to the sea in an uncanny way. I only drove across, regrettably, though. I know the real magic lies well outside the window. To plant two feet on the bridge itself, beholding sheer panoramic view of the bay- now that is something yet to be experienced! Still, to drive across that immense engineering triumph was very inspiring.

Another excursion, when one of my brothers married for the first time, entailed driving my Beetle up to Idaho. Along the way, I learned that Nevada has a lot of repetitive desert space, with the best parts near its corners and borders. This was a terribly long time ago, thus, my observation may be outdated by now. I just remember one small plant cluster after another on caked, dry, dusty, flat land. I couldn’t wait to see what lay beyond…

Idaho was really a beautiful state. First, was seen golden farmland, acre upon acre of shimmering ripples brushed by the breeze. Then, came the mountains and forests; all a painter’s dream come come true! Destination: Sun Valley. My Blue Bugsy took me to my brother’s wedding and to meet his lovely, sweet bride. The cozy comfort of the chapel in aspen woods replete with natural beauty all around comes to mind. I recall footbridges over ponds, ice-skating rinks (I could not master), and the youthful promises of faith and love pledged heart to heart.

That trip was a gutsy, reckless one, which I took with a couple other siblings. They dared me to drive way faster than the speed limit when we were out in those wide open spaces. Well, sure, of course I did! Youth. Untamed and unchecked. Oy vey! To behave differently or to test the borders of obedience, these can become one’s mindset. The acting on a whim seems integral to being a Volkswagen Bug owner.

How fondly I remember, lest I ever forget, the 8:00 pm decision to “cruise” on up to Sequoia National Park and camp out overnight! My boyfriend and I threw blankets, canteens, an ice chest and a picnic basket into the backseat. Up we went, getting there well past midnight. It was the first time I had ever seen the giant redwoods. They loomed large and majestically out of the moon drenched snow. The Sequoias were tall pillars that had a way of putting one’s existence into humbled perspective. We pitched our tent right on the snow, and “roughed it” like the frontiersmen and pioneer women would have done. Parked nearby was my car “who” seemed to “watch over us” as we slept throughout the night.

Perhaps, most cherished of all, was when “Miss Wanderlust” drove me to my own wedding destination, in a high mountain terrain, up to a waterfall that cascaded not only water, but wishes. That adventure had many aspects–one of them of which was the fulfilling of dreams, and eventually, some were not. But, no regrets, ever. How could I regret experiencing my first snowfall, or hearing the crunch of snow under my Sorrel boots? How could I have not been overjoyed while discovering gem-like colorful pebbles in streams, or feeling what the hush of the quiet feels like when living in a sequestered canyon village? How could I not be amazed at driving through winding mountain highways to get to the next town, after circumventing whole mountain ranges and changing elevation?  My V-Dub made possible cherished memories of hiking up to old silver mines, and hiking solo in the crisp morning air while picking wildflowers for my later in the day wedding bouquet. I could not have experienced all these treasured things, if my Beetle Bug hadn’t taken me all the way from shores of California to the mountain peaks of Colorado!

When I think of my courageous little car, I remember the joyful journeys we made together. Sometimes, my drives would be borne out of despondency, and just to get behind the wheel, have a good think and witness the world flash by was a therapeutic escapade. Escaping the doldrums, I would embark on adventure, my Bug and I. For you see, when you drive a Volkswagen, you are never really alone.

Years later, I  transformed  its original beige color to the personally chosen aquamarine blue. I loved that paint job! The color had a sparkle, as if it were an ocean jewel. It wasn’t long before my firstborn son’s blue eyes were gems to behold as well. He rode home from the hospital in that car. Best of all memories? Perhaps?

Even so, Beetle Bug and I drove to visit my grandma’s on many a weekend for tea and kibitzing, and once in awhile as far as San Diego to surprise my eldest brother- to see what he was painting lately, and what music he was performing. I prized these trips to locales afar, where my favorite persons lived. Isn’t that the real purpose of a vehicle, anyway? They are meant to take us to people and places that add layers upon layers of meaning to our story. Then, for the rest of one’s life, when you see that particular make of car you used to own, you are halted and suspended in memories dear. Huh. Is it you that owned the car, or did it own you?

Getaways, college, weddings, births, pivotal moments, sentimental bliss…these are brought to mind at even the flash of sight of one’s well- loved “V-dub”. Thus, that morning, as I idled frozen in thought at the end of my driveway, the “focal point” made a left turn down the nearest side street and I followed suit. He was being a typical VW driver. He was scooting along as if he were in the Indy 500, careening around street corners and driving with fearless ambition! I shifted gears and took flight after him. I kept hearing in my head: “I hope he gets stuck at a traffic signal, then I can pull up alongside him. Don’t get a speeding ticket! Watch for baby strollers or four-legged animal friends!”

Well, I managed to tail him for another four blocks, upon which I prayed he would make a right turn into a driveway to a gas-station. Yes! He did! And so did I. Luckily, there was an empty filling-up spot adjacent to his. I watched a very young man, probably in his middle twenties, get out of “his car/my car”, to which I proceeded to tell him my business.

“I’m so sorry to have been following you but, I must ask if your car is in fact, my car from long ago? It was an automatic stick.” He replied that yes his car is the same type. I excitedly said, “Well is it a ’74?” He quickly said “No, it, is a ’75.”  My heart sank. “But, it’s the same unusual color I had custom painted back in the 80’s!” He replied, no, he was sorry. However, he did exclaim, “I love this car! It has a life of its own! It drives and drives and drives!” I countered with: “Don’t you just love those wing windows?” And he said, “I sure do!” I finished with, “Well, thanks for jarring my memory, because a sweet one it is. Enjoy your car!” That’s when he concluded our conversation with: “Oh, I will, I’m taking it up to Obispo to go camping under the pines by the sea.”…

Hmmm. Maybe, whom he bought it from was wrong about the year? Maybe, it really IS my Blue Wonder…?

Quintessential California

QUINTESSENTIAL CALIFORNIA

There is something pretty special about Southern California. Granted, it has many pitfalls…too numerous to list in full. Our choked “freeways”, brutal potholes constantly attacking one’s tires, steamy-hot August and Septembers, graffitied walls, robotic shopkeeper salutations, those who leave trash anywhere, those who don’t seem to want to share, the unsolved transient people predicament that is a shameful reminder we can’t cure poverty, and all the rule-breakers…parkers in the handicap spaces that should not be there, but also, too many empty handicap spaces leaving prime access bare, cars parked on actual front lawns, overly groomed trees hacked to nonsensical “design” insuring no bloom for another nine months, and the incessant firetruck zipping down the straightaway, having to strategize and dodge the numskulls who refuse to clear a path. That all being said, Southern California is STILL a special place. I realized this just recently on a midweek evening, It was all just so magical.

That afternoon, I bolted out the classroom door like a racehorse from the starting gate. I raced my weary legs as fast as they’d allow to the parking lot. My steering wheel practically burned my fingers as I got the car started. The temperature reading boasted 113! So, I blasted the AC to full capacity, creaked-open the windows a slight bit and zzzzzzzzip…out of the parking lot I went! Ten minutes later, I was home. I bolted into the door connecting garage to inside the house, kicked off shoes, plunked down keys and purse, and with exhaustion in tow, ascended my daunting staircase. Once at the “summit”, I retreated into my inner sanctum…the bath and shower. Emerging all refreshed, powdery and perfumed, I took a waft of shampoo essence with me wherever I walked. I was ready for a night worthy of all the intoxicating aromas, the fashion fantastique and bejeweled accents one’s personal repertoire can provide. But, this particular evening, the reality of it was that it truly didn’t matter what I was  wearing. This would be about truthful music listening, whether in tennies or tuxedos, it was each individual listener’s choice. Mode of travel to such a concert was varied as well. Many bravely choose to ride their own wheels and navigate the parking situation. My choice fell in line with the majority; the wise majority. I simply drove my car to a public park about fifteen minutes away. When the bus rounded the corner and into the lot, a line of anticipatory music lovers awaited boarding the vehicle for the most nominal roundtrip fee of  five dollars! Now, granted, the temperature was still in the 100s when I beeped my car shut. But, I knew that getting to my destination was going to be effortless, pleasant and safe.

I chose a seat in the senior section, especially since I am trying to be honest with myself…I am, after all, a “young” senior! The “people watching” commenced…offering a feast for the eyes of character studies in all degrees of humanism. Despite the variety, young to very old, the stepping into the public transit of each person brought on a variety of detail checks. Many were giddy with anticipation, some looked as if they were about to make a trip to the dentist, and still others stepped onboard the bus clearly as if it were their first time. I sat toward the front because I have always had a secret desire to be a train engineer. Seeing all the working and goings on of a bus driver was entertainment, enough.

Soon we were on our way, making the infamous, seemingly impossible trek across the freeway system of Los Angeles and environs at rush hour. I struck up a lively conversation with a young woman probably barely a third of my age. She slipped onto the bus at the very last second, and found a seat with the rest of us “older , wiser” folk. We engaged in discussion about the destination we were trying to get to…the Hollywood Bowl. Somehow, the miraculous path the busdriver decided to take got us to the glorious outdoor ampitheatre in record time. Throngs of people, busses, musicians, instruments, bicyclists, even, descended upon the bottom of the hill leading up to the Hollywood Bowl parking lot. There, I saw the Will Call, secured my ticket and made a bee-line for the nearest elevator. Having been to the Hollywood Bowl all my life, this was a first for me. I have never taken the easy way up. However, the reason was two-fold. My sister has a box which is in the lower level of the theatre where the elevators readily lead to, which means we would be seated much closer to the stage than I ever experienced before. Secondly, I was simply dog-tired from a long, hot September workday..why not use the elevator? When I found our box, I found my sister. She was disseminating directions to the waiters. We laughed because she had arrived literally three minutes ahead of me…despite the fact that we came from polar opposite locations in the Los Angeles Basin, to meet at the exact time on a Thursday evening, workweek night…a true miracle in itself. She too, arrived via public transit, also parking her car in a lot somewhere out on the Westside. Yet, here we were, hours later, and ready to indulge in music, fine wine and a mighty fine meal. Her husband and colleague met us at the box about ten minutes later…all of us starved and ready for the evening to commence.

Now, in the past, I have had meals at the Bowl. Usually, it entails toting along a wicker basket with sandwiches, fruit and and perhaps a tart to finish off the experience. Wine usually was brought by one of the party members, or could be purchased by the glass at the Bowl. Everyone eats anywhere. Seriously. There is no rule. It is true Southern California. If you find a bench halfway up the trek to the nosebleed section, so be it. If you are lucky to claim a grassy knoll, that’s great, too. Most of the time, I have eaten right there, in my bench seat, where I will spend the next few hours enjoying music to the fullest. Patrons can get a bit unruly, but this is not a common occurrence. After all, we are not at a Dodger game. It is fun to see the individualism abound at the Hollywood Bowl. People show off their glassware, their dinnerware or their uniquely festooned eating space they’ve claimed their own for the evening. I have seen small candelabras, and lovely, miniature floral “table” arrangements!  As concert attendees walk past, they might comment and strike a conversation about where such things were bought or made. It is not unusual for discussions to be about someone’s cake and what they are celebrating—it is as if everyone forgets they are Southern Californian workaholics and become “family”. I love that.

This particular night, my meal was in a “box”…which is fancy wording for a seemingly overpriced seat and table to be shared with another person and a second set of seats and table. I soon learned whatever the price was, it was a BARGAIN, for sure! True, it was a tight squeeze, mind you, and I am so grateful my personal “waterworks plumbing” was not being problematic, or else it could have been a big drag. But, my extremely generous hostess, had ordered me one of the meals expertly prepared right there at the Bowl. It was scrumptious—crab, shrimp, avocado, all drenched in “raspberry this” and accented with “raspberry that”. Even the dessert carried the theme, but was the farthest from being tiresome.

To make the meal even more delicious, my sister who must be the most expert wine connoisseur this side of the Mississippi, had bought a bottle of a Pinot Noir I could not get over! I don’t normally get crazed over alcohol…but this was surely derived from the private stores of Bacchus himself. I remember the initial taste being crisp, refreshing, and then a quick peppery snap to follow. Next thing I knew, my mouth was savoring a smooth, Ever So Smooth, I can tell you, flow of flavor that was, as they say, “to die for”. Once, the relishing of wine had happened, I then became aware of a lilting, “the devil may care” state of mind. Oh, my goodness, this must be illegal it is so good. I asked C, my sister, about the wine, and she named it all in a very matter-of fact way—but when I got home and researched it, it was indeed a rare wine, so rare in fact that the winery had already finished selling their last bottles of this particular wine and year. Supposedly one other bottle was “out there” in circulation, but where? Anyhow, It is not a typical endeavor of mine to get all excited over a wine, but this deserved all the praise I could give. Truly, it was a finely crafted work of art. It was a perfect punctuation to a perfect meal, preceding a perfect concert.

So, the short white coated waiters whisked away any remnants of our meal, except for our glasses and beverages. The summer sky was beginning to present its entrancing show of first bright points of light coming out on a sky of teal. We began to hear the lulling sing-song of the crickets, and feel an  enveloping, soothing breeze that must have been born over the Hawaiian Pacific and floated its way to the inlands of Southern California. Even the crowd seemed to respond to these signal changes, all seeming to settle in and get their mindset ready for a night filled  with the notes of Brahms and Beethoven.

The program began with Brahms’ Tragic Oveture, continued with Beethoven’s Piano Concerto #3 and culminated with Brahms’ Symphony #2. I must say, I know I am enjoying a fantastic concert when I feel like I have “discovered” classical music for the first time! That is how I felt that night. The overture was gripping and dramatic. Paul Lewis came out to perform the concerto, and he was nothing short of impressive. Having a big screen television to slightly turn my head to my left to see,  made me truly experience that performance…because the soloist was so up close, visually. Yes, I could see all of the Philaharmonic down on the stage, and yes I was situated closer than I have ever been as a concert goer, but to see every single note played on the keyboard was as if Mr. Lewis were in my very own living-room! Very, thrilling, indeed. Then, came the break. Everyone stretched and exchanged points of view. After intermission, the audience again settled into some serious, “the world will stop for this, tonight” musicianship. There is something about Brahms, anyway–he is so closely linked to Beethoven, so any Brahms will give a gentle, yet substantial hint as to what will be in store if you next have the privilege to listen to the Magnificent, heart-wrenching, soul-demanding, “you had better yield and kneel” Beethoven! The Brahms’ 2nd Symphony somehow seemed Epic that night—it was simply a powerful, emotional entity–the reason I love music…

The venue, the stars, the nature, the music and the miraculous ride to and from, created a magical mixture I’ll never forget. It was splendid to share it all with my sister, brother in law and colleague, but especially my sister. To know that we both love music so much and that here we live, in a wonderful sliver of land on this earth, called California. Here, the finest of things do sometimes transpire, despite the debacle our freeways often can be. Not this evening. Not on this date. This was a time for the memories. When I eventually reached my own little car back in the parking lot of a city far away from the Hollywood Bowl, I unlocked it, sat inside. and turned the key. I made sure the radio would not come on and adulterate the still drifting notes and motifs in my head. The scents and tastes, visuals and smiles, and the many surprises along the way remained safely locked into my memory to relish in the future. How glad I was that my beloved, quintessential California did not let me down. Her people charmed. The drivers commandeered. The chefs “painted” savory palettes to not be forgotten. The wine gave clarity. Nature inspired on cue. And the musicians, well, they did B &B proud. Such a night was a night triumphant, in my neck of the woods….Southern California.