Saturday, February 11, 2006

Still in California

Just call me freeway girl. I was in Huntington Beach (Orange County) on Sunday. On Monday, I drove further inland to Irvine - still in Republican-heavy, flag-waving Orange County (not that that's a bad thing) to interview folks. That evening, I drove my white Pontiac G6 rental car (why are rental cars always white, tan or gray?) on a tangle of freeways south for 2+ hours to northern San Diego County.

Stayed put Tuesday and Wednesday in inland San Diego, with a quick foray on Wednesday afternoon after work to see baby seals doze and play in the waves in La Jolla. The pups looked like fat little sausages with flippers. I resisted the urge to jump the protective barriers and squeeze them.

On Thursday, I drove up the exhaust-choked I-15 ("The 15" as we call it. In California, freeways are not merely roads, but entities with their own personalities and so deserve definite articles) to the Inland Empire. Note the hubris of the name. Not so long ago, the hundred of miles of desert, mountains, and flatland north, east and south of Los Angeles was the province of orange and lemon groves, cows, armadillos, vineyards, and squinty-eyed men in dungarees and sun-blasted pickups.

Now the land is called the Inland Empire. Earth-movers are ripping up the green hills and laying fresh asphalt and row upon row of identical, huge, terra-cotta roofed houses (Billboard: "Up to 7 Bedrooms! From $500,000!") for the families priced out of Los Angeles, Orange, or San Diego counties. Big-box stores and outlet malls mar the foothills of the massive San Gorgonio and San Jacinto mountains.

I grew up in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, in what was then near the perimeter of metropolitan Los Angeles, 30 miles north and east of downtown. I walked through orange groves on the way home from jr. high. My friends and I would pick a handful of sweet oranges, then eat them while leaning on the low stonewall in front of the local firehouse, which thoughtfully provided us water.

Go east, young woman: On Friday, I drove further east, where development is making its first encroachment. The temperature hovered in the low 80's. Sunny and no clouds. Severe clear. In February. Usually, it's cooler. Going to be a bad fire season later this year, when the Santa Anas blow through.

It was Mad Max country out there. Yellow and brown rolling landscape with the mountains to my left. Desolate and scrubby and ugly. No trees. But blessedly clear of civilization. A fine layer of dust coated the cars and semi-trucks roaring down the highway. I drove through what the locals call "The Badlands," a 10-mile stretch of hairpin curves amongst baked brown hills, to get to my interviews.

It's now Saturday morning. I'm back in Los Angeles County, in Pasadena. I lived just a few miles north of here from ages 3-8. Back on home turf. Lots of chi-chi boutiques, restaurants and museums. But it's still got some small-town charm.

Winter Storm: It's 65 degrees at 8:10 a.m. Back east, Washington is hunkering down for its first major storm. My flight tonight has been cancelled. I've been re-booked on the last flight out of Southern California tomorrow night. There are worse places to be stranded.

Will give my running update later today or tomorrow. This post is waaay too long already.


  1. Long, but worth every word. Very evocative, as is all good writing. (p.s. yes, it's "snowing" here. and melting.)

  2. Great to revist the roots. I do it as often as I can.