Love Letter to California

Stephen Franco Issue: Section:

“I could stare out at the lurid shadows of palm trees and telephone wires while they swayed across the night sky as it slowly made its transformation into morning.”

There is a certain type of romantic voodoo that comes with being born in the desert. Instantly you are the child of the mountains, of tumbleweeds and long stretches of road. The child in the land of rattlesnakes, exploring the vastness that at birth was set in front of you. Dirt roads and coyotes become your personal mythology, the wind and quiet hours become your friends. A very welcome kind of peace can be found on top of a mountain, there is a certain form of silence that the desert breeds that can be found nowhere else. I know this because as an adult my home has become New York, that loud metropolis that I love. I have basically traded in the mountains of my youth for the skyscrapers of my present. I grew up on the outskirts of Antelope Valley, California, which is so pleasantly considered a ‘commuter town’, meaning people sleep there but work some place else. Antelope Valley is a little more than an hour away from Los Angeles, the city proper. Growing up in all that open space does something to one’s imagination. There is so much that can be waxed poetic on, but for now I will focus on the view. I recall the look of the landscape from my boyhood memories; I remember how the last moments of sun would paint its glorious setting in hues of purple and gold, while my mom and I would water the trees and flowers of our oasis. As the sky turned from a colourful gradation into a blanket of stars, a vein of lights would begin to twinkle on, in the distant town below us. My mother would tell me stories about her and my father's early years on the property. They moved to Antelope Valley long before a freeway was built, connecting it to the heart of the neighboring San Fernando Valley, where both of my parents grew up. When they first moved to the mountain they had to get there via what they called the Old Road. The building of the freeway, the 14 as it is so eloquently named, changed everything, making travel much more efficient. I cannot imagine what it would have been like growing up without the 14 freeway, since the frequent use of the Old Road predated my existence by a good 12 years. Though it still exists and came in handy during the 1994 earthquake when parts of the freeway were destroyed. It quickly became the bridge for my cousins, aunts, and uncles who had to use this back road in order to get to our home, escaping the damage that the San Fernando Valley was overcome with. This brings me to the distance factor of where I grew up. For me, everything was quite far away, the nearest grocery store was a half hour from home, my high school a good 45 minutes. It took 50 minutes on the freeway to get to the neighboring Valley, where my parent’s spent their childhood, and where much of my family still lives. One of the first signs of what I deemed ‘civilization’ came off of the I-5 freeway where one of my aunts lived. Her home was near one of the first In-N-Out Burgers, its huge lightning bolt logo can be clearly seen as you near the exit for San Fernando Mission Road. To this day it is the only fast food I can bring myself to eat. This same exit gets you to Carrios, where you can get the most beautifully hand crafted corn masa, an essential ingredient in making tamales, which has always been a Christmas time familial tradition for us. Without this masa, which is crafted by these bitty abuelitas and their skilled hands, you end up being the East Coaster who has to craft their own version out of instant corn masa, salt, and lard. Which is a very painstakingly slow process that takes hours and hours of kneeding to get your masa even remotely close to how good theirs is.
Traveling further from home, the I-5 freeway also leads you to the 101, better known as the Hollywood Freeway. This is where I spent my early adulthood, those innocent twenties, when I was in art school. By this point I had moved over the mountain to the lovely little city know as Glendale. Glendale was a hop, skip, and a jump away from my college in Pasadena, and was much more on the pulse of the younger generation compared to the Antelope Valley. During my college years my proximity to all that was ‘cosmopolitan’ was closer than I could even imagine. During these years I was able to explore that legend of landscapes known as Hollywood. I learned a lot about Sunset Blvd and its infinite amount of clubs and bars. I discovered the fantastic thrift stores and boutiques that lined Melrose Avenue.
I learned how Hollywood Blvd housed what I still consider my favourite dance club, ‘the World’, where there were separate rooms for Dark Wave, 80s, and Industrial Music. I went to house parties in the mysterious and eloquently dark, Los Feliz, where all the most tragic and hip artists reside. From the patios of these house parties I could stare out at the lurid shadows of palm trees and telephone wires while they swayed across the night sky as it slowly made its transformation into morning. After having my fill of these parties, I could stumble into my car and trek back along back roads, freeways, or side streets until I was home again. The one thing about living in California is that there are a lot of options to how you get about. These college years were filled with finding and exploring the wonders of Californian city life. I fell in love with the Griffith Observatory, by spending countless hours sitting atop its viewing deck. I would stare up at the shadow of the Hollywood sign as it crowned the ever surrounding mountains looking upon the city below it, and all its gold dust dreams and dreamers. On ambitious days you could begin your afternoon with a picnic in the hills near the observatory and then head to the beach along the Pacific Coast Highway. The Pacific Coast Highway is a thing of pure majestic beauty, it does not get more California Dreamin’ than driving along the coast, with your windows down, feeling the salty air fill your lungs while singing along to the car stereo. I spent so many hours along this coast, usually stopping in Malibu where the best biker joint fish and chips place called Neptune’s Net exists, there you can get cheap and delicious food and a couple of beers. Afterward you can stroll across the highway and step straight onto the beach, where the waves crash and clang in harmonious unison with the land. How delicious the sun would feel on your skin on those lazy afternoons. It is quite a difference to the place I now call home, with its city grit and months and months of winter, but I would have it no other way. I count myself among the lucky, I have known the solace of a Californian life. I have heard its heartbeat in the winds… and those winds pushed me here, where I send love letters on occasion.

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