Though my earliest memories spring from Southern California of the ‘70s and early ‘80s, i.e. the Center of the Universe, I was never able to square my impressions of the place I grew up with its popular image. Other than a handful of reasonably well-known musicians, Downey claims almost zero celebrities as home-towners. The entertainment industry’s center of gravity hovers further north and west, and the surfer beach culture tends to cling pretty tightly to the coast. So that sort of laid back, warm-night-with-wind-in-the-hair-surrounded-by-the-beautiful-people decadence was always more something I heard about in songs or saw on screens than something I experienced. Evidently Don Henley found ‘70s Southern California to be a fitting metaphor for a one-way descent out of innocence. As I mostly retained mine while growing up there, I often wondered at the time where (and if) all that was taking place.
That vision of where I was raised has always intrigued me — more so with distance, even as I grew to understand how it came to be and in what enclaves it flourished. It was never my scene, yet in some odd way I identified with it, or at least appreciated the idea of its being a part of home. Spending another late summer / early fall flitting among various beachside campgrounds (starting in Malibu) brought some of that back to the fore.
More than that, though, it was just really, really nice to live barefoot on the beach for a while again.
Malibu manages to feel both remote and small-townish while bordering LA’s sprawl and housing many of its most famous residents. Our stay there this time was short, only a few days, but particularly pleasant, giving us the opportunity to get back in the ocean and re-introducing us to the summer that we had just about closed the book on back in Washington.
After Malibu we headed to Carlsbad in northern San Diego county, and thereafter onward to Coronado, where we decamped from Davista once again and moved into one of NAS North Island’s beachfront cottages. Though the temperatures only just nudged into the 80s this time and the waves weren’t as sporty as during the previous year’s late October heatwave, we spent a good bit of time in the water.
I also got rid of the “time off” beard. Like I said, a bit leprechaun-ish.
Down in San Diego, we returned Davista to the repair shop, as, surprise surprise, the intermittent flashing Check Engine light had come back in full effect, taunting us with its yellow randomness. I guess the issue wasn’t a loose belt after all. This shop’s personnel seemed a bit more receptive to our input than the last one’s did, but they weren’t especially optimistic about rooting out the cause, particularly when I told them that we needed to depart in four days.
Their pessimism turned out to be well-founded, as when we returned to pick up our home and drive it back north, they had discovered nothing. Shoot.
In the interim we did manage to bag another set of Junior Ranger badges for the girls at Cabrillo National Monument at the end of Pt. Loma. One of the more interesting aspects of that visit was learning about the Navy personnel stationed there during WW2. Apparently their job consisted almost entirely of looking out for Japanese submarines trying to sneak in and blow up San Diego. They didn’t see any, and by all accounts it was pretty good duty – who wouldn’t want to hang out in San Diego rather than one of the active war zones?
Post Coronado we headed back north to Camp Pendleton, where there’s another beachfront military campground (actually there are two). Having not heard as much about it as about Coronado, my expectations weren’t high. I couldn’t have been more incorrect. This is ideal beach camping – sites on the sand itself, with full hookups, and an impressive surf break to boot, without the crowds that such a break would normally draw. We only had a few days there before heading to Seal Beach, but I was in waterfront heaven.
There’s a friendly rivalry between the Marines and the Navy wherein we tend to make fun of each other, us for being stereotypically a bit soft around the middle and far from the pointy end of the warrior spear, and them for being, well, Marines. The high and tight haircuts, the braided belts with shirts tucked into their shorts, the “OOH-rah” cadence punctuating what should be normal conversation with random syllable emphases. We got a kick out of the name of the little surf shop at the campground… instead of just calling it a surf shop, it’s called “BEACH Services” (exaggerated cadence and excessive volume mine). I don’t know, it just seemed funny. It still does. But you probably had to be there.
After Seal Beach (not actually in sight of the beach, but a nice campground nevertheless, and on a Navy base to boot), we headed back south to Newport Dunes in Newport Beach, which is arguably the nerve center of what’s now known as The OC. Well earned, too, as Newport Beach is a beautiful place with a lot going for it – beach, harbor, islands, waterfront property, ridiculous amounts of wealth… Newport Dunes on the other hand — well, it’s ok I suppose. It sits on the bay just inland from Newport Harbor and is somewhat shoehorned between the water and some bluffs, upon which a few of Newport’s busier boulevards run. And it’s quite expensive. Had we hit it before the off-season we’d have had a good bit of company, but midweek in October it was a bit tumbleweedy.
That said, it’s fairly central and hotspots like Balboa Island and the Newport peninsula’s beaches are easily reached via bicycle. Keeper and I took a ride or two to explore.
Tacco had another Navy commitment back in DC during this time frame, and as my work schedule overlapped hers somewhat, we opted to drop the kids off at my parents’ house for a few days while she was gone, leaving me solo in Newport.
At this point I should explain the big change in my work situation. Throughout our travels, I remained domiciled in Boston for my airline. In other words, any trip I flew originated and ended in Boston. There are multiple reasons I remained Boston-based while we were traversing the country, but they’re fairly uninteresting to non-airline folk. Trust me, though, it made sense. Once we opted to stay in the West, however, changing my domicile back to Long Beach / Los Angeles made for a much more convenient work situation. October was the first month in the new base, and I had decided to “bid Reserve” for the month, which essentially means that instead of flying scheduled trips, I had about 18 days in the month on which I was in a standby status for a part of the day, ready to fly if I was needed due to sick calls or unexpected schedule changes. Being on Reserve can be a mixed bag, as it’s generally nice to know exactly when and where you’re going to fly, and often the trips that get dropped to Reserve pilots are the ones nobody wants. On the other hand, there’s a chance you’ll hardly get called at all, which is what I was strategizing for.
Well, it didn’t quite work out as planned. First of all, I got called to fly quite a bit, at least in the beginning of the month, and Tacco expressed frustration in my having to be “at the ready” so much of the time. It was as if I was there participating with the family but at the same time not available, and difficult to plan around. Then, later in the month, when we sent the kids away so that Tacco could go to DC, I didn’t get called at all, and consequently spent an inordinate amount of time alone, trying to entertain myself at semi-deserted Newport Dunes. That’s far from the worst fate, but I don’t think I’ll be bidding Reserve anymore.
We did get to check out a few more beaches though. Corona del Mar sits just south of the entrance to Newport harbor, and sports a combination of flat sand and tidepools, with some fun waves in which to play.
On one of my “solo” days I took a bike ride to The Wedge, out at the end of Newport peninsula. I had heard that there was a sizable swell coming in, and The Wedge is a famous surf / bodysurf spot, at which the combination of the jetty leading to the harbor and the shape of the beach makes for resonances that kick up the waves to just about double the height of their brothers just a few hundred yards down the beach.
Though I’ve been in the water there before, I’ve never done so with a big swell coming in. In those conditions it’s absolutely expert only, and even among the experts there’s a good bit of carnage. Evidently EMTs just hang out nearby on big surf days. It makes for exciting spectating. When I arrived, the shoreline was almost shoulder to shoulder with gawkers (whom I joined), and there seemed to be nearly as many photographers braving the pounding shore break with their GoPros as there were surfers and body boarders. I saw quite a few spectacular rides and even more spectacular wipeouts, to include one guy whose board snapped in half right in front of me. Fortunately his board appeared to have taken all the impact, as he walked off the beach.
After Newport it was back up to Malibu, where we intended to soak up a little more good life prior to hitting Pt. Mugu, at the far western end of the Malibu shoreline and just into Ventura county.
Our plans were unfortunately thwarted by connectivity, or lack thereof. As rarefied as Malibu is, its geography subjects it to spotty cellphone coverage, and the Malibu Beach RV Park’s wi-fi signal is on par with most RV parks’ wi-fi, i.e. sketchy at best. Normally I wouldn’t care, particularly with an endless view of the Pacific, but Tacco is taking online classes for her Doctorate, and one of our first Malibu days was not only a class day for her, but one in which she was scheduled to give a presentation to the class. Having been lulled into a false sense of semi-cautious security by the previous day’s coverage, she started the class, only to have her audio cut out, followed by losing connection altogether right at the beginning of her presentation. She pinged directly to full crisis mode and frantically sought me out to have me drive her down to the Malibu Colony Starbucks where she could finish her class with a reliable signal. Well, as it turned out, I had picked that exact moment to leave Davista and go looking for her in order to see how her class was progressing, internet-strength-wise. Not finding her, we began one of those Keystone Cops circular searches in which both people keep passing the same spots at exactly the wrong time and end up effectively chasing each other. It helped even less that that same lack of signal caused her texts screaming “WHERE ARE YOU!?!?” not to be sent/received, and it’s safe to say she was a bit heated by the time we converged and executed Plan B (Operation School at Starbucks With the Stars).
Everything worked out eventually and her blood pressure returned to normal as she completed the class, but it was enough to seal Malibu’s inclusion on Tacco’s “Places I Do Not Like” list. As she had another class the following day, we decamped prematurely and made the drive through LA back to Seal Beach.
I should mention that driving Davista / Toad through LA is far from enjoyable. Unless you’re driving between about 1AM and 5AM, there will be traffic. And even if there happens to be none, frequent lane changes are unavoidable due to the tangle of freeways that going pretty much anywhere in LA will require navigating. Here’s what you absolutely should not do though, and I had already learned this lesson, or so I thought, over a year ago: DO NOT FOLLOW WAZE/GOOGLE MAP DIRECTIONS THROUGH SIDE STREETS IN ORDER TO SAVE FIVE MINUTES. Or even twenty. Not liking the red line that my phone was depicting as the Santa Monica Freeway, I followed its recommendation and headed south into Venice instead. I knew immediately both that I had made a mistake and that I was fully committed anyway – there was no easy way back to the freeway. The streets got narrower and narrower. Frankly, I’m lucky we didn’t get completely stuck and have to stop in the middle of a residential street (blocking traffic, of which there was plenty), disconnect Toad, and then squeak our way out of the situation separately. It was extremely tight, with some Google recommended turns that we had to ignore entirely as we simply didn’t have the space. Lots of “Rerouting…” Don’t be me; stay on the freeway.
Let me return to Malibu, though, as it really wasn’t a bad experience at all, the previous anecdote notwithstanding. We got more beach time in, we soaked up even more classic SoCal, and we even got to have dinner with Tacco’s cousin and her family on the Malibu pier, sitting outside with the waves crashing beneath us. We actually did that from Pt. Mugu, another lovely beachfront spot, once we returned there after our unplanned Seal Beach diversion (and another drive through LA).
All told, what I’ve discovered is that I’ve got quite a bit more Southern California in me than I knew. Once again I’m swimming in the ocean daily and once again I feel absolutely fantastic. It may be all the Vitamin D I’m soaking up, it may be the ocean, it may be that my subconscious registers this as home, I don’t know. But just like last year, I’m in my element. Even if I don’t want to live here (and I don’t – camping on the beach for a month and a half at the end of the summer is a far different thing than living in an expensive suburb inland, and they’re pretty much all expensive), I’ve come full circle on my Southern California roots and realize that on some level I love the place. I’ll never partake in the laid back decadence, but somewhere inside me is that tanned, aging beach bum who wears loose clothes, surfs every morning, eats breakfast burritos with avocado, and never gets worked up – you see several of him in every SoCal beach town.
Alas, this is not a trait I share with my family, I’ve discovered. Though they all like the beach to varying extents, they don’t love the beach. Keeper has become a boogie boarder in earnest (more on that in another post), and I’m certain that our times out in the water together will age into some of the peak experiences from our travel time. The girls enjoy playing in the waves as well. But we may have reached peak beach for real this time. Tacco is definitely ready to move on, and the kids have indicated the same. Fortunately that coincides nicely with the time of year, as October is getting long in the tooth and the temperatures are dropping. It’s time to head back north and start thinking about Winter.