Not long ago, I wrote about my trip to Oklahoma to see my youngest son graduate from boot camp. I heard plenty about the state from others who had experience sufficient that I considered their accounts credible. Within the context of that experience, I found that Oklahoma is, in fact, rather dreary in its aesthetic appeal. I didn’t have to live there, however, and due to the nature of my visit and the hospitality I received from the people of Lawton (the city adjacent to the Army base, Fort Sill), I came away with warm memories and an appreciation for a state that perhaps does not get its fair share.
I am currently on a similar excursion. This time, however, I have more than ample experience with the area I am visiting, though I have never lived here. And it still remains a “nice” place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live here. And it is not anything that has to do with the geography or the people who live here generally; it is a question of magnitude. Los Angeles County and Orange County in Southern California are simply too much. Too many freeways, too many cars and, of course, too many people - who make all those cars and freeways necessary. There is also too much concrete, too much asphalt and too much smog. Too much, too much.
From the bottom of the Grapevine to almost all the way to the San Diego County line, it is impossible to identify where one municipality ends and the next begins. The same can be said of the sprawl west to east. It is all one (very) big city and it can be stifling. But this comes as no surprise and in all honesty, it is not that much different from the Bay Area (where I did live for a very long time) or the greater Sacramento metropolitan area (where I live now). They are just not as massive, but they have strikingly similar characteristics – just in miniature. But this visit is not a sightseeing trip and it is not an attempt to try to discover Southern California’s beauty through the sprawl – I’ve seen it as well, it does exist.
This is visit is for something brand new – a brand new baby. Not just any baby, but my first grandchild. He was born a few weeks premature on Easter Sunday, but was otherwise very healthy. After about three weeks in the hospital, my grandson was able to come home with my son and his lady to a quiet suburb in Orange County. No, he has not escaped the sprawl – it is everywhere, but it is a nice apartment in a nice neighborhood in a relatively quiet part of the county. The peace I feel, however, has nothing to do with those external factors. I got to hold my tiny first grandson for the first time today. And my middle son, who accompanied me on the seven-hour drive, got to hold his nephew for the first time. These are, in every conceivable way, very big firsts and I am very proud of my son and his new family.
In a way, this is likely to replace any negative perspective I hold about this part of the state (at least until I have to fight the traffic while making my escape tomorrow). But seriously, and from a more global perspective, only a few of the many places I have traveled hold any significance based on the locale alone. What usually makes for cherished memories are the people involved. It could be strangers, friends or family… or even a meditative experience involving only myself, but it seems that the physical stuff around me holds little meaning in isolation. And I should really clarify that my memories of the LA basin are full of rich experiences with others – that the negativity is really only a matter of comfort, not substance. Unfortunately, this is an exceedingly short visit, there are many other people I would like to see while I am here, but there simply isn’t time. The round trip drive alone will account for almost a third of a trip that started this morning and will conclude tomorrow.
So I am a 46 year-old grandfather. I don’t feel old (nor do I look it) and I don’t feel as though life is passing me by. It is the exact opposite. Life, in its infinite variety, is presenting me with profound changes – not necessarily “life-altering,” my day-to-day life has not changed because I am now a grandfather (though it does regularly for other reasons). It is just another threshold that I can step over with enthusiasm or dread, but step over it I will – there is no other choice. And all this excitement happened in the concrete jungles of Southern California. This is not such a bad place, really.