California or Bust

California Flag Heart
California Flag Heart

I’ve just finished up a whirlwind week-long trip to southern California. This was a business trip, but intermixed with rushing from one location to another and holding day-long meetings I did have the chance to spend a few hours with more family and get in a little R&R. This trip started in San Diego, then moved north to Ventura county and finally a departure from Los Angeles.

Traveling to southern California is a bittersweet experience. I lived in San Diego from 1974 to 1989, most of my navy career, leaving for occasional deployments of varying lengths of time but always returning. Over those years the life in San Diego shaped me as much as my life in the navy. In September 1989 I left for an overseas tour to southern Italy and, as it turned out, I never came back except for an occasional visit.

Of all the cities I’ve repeatedly visited over the years, I think San Diego is the only city that’s become more beautiful with age.

Besides the beauty of the city, during the years I lived there a sizable part of my immediate family moved to the Los Angeles area. Having family so close was an added benefit to my life in San Diego. Today, only one brother and his family still lives in Los Angeles. Everyone else who once settled there has either passed or moved on to other parts of the world. But the places I once touched still remain, and vivid memories of my life in southern California are everywhere.

On this trip I flew into San Diego airport on a quiet Sunday afternoon. My first airplane flight was to San Diego on my way to Navy basic training (aka: “Boot Camp”) in 1974 and I’ve flown in and out of San Diego numerous times since. The airport has expanded it’s terminals over the years, but it hasn’t been moved out of downtown which is nice for getting around. On this trip I stayed at a hotel in the gas lamp district.  When I first arrived in San Diego this center-city area of San Diego was run down and dilapidated; a haven for strip clubs, cheap bars, and sleazy businesses.  In 1982 the city government sponsored development of a center-city mall, Westfield Horton Plaza, and from this starting point I watched the area evolve into today’s Oz-like community.

My business on this trip took me through the former Naval Training Center (NTC) where I went to Boot Camp. NTC was closed and turned over to the city for redevelopment in the late 1990s and today is a thriving mixed-use high-end residential community. Many of the former navy buildings have been re-purposed into shops, restaurants, and park space. The most famous landmark of the old NTC, the USS Recruit (fondly referred to as the USS Neversail by us recruits) has been preserved as a monument to the many hundreds of thousands of sailors who went through NTC.

Tuesday afternoon I drove up to Ventura County for the second part of my trip. The drive up the coast and through Los Angeles was full of memories. I drove I-5 north out of San Diego for the first time in 1978 after my dad moved to the Los Angeles community of Torrance. Then, there was nothing but open country most of the way up. Today, the only open country is the Marine Corps base of Camp Pendleton, and if the various local governments had their way the base would be developed also.

After my dad moved to Torrance my sister and two brothers, one aunt, and a cousin all followed and settled down in the Los Angeles area within a few short years. So I made the two hour-plus drive from San Diego to Los Angeles on a regular basis over an eleven year period for family visits. My more memorable trips were made with the MG Midget  I briefly owned, but ghosts of my frequent commutes are everywhere along the I-5 corridor.

One thing that’s changed for me is dealing with the infamous Los Angeles traffic jams. After nearly eight years living outside of Washington, D.C., and fighting what is rated as America’s worse commute on a daily basis, Los Angeles traffic is now easy.

Ventura county is new territory for me as I’ve only had reason to visit starting with my current job. It’s actually rather nice to find new territory set in an area so rich in memories. The hotel I stayed in was in a comfortable strip mall with all the standard strip mall charm, but it was right on the edge of the rich farmland that still dots that part of California.

Thursday evening I was able to meet up with my one brother Howard, his wife Pam, and daughter Katie. Howard followed our Dad to Los Angeles after Howard finished high school and never left. He attended college there, met a native Californian lady who became his wife, built a career, became a dad, and now is pretty much a native Los Angelian.

We had a wonderful dinner together in a “California French” restaurant. Good food and good talks and the dinner was over way too quickly.

Friday morning I packed out and left for Los Angeles International Airport. Although I’ve flown in and out of this airport several times, the special significance of Los Angeles is that Winnie first arrived in America here at the International arrivals terminal. This time I had an unexpected bonus of getting TSA’s special “pre-screening” security treatment; I was allowed to keep my shoes on and laptop in my bag, and simply walked though a metal detector, just like normal air travel back in the 1990s.

Once through security I found my way to my gate and flew the friendly skies back to my home and my honey.

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