6.21.2007

Bicoastalism

Is that a word? Now it is!

I started writing this post in early March, but the visits to my grandmother in California over both Pesach and Shavuot inspired me to finish it off and post it.

Redoing the "states I've visited" map from way back in February and removing all states in which I've only been inside airports reveals this map:



Taking that map, and removing states that I've only been to for work conferences, and in which I've therefore mostly been in anonymous chain hotels reveals the following:



(I did check out a kosher restaurant in Cleveland, but still. I spent most of my two or three days there in a hotel.)

Clearly, I've been to a good deal of the Northeast, mid-Atlantic, and West Coast, and very little of anything else, except Nebraska, where I have deep familial roots. (I have great-great grandparents buried there, maybe even great-great-great grandparents. My father will probably leave a comment clarifying the matter.) One might even say that I'm bicoastal. I feel very bicoastal. Even though I know that any California or Midwestern person would declare me a Northeasterner through and through, I also know that I'm sometimes considered "too nice" to be from Boston or New York.

Growing up, I spent about 5/6 of each year in Boston and 1/6 of each year in California, at my grandparents' house in California. Because the 1/6 of each year that I spent in California was the summer, each day filled with the possibility of new and exciting adventures, I sort of feel like qualitatively, the summers counted for 1/4 or 1/3 of my childhood, if not more. That time in California took up more brain space, filled me with more memories both good and bad, and held a place in my heart--than the actual days and weeks I physically spent there. (I wrote about some of my summer memories from California here.) That was how it went from when I was born until I was fifteen, which is the first time I spent the summer in Boston.1

Some of my early childhood memories involve packing up a small blue vinyl suitcase with my most treasured possessions to bring with me. We each got to bring a little suitcase, and I remember bringing coloring books, markers, and finger puppets when I was very small. When I got older, I brought notebooks for writing stories. Once I arrived in California, it was like full-time summer camp, perhaps on crack. First I would take a deep breath of my grandparents' house, which always smelled the same, year in year out. I can't really identify the house smell, but because my grandfather fixed up old cars, I do always think of him and his packed garage when I smell gasoline, and because I went to day camp there, I always think of California when I smell freshly-cut grass. We would go find our beds. Mine was almost always the top or bottom bunk in the "bunk room," as the room formerly shared by my two uncles was known. From the top bunk, in the shadowy night of summer bedtime, the framed photos of El Capitan in Yosemite looked like a man with a furrowed brow. It scared me when I was little, but I attempted to reassure myself by intoning, "It's just El Capitan, it's just El Capitan."

I went to day camp there--municipal camp--where I learned from an early age that I hated all athletics ("Red Rover, Red Rover," etc.) and loved arts and crafts (making candles, painting pine cones, etc.). I think I was indifferent to the songs that we sang about little bunny foo foo, ears hanging low [warning: plays music], and found peanuts. I left before lunchtime every day. Sometimes snacks were distributed and I learned to ask to see the box to check for a hechsher. Two distinct memories include one girl who claimed that she was allergic to grass (this was in the early 1980s, before everyone was allergic to everything), and thus got out of all athletic activities. I remember wishing that I had thought of that excuse first! Another distinct memory was of another little girl who would say things like, "I speak Hebrew!" and when I got excited, she would say, "Hah hah! Just kidding." She also asked me, more than once, if apples were kosher. To this day, I don't know what her problem was. I don't have too many fond memories of that day camp, mostly because as soon as I could learn to read I would rather have read all day than gone to camp. As soon as I was allowed to stop going, I did.

In the afternoons, I took art and science classes, mostly at the Junior Museum. I spent seven summers, from when I was seven to when I was fourteen, taking Japanese watercolor classes, and probably more summers than that taking pottery classes. I also built my own weather station, grew crystals, built a terrarium, made my own jewelry, and bound my own books. I took drawing at least one summer. It was heaven.

In the evenings, we sometimes had picnics with my mother and an old friend of hers in one of the local parks that had a great grassy hill perfect for rolling down, or a picnic at the outdoor children's theater, which was amazing. After dinner on days when we stayed at home, we watched Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune with my grandparents. My grandfather knew most of the answers to Jeopardy and my grandmother knew most of the answers to Wheel of Fortune.

When I wasn't taking art classes, I went to the library. When I was little we went to the Children's Library, which was in its own separate building. When I got a little older and started reading chapter books, I went to the regular local library, which was the first place where I saw computerized card catalogs, years before they appeared in Boston. It was also notable for having the Babysitter's Club books--my home library deemed them too trashy for taxpayer dollars--and, later on, for having a full set of Cliffnotes. After I learned to ride a bike, I sometimes went there on my own or with siblings. One summer, I decided that I wanted to read as many books as I possible could. I kept a list of the name of each book and I rated each book with some star system that I've long forgotten. I thought I would be able to read 50 books over the course of the summer, but I think I only managed to read 24. Another favorite afternoon diversion was a trip to Bergmann's Department Store, where you could buy plastic rhinestone rings, sidewalk chalk, squirt guns, bubble solution, or even googly eyes for making projects. It was quite the destination. At Midtown Drug, you could buy Atomic Fireballs or Jawbreakers, and later on, makeup applied clandestinely when my mother wasn't looking, because I was sure she would forbid it.

My grandfather also took us fishing at the local pond, where we usually had deli sandwiches for dinner. Later on, he bought an inflatable boat and that added to the fishing fun. At one point, we started going to one of the nearby creeks to pick wild blackberries, which were delicious but hazardous to pick because of the thorns on the blackberry bushes, the thorny weeds underfoot, and the steep banks of the creek on which the bushes grew. Lunch and dinner (and sometimes breakfast), were elaborate affairs, often involving red meat, fresh fish, and frying or grilling something. When I was younger, my grandmother made the best French toast--thick slices of challah with lots of eggs. Yum... We took overnight field trips, too. We went camping once a summer for several years, and also took day trips to various piers, state parks, the San Francisco Zoo, and a kiddie park called Fairyland, which was awesome (although probably entering "a state of sad disrepair").

We made an annual pilgrimage to the Santa Cruz boardwalk, where my older sister once paid me $1 to go on a roller coaster, called the Hurricane, with her. That was the first and last time I went on a roller coaster, although when I was 17 I did once go on one of those rides where they drop you from a high height, which I will also probably never do again. My favorite thing at the boardwalk was the Ferris Wheel--I'm not afraid of heights, I just don't like rides that move quickly. I also liked the old-fashioned carousel where you had to snatch rings out of a dispenser as you went around and then try to throw them at a clown and his nose or mouth. I liked the haunted house, too, and once I got a little braver, I enjoyed the bumper cars. My older sister loved the bumper cars and both she and my younger brother used to go on a water ride that I don't think I ever went on. Well, maybe once.

We used to drive down to Los Angeles every summer to see my uncle and aunts, and later cousins. We rented a big Lincoln Towncar, which could fit the six of us but always smelled of "new car," which I hated. I often claimed the front seat because I was most susceptible to getting car sick. We always took 5, the direct and quicker route. When we passed Gilroy, my mother would open all of the vents and flood the car with the smell of garlic. When we went up the hills into Los Angeles, we turned off the A/C as was recommended.

In LA, in addition to the aunts, uncle, and cousins, there were my three great-great aunts (my grandmother's aunts). I had my first experience with chewing gum at one of their apartments. I didn't know that you weren't supposed to swallow it. Whoops. Every summer, "the aunts," as everyone called them, took me and my older sister out for ice cream and to buy a book. We could have any book we wanted. When I was seven, I bought The Little Princess because it was thick and I wanted to get the biggest bang for my (aunts') buck. I didn't read it until about two years later, though, since it was a bit difficult. Their apartments, or maybe it was just the carpeted hallways, smelled like stale cigarette smoke, and sometimes when I get a whiff of that in another apartment building, it reminds me of them. One of the aunts had a swimming pool in her building, so that was always a necessary stop in LA. My uncle always served us lamp chops or steak fresh from the grill, which was a treat, and my aunt put mandarin oranges in the green lettuce salad! That was a special treat. During three summers, we took trips to Anaheim to hit Disneyland. One summer, we took a trip from LA to San Diego and went to Sea World. Another summer, we took a longer trip from LA and went to Bryce and Zion National Parks, as well as to Las Vegas. (We drove through the corner of Arizona, and that's how I have Arizona on my map of states visited. We stopped the car at a rest stop, took photos, and I bought a few postcards for my collection.)

* * * * *

So what does all of this mean?

It means that I have had many opportunities, in all of my flying back and forth between the East Coast and Northern California, to observe many differences between the coasts. In December, I observed:
The people in New York seemed somewhat more harried/stressed out than the people in California, but it could have been the 5-6 am hour vs. the noon hour that made the difference, rather than the coast. But I think it was the coast. People in California always seem more relaxed that people in New York. More relaxed and happier. Alas, also far, far more dependent on their cars. The people in California were definitely more wrinkled, on average, than the people in New York. They probably see more sun.
If California had better public transportation and more kosher food readily available (Northern California, I'm not a huge fan of LA), I think it would be a no-brainer that it is the superior place to live. For one thing, the weather is far superior, at least in Northern California, where it never seems to dip much below 50 degrees or go much above 85 degrees, and generally seems to be somewhere in the 70s. The streets are flat and wide, many with clearly-marked bike lanes, and there's a lot less honking. Sometimes I wonder why people are so slow there (in general), but mostly, I appreciate the more leisurely way of living. People seem both happier and healthier there, and that's no small feat in today's day and age. On the other hand, they do get into their cars to go anywhere, which is ludicrous, in today's day and age. But mostly, their friendly ways outweigh their dependence on fossil fuels.

If something interesting came up for me to do there, I would jump at the chance to live in the town in which my mother grew up, or anywhere nearby. On the other hand, I appreciate what I have here, on the East Coast, by way of Jewish convenience and cheap, efficient public transportation. So you can just keep calling me bicoastal.

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P.S. I'm sorry for the recent infrequency of posting, but work is very busy and I need to find a new place to live in the next few weeks, so I haven't had as much time to contemplate and write as I would like.

P.P.S. I went back to the orthopedist today and he pronounced me fine. He said that the weird lump in my ankle is probably because I stretched a nerve--that would also explain the searing, burning pain that I had there for awhile--but that it would get better on its own, although the lump wouldn't go away if there was internal scarring. He also said that I could walk as much as I wanted, as long as things don't hurt all that much, which they don't.

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1. Except for the summer when I was three and my brother was born.

2 comments:

alg's dad said...

Thank you for your wonderful, long, detailed description of your summers in California. I had no idea you were scared of that picture of El Capitan, and we could have taken it down, if I had known. Of course, at that age, I was scared of my own clothes hanging on the back of my chair at night, which I thought might come alive and start walking around. So if we had taken down the picture of El Capitan, you probably would have found something else to be scared of.

Yes, you do have great-great-great-grandparents buried in Omaha, three of them: Harry and Rosa Nitz, and Mirel Dolgoff. I trust that publishing those names will not compromise your anonymity, but if you are concerned about it, you can replace the last names with initials. That's in addition to six of your maternal great-great-grandparents, with the other two, Grandma Mollie's parents, being buried in Los Angeles.

You should include Virginia in the states you have visited other than airports. We went to George Washington's home at Mt. Vernon, on that trip to Washington when you were 9. And if you were ever at my cousin Amy's home, that's also in Virginia.

ALG said...

Thank you for your long, detailed comment.

I wasn't terribly afraid of El Capitan, I just thought it was scary at night. I always knew that it was El Capitan (or Half Dome?) rather than the scary man it looked like if you were lying in bed in a dark room looking at it sideways. It was fine during the day. And, anyway, I was far more afraid of spiders, robbers, bears, wolves, foxes (until you told me that foxes were little and didn't eat people), and floods than of that photo.

I fixed Virginia--thanks!