We haven’t lived in Los Angeles for almost nine years. I only lived there for eight. So really, I should feel less at home there than I do in Lawrence, Kansas where I’ve spent the greater part of my life. And mostly, I do. But on this trip back to the land of my twenties, my young newly-married self, the landscape has felt surprisingly familiar. The landmarks have seemed less like famous places to visit than old friends I haven’t seen in a while. The magnolia trees and neatly trimmed bushes, the tropical flowers, even the bermuda grass bring nostalgia. Not that my twenties were so great – they weren’t (marriage was hard, I felt awful, I didn’t know yet who I was). But this place has clearly carved a place in my heart I didn’t know the depth of until this trip.
We drove north from Calabasas along the coast today. Stopped in Santa Barbara for lunch (hello, sunshine and delicious grilled veggie sandwich), past countless rvs parked on the side of Highway 1, grabbing a slice of ocean view for themselves. Past surfers and surf to the left, parched hills and shrubs to the right. The drought has made the landscape different, like a friend who has gone gray and wrinkled with age, whom it takes a minute to recognize. But as you stare you see that familiar face, beneath the wear and tear, and smile. As we turned inland toward San Luis Obispo, our destination for the night, a rush of “Oh yeah…I know this,” hit me like the waves I had just been watching. I remembered this exact drive from many trips to the Central Coast for wine tasting and fabulous, frivolous wandering. The high hills that rise into mountains in the distance. The curve of their backs lit up by the sun. They welcomed me like a relative coming home for a family reunion. “It’s so good to see you.” Hug. Kiss on the cheek.
“This could be the Flint Hills,” Marc said as we drove north of Morro Bay. Perhaps why this place has always felt so familiar. Like a taller version of my beloved, treeless rolling scape in Eastern Kansas. With an ocean to one side. Enough sameness to be instantly comforting when I first glimpsed the area at twenty-five, but different enough to be new and completely alive. And on this July afternoon in my 40th year, happier in almost every way than when I was twenty-five, the Central Coast of California feels like a worn, nubby blanket from my youth.
The next phase of Highway 1 rises in elevation, craggy and majestic above the Pacific. It’s a bit more foreign to me. Grand and romantic. Flashier and louder in it’s “look at me” popularity. I’ll enjoy the drive along it’s cliffs, taking in the scenic views. But my heart belongs to it’s lowly neighbor to the south. Less dramatic, but dearer to my heart. Quietly beautiful. Full of air and sunlight and space. I’m even more at home in crowded, crazy Los Angeles, where I spent a good chunk of my younger years peeling back it’s layers. Southern California and the Central Coast are my second home, I was surprised to realize on this trip. More a part of me than I knew. Surely willing to welcome me back like an old friend the next time I get to visit.