I mentioned in my previous post that I had just returned from a brief trip down the coast to lovely San Diego. My wife and I had a wonderful time--taking in a Padre's game a Petco (a great venue for watching baseball, by the way); strolling the historical streets of Old Town (while pigging out on authentic and delicious Mexican food); enjoying the greenery and people-watching our way through Balboa Park, among other things. And even though we reside in this massive state, some 600 miles to the north of S.D., and once called southern Cal our home, I came to this conclusion while sitting on the Southwest jet, gazing out the window as millions of people crammed together in 25 square miles turned into acres and acres of vast pastureland: things are different down there!
Hey, I'm not saying people here in Chico, my hometown for the past ten years, are not friendly--they are very cordial and I consider this college town one of the nicest places I have resided in my five decades of life. But never have I seen someone wandering down the center of downtown holding a sign stating: FREE HUGS. Of course, I do avoid downtown during St. Patrick's Day and Halloween, when the kids go a bit wild. My point is: free hugs is a southern Cal thing. Not that it's a bad thing. In fact, it felt kind of nice.
People often have the misconception that all Californians are the same, act the same, seem the same. That it's all swimming pools and movie stars, money and fame, peace, love, and "Have a nice day." One need only consider the size of this state to realize the absurdity of that notion. California spans over 160,000 square miles; on its own it would be the 59th largest country in the world. And it is long, stretching from Oregon to Mexico. By comparison, one would have to traverse through almost a dozen states on the East Coast to accumulate the same mileage as one trip from Weed (way up north) to Chula Vista (almost in Mexico). My point being: No one ever compares a North Carolinian with someone from Maryland.
We here in Chico are very relaxed and laid back, to a point. But I doubt thousands of locals would dare arrive in the middle of the second inning of a baseball game, wandering into the park, la-di-dah, cell phone glued to an ear, cocktail in hand, meandering over to their $75.00 seats without a care. No, I've been to a ballgame here and these fans are serious about their home team. I'm sure Padre fans love their team, they just don't love them for the full nine innings.
I am originally from Back East, New England, where I learned how to mispronounce Bucky Dent's name while understanding pain and misery at being a die hard Red Sox fan since 1967. I moved Out West almost 25 years ago and it took me a while to find my place, to fit in. For the longest time, I was a man without a country, or state, or neighborhood. I was too harsh and loud and uptight for the easy going, mellow, polite Californians. But, even after only a few months, I was losing my East Coast attitude, not all of it, never all of it, but a lot of it. And to my family and freinds back in New England, I was different, changing, becoming, gulp, a Californian! You see my conundrum, right? Still too rough around the edges to be accepted here, but becoming less so to remain true to my I'll-run-you-off-the-road-if-you-look-at-me-like-that-again roots. I remember an incident that occurred during my first week in southern Cal, while I was driving through a parking lot. A pedestrian walked right in front of my car and I almost hit him. After a few choice words directed his way, the passenger in my car, a local, asked me what I was doing. I told him, adding a few more choice words, that that idiot almost got himself killed, walking in front of my car like that. "He was on a crosswalk," my mellow friend informed me, "he has the right of way." I looked at him, then at the man in the crosswalk, then back at my friend. Then shook my head and thought to myself, "Not Back East he does."
It took me a while, but I learned, eventually mellowed out to the point of fitting in, for the most part, out here. I now consider myself more of a Californian than a New Englander, though those roots will always remain close to my heart. But after my trip down to San Diego, I realized that I still have a lot to learn, still, at times, can be a man caught in the middle, a man without a country or state, even while residing within its borders. Think about it...