Tuesday, March 23, 2010

California, Part....What, 14? 23?

Today was my sister's 21st birthday. She passed the last toll booth before full legality. She can drink, though like me, like our parents, she's not into it. She and my mom no longer have to walk the periphery of a casino just because she's underage. The next time we go to Vegas, we can all sit together at a row of slot machines if we want. She can watch some of the action at the blackjack and craps tables, she can watch the spinning roulette wheel a lot more closely than she could in the many times we've been to Las Vegas. Her gift was a three-year subscription to Food Network Magazine, introduced by the latest issue on newsstands, which we bought for her a few days ago, wrapped by Mom. There were also SweeTarts, which she loves, put into a plastic container that formerly held cotton candy. Dinner was at Hooters in Burbank, and, I have to admit, black women look more astounding than white women in those outfits. One of our waitresses was a trainee, working alongside her tutor, and my god, I couldn't stop looking. I did it subtly of course, but wow. It wasn't a matter of her filling the outfit nicely, but just bringing more smooth, totally confident beauty to it than any others I've seen before in it.

I've been frustrated with Southern California for nearly the entire six and a half years we've lived here. And after we got home from Vegas about a week and two days ago, I saw that compared to Boulder City (where we might live when it comes time, because the houses have character and there's wide, wide spaces that make it feel like a vacation every single day), the Santa Clarita Valley is basically crushed together. Houses nearly on top of each other; no room between businesses. In Golden Valley (which is commonly known here as "Ghetto Valley," yet is still part of this valley), there's a McDonald's with this incredible view of just the mountains, just the houses, and at night, so many lights, yet it all seems artful. Well, it used to have that view. The last time we went, there was a gas station being built next to it, blocking out that view, and I'm sure that gas station is open by now.

In Boulder City, my family and I looked out at Lake Mead from the side of a curving road, standing behind a guardrail, overlooking houses below us, and I felt like I was home. I could breathe easier, hell, I could breathe. That was enough. The air was so clean, and my Mom felt far less pain in her legs than she does back in the valley. My dad talked to either the town's Chamber of Commerce or someone somewhat related to that, and they said that they will not allow Clark County to bring in gaming. No casinos. The closest casino you'll find is right before the sign indicating that Hoover Dam is getting closer. It's the Hacienda Hotel and Casino and it sits on its own plot of land, nowhere near any houses. We've been there before, though not recently, and there's a walkable cliff a few hundred yards away, where the view is like all the dreams I've ever had combining to create that view.

I bring this up because of an important realization that came to me while we were going to Hooters, one that had eluded me all this time. I'm sure there are many who like the different regions of California, seeing each as an adventure, with so much to be explored. I hate it. I understand the appeal, and I loved stopping at John Steinbeck's house, and in Hollister at Casa de Fruta, and that tour at Hearst Castle. But as we passed under the sign for Burbank, I looked at many of the other city names that passed by on those signs and I realized that I can't stand being a tourist in every single area. We went to Chinatown some weeks ago, after going to Philippe's for lunch. I was a tourist, despite being a resident of California. We drove past IKEA and Borders in Burbank to get to the section of the parking garage across from IKEA that was closest to the entrance to Hooters. I saw the entrance to the mall as we made a right turn. I felt like a tourist.

I don't want to feel like a tourist anymore. I don't want all these locations to be homogenized, but I want there to be some kind of connection. In Florida, as a native, I got that. We'd go to Downtown Fort Lauderdale, and it didn't feel like a new foreign land. There was the science museum, the small hotels across from the sand of the beach, the Main Library branch of the Broward County Library system, and a small park. We'd go to Miami Beach and I still felt like a resident of the entire state, not just one section. Am I a resident of California, Part 14, or California, Part 23? I'm not sure.

In Southern Nevada, I get that feeling of being a resident in one state, with everything around me relating to what the state is. There's gambling, there's a vast desert landscape, there's Carson City where the legislature is and it's so removed from the majority of the population in Clark County. We went to Henderson and yes, it was gigantic, and yes, there was cookie-cutter housing which I've never liked, but I knew where I was, not just by name. I felt like I could navigate the streets easily. Henderson and Boulder City are connected by Las Vegas, but at least they connect to something. These different cities of Southern California, separated by all these freeways, seem like frayed wires splayed out on a sidewalk, each sparking in its own way, but never destined to intertwine. I want that intertwined feeling. I know I can get it in Southern Nevada. I need space, as I get in Boulder City, but I also need to feel like a resident of a state, not just the resident of a section of the state, despite paying the various taxes involved with the state. Maybe that's why I've been frustrated during many of the years we've lived here, why I've never had a genuine feeling of contentment. I need things to be as close as they can possibly get, while also remaining far apart enough to let the landscape have its turn to be seen, without all those insane freeways. I-95 in Florida. That was it to get to Fort Lauderdale. There's a little more involved in getting back to Las Vegas from Boulder City, but at least it feels like there's as little to be done as driving I-95. And I can't wait for that, full time.