The first thing to know about living in Ventura is that what you expected to do after arriving most likely won't be so, or at least not so often.
This comes after nine years of living in next-door Santa Clarita, before the five years in Vegas, being only half an hour north of Los Angeles.
Getting to Porto's, that heaven-sent Cuban bakery in Burbank, from Santa Clarita, specifically Valencia, say? 31 minutes if you can stomach the freeways. 51 minutes if you want to be more leisurely about it, for your own sanity.
From Ventura to Porto's in Burbank? An hour and 3 minutes via the freeway. But by relatively local roads? 1 hour and 51 minutes.
Now try Downtown Disney in Anaheim. Let's just do from Ventura this time, since it's well-established now how close Santa Clarita is to where we used to go when we lived there.
1 hour, 40 minutes on the freeways. 3 hours and 34 minutes if you want to make it insane enough without them.
So if I'm to finally have my mango mousse back at Porto's, I'll need a couple boxes to take home, to tide me over until the next far-away time. Ditto for Downtown Disney. I'd better see a Haunted Mansion t-shirt there to make the trip worth it. Mind you, it was always worth it when we went there from Santa Clarita, but the distance is now so great that even though I had wanted to go to the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood to see Mary Poppins Returns when it comes out on Christmas Day next year (1 hour, 5 minutes by the freeways; 2 hours, 9 minutes without them), I hope and pray and then pray again and then hope again that the Cinemark theater in Downtown Ventura, which is one of only two theaters in Ventura, and the only to show first-run releases, will have it on at least one of its screens on that blessed day.
And yet, I'm actually not bothered by any of this. The only thing I want more than any of this is to go to the mountaintop Getty Center art museum complex in L.A. some time in the future. I will weather hopefully 55 minutes without traffic for that because I want to be among that art. I want to be at a museum where there's space to really look at each piece, to find what I like and look for all the details of what makes me like it. Besides, I have a presidential library nearby, the Reagan Library, which suits my passion for presidential history. The last time my family and I visited Ventura together from Las Vegas (August of last year), we took a day out of our visit to go there. It was only 42 minutes. I see here that it's 50 minutes on local roads. We can handle that.
So most of Los Angeles now seems like news from faraway lands. But here's the trade-off: When we lived in Santa Clarita for those nine years, from 2003-2012, the highest it got in the summer was from 93-95 degrees. A few weeks ago, we learned on the news that one of the highs in Santa Clarita was 109. Plus, Santa Clarita is landlocked. A good earthquake will cut that valley off from everywhere. But it's not entirely that. Moving to Ventura was part of my father's retirement plan, to retire near the beach. He has a few more years to go, but this is the start of it. And what do we get here? 70 degrees. 72 degrees. Down to 71 degrees. Right now, it's steadily in the 70s, after a heat wave two weeks ago that eventually hit us on the final two days. Before that, I was thinking, "What heat wave? It's perfectly fine here," while other residents were complaining. Mind you, we had come from Las Vegas where 108, 109 degrees was an everyday thing. So we could easily think of those in Ventura as amateurs.
But on those last two days? My dominant thought became, "What fresh hell is this?" It was the humidity, too, which doesn't feel as prevalent in Las Vegas as it does here when it happens. I was born and raised in Florida and could handle humidity then, but having been away from my home state for so long, I think I lost the ability to simply absorb the humidity nonchalantly and move on. I couldn't handle it on the last two days of that heat wave. Odd, though, not having been far removed from Las Vegas at that point, but there you go. Becoming one of the natives already.
We're here for the weather first and foremost. We can all breathe, and my mom loves sleeping with a window open, a breeze sometimes blowing through the blinds, but the air mainly drifting through and settling down gently on her. It's a welcome experience we haven't had for 14 years.
And the rest? The apartment living? The job seeking? Both require adjustments. We're still waiting for maintenance in this new place to take a look at the washing machine, which, when it's on, sounds like a cross between the portal to Hell, living on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier, and sitting in the middle of NASCAR turf on the racetrack while the cars are zooming by.
I've applied for a few book-related jobs, one library job so far, and I check listings every day on the Barnes & Noble website, the Ventura College website, and the City of Ventura website, the latter of which I'm hoping for a position actually in the City Hall building downtown, which seems to be made almost entirely of marble, and they have an admirable art collection that's meant to document the history of artists in Ventura, even providing a free guide to all the pieces in the building. To work among what essentially amounts to a small art museum there would be wonderful, and fits my desire for all kinds of history to know and be part of. A respectable part at most.
I went to the Ventura College library in the midst of job seeking there, also to ask one of the associate librarians if someone could take my resume ahead of a position opening up some time so they at least can know who I am (nope, all online). Within a collection that I can't wait to borrow from once I get a library card there (waiting on getting to the DMV so I can go from a Nevada driver's license back to a California driver's license, which should happen very soon), I found two biographies of William Howard Taft, possibly my favorite president, one of which is two volumes. I also spotted The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See, toward the entrance/exit of the library, on shelves meant for leisure reading (this one was atop the stacks), which I've wanted to read since before it came out back in late March. Once I have that card, those are the four books I'm getting right away (it's a limit of five for residents. Students don't have to get library cards, and can use their student ID number to check out materials, probably an unlimited amount if need be).
There are beneficial adjustments. The town (it's too small to call it a city, and I like it that way) starts to roll up the carpet for the night at 9 p.m., and while it doesn't encourage you to lay down your worries until the next day like Sacramento does, it lets you be whoever you are, concentrate on whatever you want. I want the history of this town, the foliage, the trees, and so it gives all that to me. It doesn't feel like it asks for, or demands, anything back. Just search for your niche and that will do. That's what I'm trying to do. To do it here feels right. I feel more of a solid peace in downtown Ventura than I ever did in Vegas, and only a little bit in Santa Clarita when I stood on the patio of our condo in Saugus during many 3 a.m.'s, listening to the train whistle in the distance, echoing throughout that bowl-shaped canyon. Here it's pervasive, but undemanding. That's important. Even in Santa Clarita, there's a slight, underlying sense of unease, worry about this or that, and it's never-ending. You can worry here too, but there are also moments to breathe, to just take in what's around you, to make that 70-degree breeze part of your being. This is my kind of meditation. Soon enough I'll be hired somewhere here (I'm also looking at senior homes, a genetically-driven desire to do all the good I can for seniors), but at least I have all this while I'm plugging away at it.