1/21/2009

California Dreamin'

Although I have been a halfhearted resident of Oregon since September, 2001, currently living a quiet life with my spouse in Beaverton, an extensive suburb outside of Portland, I find that as the years come and go, I am more and more given to having fervent dreams of California, where I had resided for decades, before the increasingly high cost of living in the Bay Area prompted us into making a necessary move to the Northwest. At roughly the same time every year, when I am midway through the unpalatable ordeal of trying to survive another wet, dismal winter in Oregon, I am seized by a desperate longing for the friendly sunshine of the Golden State.

My life did not start in California. I was born five thousand miles away from there, far across the expanse of the Atlantic Ocean, in Warrington, a town on the River Mersey, near Liverpool and Manchester, in Cheshire, England. I cherish both my British heritage and my British citizenship, but California is where I grew into the person that I know as myself. The older I become, and the longer I am separated from California and its sunny charms, the more I am aware of the pronounced degree to which California has left its unmistakable imprint on my character and my outlook. I therefore consider myself to be an Englishman by birth and a Californian by experience. Oregon is where I happen to live at this particular time, but I am not inclined to think of it as my home.

I am fortunate to have lived in the Bay Area during the unruly, exciting years of the 1960s and 1970s, when it seemed that California was an easygoing paradise, providing a host of new opportunities with every sunrise. When I look enviously at California today, from a painful distance, I am inclined to think mainly of the freewheeling state that I knew (and sometimes took for granted) in my bygone youth, the state of open horizons and open minds. During those years, California was a prime destination for actors, artists, writers, musicians, and anyone else who wanted to escape from the oppressive restrictions of the American mainstream. California offered a bright haven to people who rejected the empty lure of conformity and chose to think for themselves.

Living where I did, not too far from San Francisco, allowed me the boon of forming a lasting acquaintance with one of the great cities of the world. Being there during the 1960s and 1970s made my nearness to "Baghdad-by-the-Bay" (the name it was given by Herb Caen, the famous columnist of the San Francisco Chronicle) even more worthwhile. Apart from a period of six months in 1971, when I was seventeen, I did not actually live in the city itself, but I did spend a great deal of my time there, becoming particularly familiar with the well-known neighborhoods of Haight-Ashbury, Chinatown, and North Beach. Whenever my wife and I return to the Bay Area, which we have done nearly every year since we moved to Oregon, we always look forward to visiting San Francisco, and we always feel a measure of relief when we are able to confirm that its singular beauty is generally intact.

While San Francisco has retained most of its wonders and delights, many other things in California have changed extensively since the old days, and I regard most of those changes as being for the worse. Business interests have, greedily and steadily, gained firm control of the state, driving out those who are not wealthy and creating a crowded way of life that is hampered by too many buildings, too many freeways, and too much concrete. It is almost as if the entire state of California has been transformed into an enormous theme park, an illusory realm in which all traces of freedom and honesty have been vanquished by the grim forces of money and falseness. Nevertheless, in spite of the varied ways in which the state has been damaged and degraded, I still declare my own connection to California, and I still harbor a lingering bitterness about having to move away.

Although it has taken more than ten years of residence on my part, it seems that I have slowly become accustomed (but not quite reconciled) to living in Oregon. My inward eye, however, frequently looks back to California. It is keenly distressing for me to see what California has become, but the California that I remember now and the California that I shall always remember, the California that I continue to observe with a sad mixture of deep fondness and regretful yearning, is the eternal California, glowing and tempting, that regularly appears in my winter dreams: the California of blue skies, fresh mornings, comfortable days, and warm nights. In that California, it is always summer, and I am always young.