08 January 2007
A Trip Back In Time
There is something about a drizzly day elsewhere that makes a native start California Dreamin'. Not the one that exists now or even a recent one, but the one they remember from the height their childhood. For me that would be the California of 1950 to 1960. The first thing you should know about that California is that it was empty. It had 25 million fewer people than it does today, and even then those in the areas around its three major cities complained about traffic jams that lasted an hour in the morning and again in the afternoon.
The San Fernando Valley barely existed as a place to live. People other than major land owners were just starting to peak over the Hollywood Hills. It had not yet become the bedroom for Los Angeles. Huge chunks of it were still farm country as were the long stretches between the major cities. There is a reason Orange County is called orange county as you could tell from the roadside orange juice stands shaped like oranges. California valleys were the garden of the United States growing every conceivable fruit and nut in areas that are now miles of tract homes.
During this time period my main home was in the Los Angeles area with constant trips to the beaches and Disneyland. Summers were for Fresno. Now this is not the best time to be in Fresno which becomes an outpost of hell in August. This is good for drying grapes into raisins. It is horrendous for the human beings doing it. Without air conditioning more effective than a swamp cooler, there were only two things to do: Be neck deep in the huge Maple Plunge or go to the movies. As a result, I saw virtually every MGM musical and could give Esther Williams a run for her money.
In order to get out of Los Angeles, you could drive by car over the Grapevine. This was not the eight lane mega freeway of Interstate 5. It was this hazardous tangled string of switchbacks which is how it got it's name. You knew you were on the way when you got to see the Los Angeles Aqueduct spilling down the hill. Back then it wasn't a pipe covered conservation eyesore, but a beautiful manmade waterfall spilling down the hills.
Cannery Row in Monterey was still a working city. The restaurants and tourists had not yet taken over the fish packing plants. To get to any of these places from Los Angeles often meant Union Station and the train. Not the ratty service of AMTRAK with bus trips in various places instead of the rail, but porters, comfortable seats and the white tableclothed dining car with straight through service. If airports get any more difficult, it will be easier to go by train again even the stripped down comuter variety, but only if the freight lines will give back the rails.
You can still find bits and pieces of that California, but for the most part it is Paradise Lost to the massive numbers of people hunting for Heaven. I'll go back to being cheerful tomorrow.
All the leaves are brown
And the sky is gray
I've been for a walk
On a winter's day
I'd be safe and warm
If I was in L.A.
On such a winter's day