I WISH YOU ALL COULD BE CALIFORNIA GIRLS
Five-thirty am LA time, coffee just arrived and for six dollars it’s nowhere near as good as my Nespresso at home. I’m awake earlier than usual as I’m on New York time. And while I sit here drinking my coffee watching the sunrise over this city I realize in many ways it will always be home.
Be my relationship to it ever so complicated, it’s the place I understand the best. And I guess that is what people mean when they talk about home. The people who return to the native land to live out their lives do it for a reason. I can’t imagine doing that with LA. I’ ve done my time here so to speak. But it’s the place I internally connect to in a way like no other.
Mind you I don’t really like it. I get bored easily here. I don’t like endless days of sunshine. And I hate that it’s a one-industry town for the most part. There is no question I enjoyed it more when I was at the peak of my game in that industry. While I sit on the periphery of it still I’m no longer at the white-hot center like I once was. And that is partly because of age and partly by choice– I just kind of got sick of it.
But it goes back so much further than that. And I imagine everyone who now calls home the place they weren’t born and raised understands this.
I respond to the air here differently; it’s the air I know. Earthquakes, forest fires and the Santa Ana winds, are the weather and natural disasters that feel the most natural to me. Earthquakes, dive under the desk. I don’t know what to do in a hurricane. Batten down the hatches? I think that’s a submarine. After twenty years in New York I’m still startled and amazed when it snows. I wake up like a kid and go “It’s snowing.” And I can’t drive in the snow. But I can maneuver the canyons with one hand in a downpour.
The birds here sound like the birds I know. These are my birds. The birds I grew up with or at least their great-great- great- great grandchildren.
But despite the fact I don’t like living here and every stay is marked with a giant expiration date, I have this oddly comforting feeling that I know from where I come.
My grandparents are buried here. Every other street has some kind of life landmark or anther for me. Despite, walking, talking, writing and living like a New Yorker, part of me is pure Californian.
And I think there is nowhere that one is more a Californian than behind the wheel of a car.
I hate driving in New York. I won’t do it, and it amazes me when I see others doing it. My friends Maureen and Jerry drive to work every day. My friend Jody drives around the city like she lives in Westport. I took Lucy to a birthday party the other day on Lexington and everyone was dropping their kids off in SUV’s. Blew me away. I thought, what are they doing?
Once, once I voluntarily drove in New York. I decided that I needed to take charge of my driving life. I had a car tucked into a garage four blocks away and damn it, I should use it. I’m a Californian thus I DRIVE.
So one Saturday morning I called the garage, I had to ask someone at the office for the number and I said would you please have my car ready.
And I had a destination. An old family friend, Lisa Lidow, was moving into a new apartment. We had had dinner the night before and I told her all about ABC Carpets, and what great stuff they had. And not only did I tell her about it, I told her I would drive her there. And since I had a wagon we could fill the back with purchases.
I didn’t walk, I marched over to the garage. My car was waiting. I got behind the wheel, buckled up, I knew how to do this. I’m from California. We drive. So I pulled out and headed down Seventy-Sixth Street and then made a right on Second, this was easy. I was driving in New York! But nervously, no music, deep concentration – I’m telling you this taxis and buses do not know what they are doing. But anyway, I got myself to Fifty- Eighth Street and picked up Lisa and her assistant, plus Lucy was still baby and in a car seat in the back. So I now had an octogenarian, a woman I didn’t know, and my baby, all on this NYC road trip with me.
But I was feeling confident, I could do this. I could drive in New York. And if I could drive in New York think of all the money I could save on cabs!
Feeling full of my newfound transportation independence I turned onto Broadway. A bus was pulling out from the curb, I slowed down because you really don’t want to go mano a mano with a bus. I mean he pulled in front of me, I had two choices, hit him or let him go. I opted to slow down and let him go. The ladylike, good defensive driving move, the kind of driving that is wired into your DNA when you come from California.
But clearly this is not the kind of driving people learn in the tri-state area as I was promptly rear-ended by a fish truck. Bam. Sammy’s Fish Truck smashed right into the back of my Volvo.
Poor Lisa hurls forward, thank god she was wearing her seat belt. Lucy’s car seat tough not dislodged moved and the assistant was a tad shaken up. This was not my first fender-bender so while I was not happy I was OK.
Plus, he hit me; I knew it was his fault.
I got out and was greeted by Sammy the irate fish monger/driver who promptly started yelling at me.
“What’s wrong with you you stupid idiot? Women don’t know how to drive” Not only was the blood from the morning’s catch on his fingers, he was sexist, smelly and had very poor vocabulary.
On top of which as I tried to explain to him, when one hits another it is their fault. He did not get this concept. Despite the fact he hit me it was my fault.
“That’s not how it works in California,” I told him.
“Look around blondie,” I think he had the nerve to call me blondie. “Does this look like California to you?”
Maybe not, but the laws of the road are the laws of the road. Well, not in New York and not if you spend your days hauling and unloading fish I guess.
After swearing back I tried to talk sense into him. New Yorkers when they get in fender benders automatically get out and start yelling and screaming at each other. I’ve never seen an accident where this was not the case: Be they the drivers of cabs or Bentleys.
In California we quietly pull over, get our insurance cards out of the glove compartment, check for damages and then decide if the cops need to be called, a report filed and we exchange insurance info and leave quietly, unless of course the damage is such you need to be towed. New Yorkers don’t do that. They start by calling you a moron and usually ends up somehow with the word “mother” attached to a sex act. But when it comes to swearing I can hold my own with any fish monger.
There was no resolution. He was convinced I was wrong. I was convinced he was a moron. I knew I had had two choices, slow down and let the bus pass or crash my car filled with an older woman and an old family friend plus my six month old child into a bus. NO CHOICE, SAMMY.
That was it. I called Glenn and had him come pick me up.
Lucy is now ten. Except to get to the LIE and get out to the country I have never, ever driven in New York City again. But, this is how you know you’re a California girl, the minute I get behind the wheel here, I’m in heaven. I know how to drive. I know the roads, the shortcuts and I love it.
There is a way to drive in California. There are not only rules of the road but there are conventions to the way you actually drive the car and an attitude. It’s totally California girl driving.
And oddly Taylor, who left here when she was seven and still does not know how to drive herself, intrinsically understands the California girl way to drive.
So yesterday, when we picked up the rental car, she instantly went through all the moves. First you do buckle your seat belt. Then you roll back the sun-roof, you open all the windows so if you’re driving you can put rest your elbow where the window is, if you’re the passenger you can flirt more easily with whoever may pull up beside you. Then you crank up the radio to as high as you can take it. Only a certain type of music works.
Obviously, you hope to get the Beach Boys. “Help Me Rhonda” or “California Girls” ideally, but Old Motown works, or disco. I have a hard time driving to rap, but that is probably an age thing. There is a station, I forget the number but it’s something like Love Songs On The Coast, and they always have those goofy dedications: “This song is dedicated to Sandy, who even though she is out with Brad, will live in my heart forever. I want her to know I understand.” And then they play some sappy love song from the 80’s. This only works if you have just fallen in love or just broken up with someone. Otherwise, you need a beat, a little base, not too much; most importantly you need to be able to sing to it. “Buttercup” is a great example of a song you can pull this off with. You play with the dials until you get the song, then you pull out, you put your pedal to the metal and off you go.
So yesterday Taylor and I, two girls– well, OK so I’m not a girl, but when I’m in California and behind the wheel of a car I feel like one– two girls, both born in Los Angeles, seven days, albeit thirty-one years apart, took off down Sepulveda singing at the top of their lungs, while their blonde hair blew out the window (blonde hair is not a deal breaker here, but it helps) and we sang and we danced and she is ready to kill me right now for telling this story. But even she has to admit we had fun.
And we looked at each other and we realized that on some level we will both always be California girls!