Barbara and I are driving to California starting today. Not the usual before sunrise start. We haven’t even packed yet. Not even sure which route I will take. Santa Fe is too far out of the way, else I would stop by Maria’s and drink one of their margaritas.
My first road trip to California was in January 1956. We were moving from Puerto Rico to Perris, California. My father was to be station at a triple A outfit next to March Air Force base. I was nine. Somewhere in the California adventure that year we bought our first television set. That summer I played my first organized baseball game, though in Puerto Rico we played spontaneous baseball year round. On the island, I only had access to a right handed baseball glove. I play baseball left handed. A right handed glove fits on your left hand which meant catching and switching for me. On Christmas morning 1955 in Okay, Arkansas, during the trip to southern California, I got my first left handed glove—one that fits on the right hand. I went to two baseball tryout camps with that glove—close as I ever got to the major leagues.
My second trip to California was to Monterey in 1967. I studied Portuguese in Monterey at DLIWC, though I never quite grasped the ironies of the language. Did make it to the fairgrounds of the Monterey Pop Festival. Also spend a weekend in San Francisco that summer with a guy I knew in college who was stationed in Treasure Island. The world, it felt, was turning that summer, and being in the navy, I felt I was on the outside looking in.
My third trip was in the summer of 1977 with Barbara. Since then I have gone back at least every year, sometimes more. I love being next to the Pacific Ocean. I hate the traffic, but the traffic is more and more the same everywhere. I don’t like the idea of playing Russian roulette with the inevitable big earthquake. The ones in Mexico this week are a reminder. But then we barely missed the Jarrell tornado here, and lightening strikes near my house are common. And I do love being next to the Pacific Ocean, the cold water, the crashing waves, the piers—and the people, the collage of people.
I grew up in the Army which was both a kind of middle America and at the same time on the cutting edge of something else. The Army which was both very class conscious and at the same time one of the more egalitarian cultures in America. I grew up in an integrated world when the rest of my extended family lived in a segregated one. I was the only “white” kid in my first grade class on the island until the twins, Diane and Sue, showed up. The only kid whose first language wasn’t Spanish. My father was a mustang officer who never went to high school, received a battlefield commission in the Korean War. The men I knew growing up were smart, knew their history, had fought in two wars. The kids I grew up with were smart, had lived all over the world. I was raised on the notion that democracy was the natural outcome of history, that to know things, to be educated, was the birthright of everyone.
In the fifth grade in Perris, California, my teacher, Jack Lambie, taught us aerodynamics and well as arithmetic. Showed us how to build gliders with six foot wing spans. Explained the relationship time had with speed. Encouraged my girlfriend, Julie, to write plays which we performed. In the fifth grade in Perris, Mr. Scott taught us how to play Sousa.
It’s time to pack.