Saturday, April 12, 2014

California Dreamin'

California ... it was the destination of my dreams and I planned, like a handful of other teenagers I knew, on getting there at least once before I was out of high school. I wanted to go just for the thrill and glamour and excitement of it all; and who knew, I thought, maybe I might ever meet a Super Star.

The dream was a glamorous one. I'd jet away and head to Hollywood to meet my favorite teen idol music stars crushes; like Leif Garret and Andy Gibb and Tony DeFranko (if anyone can remember those fly by night heart
throbs). The one's, I must confess, I hung pictures of on my bedroom wall and stared into their eyes on their one dimensional faces, professing my love, and dreaming of the day I would meet them in person.
Or better yet, become a Star myself; I would get noticed walking down a famous street like Hollywood Blvd. and the powers that be would proclaim that I was "just what they were looking for", the one beautiful person Hollywood just had to have to add to their list of Who's Who in Hollywood. My name would be put up in HUGE flashing neon lights for my first movie; and maybe even get my own special star on the Walk of Fame.

Oh they were the most glorious day dreams; and I would dream them everyday ... and night, for hours on end.

 What a wonderful world of make believe we have in our minds.

And for me, at 14, that dream did come true, and I literally got to experience the trip of a lifetime; and it was amazing!

I got to go to Hollywood; and Beverly Hills and Los Angels and San Diego and it was the most amazing vacation any 14 year old could have ever dreamed of. 

The Hollywood sign leave so much more to be explored. It may be the opening pan for quite a few movies there; but relatively speaking, there is so much MORE there - the sign is the tip of the ice berg.

And, although I returned to Shaw Road intact on the outside, (with a great West Coast tan) my inside was now home to a totally different girl.

As luck would have it, the family I baby sat for here in New York moved out to California to start a Sanoco gas station, and because we had grown so close, they invited me to come the following summer. It was so hard to see them go, for one because they were a major source of income and the other, I knew I would truly miss them.

I was more than anxious for summer vacation to come back around.

I remember babysitting more than ever that winter, saving every penny. I made enough for half of the trip and my mom paid for the rest. In June of 1980, a week before school was out, I was on my way to California, on a huge American Airlines 747 Jet, all the way across the US ... I got to finish up school a week early to go. The fact that I got out of school early to go on vacation to California was cause for less than enthusiastic reactions form friends and siblings.

It was the trip that transformed me somehow. It changed a simple dirt road county kid into a more independent individual who now had an amazing adventure to tell about, "My summer vacation to California." It was like a dream to me, and traveling to a great place like that, at such a young age brought envy to my siblings and friends, and praise from any adults. 

It was a growing experience, a challenge to be brave and on my own in some very adult situations. I look at 14 year old kids today and wonder would they even want to go do something like I did at 14? Would their parents even let them?

The adventures were numerous, and going to so many new places and to learn to trust my judgment and the character of others; it was a learning experience that not too many at 14 years old get to embark on.

It was a thrilling and remarkable adventure for a country girl fresh off Shaw Road. 

My tour of Hollywood was jam packed with sights and sounds; and I got to look upon famous people's houses and see tourist attractions I thought I would only see on television. I visited the homes of movie greats like Marilyn Monroe and Burt Reynolds and Lucille Ball and Elizabeth Taylor, to name just a few, (that I remember). We traveled through the Hollywood Hills where people strategically built and hid their houses and driveways, and were we were lucky enough to find Bert Reynolds house with his awesome car from Smoky and the Bandit parked. I used to have a picture of that Trans Am, but, I guess through the years it lost it's sparkle, and I literally lost the picture. (But boy did I love that movie)!

This picture brought it all back!
Attack ... boy do I remember this!

Universal Studies would have to have been my number one adventure; with the best ride, hands down, being the one that took me through the Jaws set. The roller coaster ride started out innocent enough, and then it took you down into the pool with that monstrous shark coming at you, stalking you, to the point where you thought you were going to be gobbled up by his huge open mouth full of teeth aimed right at the trolley car (as per the attached photo)! I lived, of course, but the screams and fake blood and the water spraying all over us riders made it so real and fun and yes, pretty scary too.

The 2nd best part of my trip was going out to the California desert and camping for a few days. It was the most amazing experience. We got to go riding in dune buggies, all over t desert, for hours on end. It put three wheeler rides to shame. It was a good thing I didn't mind getting dirty, it was so dusty and dry on those rides that when I got out of the buggy sand poured out of my cloths, and clung to every inch of my body, exposed or not.

We road through herds of free roaming, long horn cattle.They just stared at us as we drove by. We chased a few Jack Rabbits across the sand and even found a few lizards lazily sunning themselves in the heat of the day. The drive was amazing and the mountains were spectacular; I had never had so much fun.

Afterward, in the evening, the kids and I would dig for Fools Gold in some of the clearest, coldest mountain water I have ever seen or drank in my life. And even though the "Fools Gold" was fake, it gave us a reason to be in the stream in that wonderful cold water. It was ice cold and so refreshing on those very hot, dry days in the desert

The nights were equally amazing. They were cold and mysterious, and the skies were clear and the noises were different from any in New York. The camp was surrounded by the mystery of the desert at night - and we were just visitors. The California desert was its own private world.

Admittedly, this trip out West really changed my life - even at 14. It added a layer of experience that no one else I knew had, and I was proud of it. I stood a little taller and I felt like I knew stuff that no one else knew and I could share about California. That bit of added knowledge made conversations I had with anyone more exciting.

It gave me a great sense of independence; looking back I suppose it should have revealed to me how much trust and faith my mom had in me and other people, especially strangers; I was, after all, only 14 years old. It was for sure one of the most important developmental hurtles I experienced in my life. It turned me into a true believer that traveling at a young age is good for the soul of a teenage. And it brings out strengths that only stretching one's boundaries can develop.

I spent some time in San Diego with my cousin who was in the Navy and I was given a guided tour of a air craft carrier at the Naval Docks in San Diego. We spend that 4th of July at the Naval base with many other families and got to enjoy some amazing fire works. My stay with him and his wife was short but it was fun and I had not a care in the world. It was fun to connect with family so far away but who had come from the same common cord, family and Shaw Road. 

Ties that bind.

That is how life should be for a 14 year old ... especially when they are on a grand vacation on the West Coast. Carefree, fun and adventurous and open to whatever the opportunity holds for them.

It was bitter - sweet having to come home. Returning to Shaw Road was a quick trip back to reality but now, my day dreams had true substance - true meaning, and they weren't just day dreams anymore.

Hands down traveling to California is one of my favorite life memories.

As always, there are stories that have been chipped loose inside of this one. I use these memories as a primer for new material, to find out what else is lingering just below the surface. One day I will have more to say about it. I look forward to sharing more.

But for now I must admit out of all the places i have been, my trip to California was the one that instilled in me a great love of travel; and I know one day I will get to jet myself out to California again, even if its just for a visit. 

Hollywood, L.A., San Diego, the amazing Northern California Desert (High Desert I believe it is called) they all became a part of a 14 year old girl in 1980 and it is one adventure I will always find a pleasure in remembering and sharing with whoever wants to hear.

California Dreamin', it can still take me there - and the memories are just as crisp as if it had happened yesterday. It made me a braver person and it made me an explorer; and it gave me an inner strength that will never be taken away from me. 

That is what adventures are created for.