Ten years ago, Elisa and I packed up a U-Haul and drove almost 3,000 miles from New Hampshire to Los Angeles. It was a scary move for us and it was definitely the biggest risk that either of us had ever taken at that point in our lives. Now, from the comfort of my couch in Manhattan Beach, it's easy for me to say that it was no big deal; that I'd do it again if some new passion led me to another place; that deep inside I knew it would all work out for us.
And in a sense, I guess I did. It's not like we were risking death or some irreversible tragedy. We risked only pride. If things had gone terribly wrong after we got to Los Angeles, the worst that could have happened was an embarrassing scurry home to our parents with our tails between our legs after "giving it our best shot." We'd have been filled with tales of a cruel city and gripes about a system built to exclude outsiders. Surely, one of us would have justified it all by saying, "It wasn't meant to be." We weren't risking our lives when we moved out here.
Although, I suppose that's not entirely true. In some ways, Elisa was taking a much bigger risk than I was when we left New England. I knew that I wanted a life in Southern California and my goal was to work as an actor in TV and Film. Elisa, on the other hand, was content in New England. She was not tortured by wanderlust. She loved me enough to move with me, but I'm quite certain she would have been fine with moving back to New England after a few months of watching me work crappy jobs and watching both of us get crushed under the weight of our impossible, exponentially rising debt.
All of that was underneath the surface when we arrived here in June of 1995. Masked beneath the excitement of a new place, and the frenzy of our desperate attempts to plant roots deeply and firmly enough so that our new life would take hold, was her silent fear that we'd succeed in Los Angeles and my silent fear that we'd fail.
These things went unsaid and fairly unnoticed as we made plans to drive up the coast to San Francisco within a week of our arrival. Our original plan was to drive west from New England to San Francisco and then take the scenic route down the Pacific Coast Highway from there. However, by about Nebraska it became pretty clear to both of us that we did not want to drive the winding, somewhat perilous oceanfront curves of the PCH with a fully packed U-Haul towing my 1988 CRX on a trailer behind it. After nearly getting the whole rig wedged into a campground in Boulder, we amended our travel plans from a cheap motel in Colorado, and went directly to Los Angeles. Once there, we decided, we'd quickly unpack the U-Haul, dump our stuff into our new apartment and then drive the two-seater up the coast. (Thank the blessed virgin of all that is holy and awesome that we did. Had we gone with our original plan, I think we'd still be negotiating the hairpin cliffside curves of that highway.) Once in LA, we unloaded our stuff, returned the U-Haul, and then hastily threw some clothes in a couple of overnight bags and headed for US Highway 1 towards San Francisco.
If you've ever driven the Santa Monica stretch of the 10 Freeway heading east, it's hard to forget the first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean where it turns into the PCH. The freeway slopes down slightly into a tunnel that eventually opens up onto a view of California that fits every dreamer's imagined ideal about what the place should look like. As Elisa and I raced north on the PCH with the wind blowing in from two open windows and a sunroof, our individual fears about our new city were temporarily suspended and drowned by the swell of a new chapter that washed over us in gusts of warm salty air. We had a new place to live and new geography to master and on that particular trip in 1995, we were exploring the road north to San Francisco for the first time in our lives.
I couldn't help but think about those days of traveling north in a new state ten years ago as we returned from a little weekend escape to Napa. Each year, our friends throw a bar-b-que in Napa called "The Wrubarb." It's always a great weekend, but it's kind of a pain in the ass to get there from Los Angeles. Driving, it takes about seven hours. Add a baby and a dog and it's closer to nine. This year, we happened to both have the weekend off and we decided it might be a fun road trip. Without any real reason to rush back, we even thought it might be fun to retrace our route from ten years ago on the way home. It's a beautiful drive, and although it takes several hours longer to go that way, the views and scenery make it worthwhile. Miraculously, both baby and dog travel like champs, so after a weekend of golf, wine and more wine, we cut over to San Francisco and went south via Half Moon Bay and Monterey.
I tend to be overly nostalgic, so as we drove through the beauty of California's central coast, I couldn't help but think back ten years and marvel at how far along we've come. These days, Elisa and I are both happy in Southern California (although we both still long for the security of New England roots) and our doubts about our future are no longer quite as frightening. With daughter and dog both natives of California, we have two family members who don't know any other life. As time goes on and our roots penetrate deeper into the rocky, fabricated terrain of Los Angeles, our fears have been tempered by time and routine. Now, instead of worrying about the unknown and whether or not our roots will take hold, we worry about maintaining the things we know and hoping that what we have built is strong enough to sustain not just ourselves, but others.
In spite of what I may tell you over drinks, I'm not the daring young risk taker I used to be. As I get older and mistakenly feel that I have more to lose than I have to gain, my former devil-may-care attitude seems permanently kept in check by a wiser voice saying, "Let's think this through." At what cost, I'm not sure. I wonder if that's built into our programming after we have kids; the switch is flicked and the internal monitor is turned on. Security becomes more important than small braggable victories; happiness becomes more desirable than imagined happiness; the life you were chasing is actually not as good as the one you have.
These things went through my mind as the sun dropped between Carmel and Big Sur. We stopped at a little cliffside restaurant called Rocky Point and as the chilly ocean air whisked in the evening, I realized that although I miss the hopeful young popinjay I was at 23, I also really like the 33 year old dad that seems to have taken his place.