Leaving California

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These are some of my favorite people from what I like to call The Golden Era of New Times. A time when ideas flowed like hard cider and no idea was too stupid or too crazy to attempt. PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER, COURTESY OF NEW TIMES

This is the post I’ve been both dreading and eagerly anticipating.

For 31 years, one month, and 27 days I have been a proud resident of the state of California, the golden state, the state with the hippie reputation (which I am not always entirely certain California deserves). When I traveled internationally and people asked where I was from, I would proudly state “California.” During those dark Bush years, it was a way of separating myself from the country’s embarrassing politics and behavior.

I was born in Monterey—home to the state’s first theatre, first public building, first public library, first publicly funded school, first printing press, and first newspaper—and raised across Steinbeck country (Salinas, King City, and Prunedale).

The bus stop outside the terrifying state prison in Soledad was the place my parents chose to exchange my brother and I on alternate weekends after their divorce.

I’ve seen “The Singing Sheriff” Pat DuVal ride a white stallion into the arena at the opening ceremonies of the Salinas Rodeo singing “I Love You, California” at least half a dozen times.

I attended college in Los Angeles, subsequently moved to San Luis Obispo (“America’s Happiest City” according to Oprah and other disreputable sources, none of whom live there).

My only regret is that I never had the opportunity to live in San Francisco before the housing prices went astronomical and you had to pull down a six figure salary just to get by there.

The point in this bizarre and some might say not-terribly-impressive list of achievements is that I’ve always taken solace in my status as a resident of The Golden State. Which makes what I am about to say tremendously difficult.

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OK, so maybe New Times had gone through several golden eras. Convincing my coworkers to do a Life Aquatic-themed photo shoot was surprisingly easy.

I’m leaving. Leaving the newspaper where I’ve been working for the past nine years. Leaving the city where I’ve spent nearly the entirety of my adult life, and where I’ve learned so many unexpected things about myself and the world. Leaving the community that helped me publish my first book. And leaving the state I’ve always called home.

Why?

A number of reasons, really. I’m mad about the prospect of buying a house and real estate in California is the stuff of nightmares (unless I’m willing to move to Bakersfield and that will be a cold day in California). Which brings me to my second point: the drought. The past couple of years I’ve watched as my beloved Golden State wilted into a brittle, brown mass of tinder and it terrified me. It will continue to terrify me even when I’m living 1,019 miles away.

There are other factors, of course. The major one is that I’ve found a city that simultaneously boasts the food and cultural opportunities of a major metropolis and the easy access to nature that I require in order to avoid going mad. A subsection of that point is that I’ve found a job I’m excited about with a company that might actually rival New Times for cool. I may never dump a boat in a pool for an engagement photo shoot or play late-night hide and seek with my coworkers after the office is closed (RIP beloved tradition), but I hope to begin some new traditions and forge new friendships.

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One of my favorite traditions, the New Year’s Day Polar Bear Dip in Cayucos might be a little more difficult in Seattle.

In the past couple of days I’ve become an expert at focusing on the lengthy list of things I need to accomplish in order to move myself, two cats, and my enormous collection of books and oddities across one thousand miles of northwest territory. It’s been a relief not to think about the incredible people I’m leaving behind, the places that have come to feel like a second home, and the bizarre and beloved traditions I’ve come to love. I don’t know whether I’ll ever host another Easter egg hunt and watch my friends and colleagues madly scramble after eggs filled with booze and unmentionables. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’ll likely never play another round of hide and seek in my office. Whether I’ll ever be able to give up the habit of celebrating Bill Murray’s birthday by hosting a bonfire and running into the ocean in formalwear, I don’t know.

All I know is that it won’t be the same without the characters I’ve edited, plotted with, likely cursed at, staged elaborate surprises and presents for, and generally loved like one big, strange extended family.

I’ve got two weeks remaining to me—two weeks to say goodbye, to petition for regular visits, to pack, to console and be consoled. And then a new adventure begins. Instead of endless sunshine, the backdrop to this particular adventure will be the steady rhythm of rain—so dear to me after lacking it all these years. I am exchanging the Golden State for the Emerald City, “America’s Happiest City” for a city where I hope more things happen.

And if you’ve played a part in my past adventures (misadventures even), I hope you know how grateful I am. The past nine years were not what I expected, not what I signed on for, but like so many accidents, they were so much more than I ever could have hoped. I came to San Luis Obispo as a silly college graduate following her boyfriend to his own college town. And while the motivation might have been foolish and that former boyfriend has long since ceased to matter to me, I wouldn’t change that decision for the world.

Goodbye California, and goodbye San Luis Obispo. Since I couldn’t find a video of Pat DuVal singing it, I’ll just have to let this random YouTube video sing me out.

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