A Reversal of Fortunes

“Change is the law of life and those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”

– John F. Kennedy

Prom! Stood up but not forgotten!

Some places just speak to you. There’s no rhyme or reason, no logic behind it. It’s not just the clean air or the safety. It’s not just the diversity or the great restaurants. It’s an intangible something that allows a place to grab you by the heart and the senses, make you return again and again, be willing to uproot your life to live there or mourn the loss when you must leave. This is what California was for me.

I arrived in Cali from Michigan a wide-eyed tyke on my mother’s hip with no sense of the people left back on the eastside of Detroit. My first memories are of various cities in the Bay Area---Palo Alto, Mountain View, cousins, crazy rolling streets, and Big Green Machines (the poor man’s Big Wheel), and later San Jose and Sacramento. I grew up in what many think of as the halcyon days of San Jose, of Northern Cali---pre-Silicon Valley---when low-slung ranch houses were affordable and if you didn’t have a fancy in-ground pool you could at least have an above-ground and still maintain your street cred.

The Green Machine: The Poor man's Big Wheel!

My strongest memories start around fourth grade. San Jose was hot in the summer but cool throughout the rest of the year. My favorite weather. We were latchkey kids. During the week, we came home, made lunch, did our chores and our homework, and then hit the streets until the lights came on or until our momma called us in for dinner. Summers we often stayed out past the streetlamps, riding bikes, waiting for the Pony Man. Yes, the Pony Man. For at least two years in a row, a man came to our lower-middle-class neighborhood offering kids cheap rides on a docile Shetland pony---better than the ice cream truck!

We were poor, but I didn’t know it until well into my teens. I learned to swim the old school way---my big brother tossed me into an apartment complex pool and ordered me to swim or sink. Sundays were for my mom’s big traditional 5,000 calorie breakfast---two kinds of meat, biscuits, grits, eggs, and more---or on special occasions breakfast at Bob’s Big Boy or Denny’s before a leisurely drive down the coast. My mom loved to look at the beautiful houses in Carmel, Monterey, and Santa Cruz and dream.

There was Aloha Roller Rink, my bestie, Duran Duran, and the Almaden Twin movie theater ($1 seats all day, every day). On the eve of the first day of high school and having to go to a different school than my beloved Dana, we spent the day in Santa Cruz in matching Duran Duran t-shirts (Nick for her and Roger for me) and white Capezios, and then sun-soaked and exhausted we watched Valley Girl at the Twin for the first but not the last time!

As I got older, I dreamed of living among the Black Panthers in Oakland and matriculating at UC Berkely. There was San Francisco and Howard Jones concerts, Sacramento and all-age clubs. There were plans to take over the James Lick High School newspaper, learn to scuba dive, and perfect my tennis backhand in P. E. class. I had plans. There were plans…and then there was the rupture. I think of it as BD and AD. The rupture is complicated, but it boils down to a decision made at night, money borrowed, the fleeing of a toxic relationship turned dangerous, and a humble return to Detroit.

Cali Clean!

It was as if a light was switched off and then rapidly switched back on. It was like in the movies where the heroine goes to bed and wakes up in a different country, a different era, a different universe. Saturday night I was just another Cali girl planning my outfits for my next trip to the mall and Monday morning I was a heartbroken fifteen-year-old on a Greyhound bus crossing Big Sky Country on the way back to a state I had no memory of and no emotional connection to.


A quick programming note: After 5 years, I switched to posting every other month instead of monthly. There are still loads of stories to share, but not as much time to do it.

Thanks for stopping by! Be kind to one another, keep on traveling with a feminist eye, and keep on being Feminist AF!


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