I remember growing up a little girl in northwest Arkansas wondering about the magical land of California. I watched Saved By the Bell like a lot of kids did back then and I dug that whole idea of going to the beach after school and starting my own girl band like JEM and the Holograms. But television can only take you so far and my understanding ofCalifornia was very abstract.
I was born in a little town by the Atlantic Ocean called Savannah, Georgia, and spent more years than I liked landlocked in the Midwest. My family traveled all over the country but we never made it west of Wyoming in those days. California was my undiscovered country. Towards the end of high school it dawned on me. I could go to college in California! I hatched my plan, gathered school information. For USC I could try for a band scholarship. For UCLA and Berkeley I could apply for writing scholarships. And then, I lost my nerve. “You don’t have any family out there, Marta. Who do you know in California?” drummed the voices in my head. So I watched that dream sunset to the West and moved on.
Years later through a series of fortunate events, I hatched a new plan. A cousin of mine had established herself in Los Angeles in the entertainment industry and we decided it was high time that we met. While our lives seemed to skirt around each other we had made it into our middle and late 20’s without ever having met.
Though I was in graduate school at the time without an assistantship and learning to trust God for how I was going to pay my rent, I stalked every travel site in existence and eventually found a one-way ticket from Fayetteville, Arkansas, to Washington, DC during July of that year. It got me to town just in time for the Mississippi on the Potomac annual celebration where my DC Tougaloo alumni get together to raise money for the College. Then I found a one way non-stop flight from DC to Los Angeles for a ridiculously low price like $150 or so.
When I set foot on the ground at LAX for the first time it was magical. A warm breeze brushed against my cheek and I could feel a sense of accomplishment. I made it to California! When I found my cousin there was no mistaking who she was because our smiles match, a gift from our family lineage. We made our way to Hermosa Beach, rode horses up in the mountains, I toured her production studio, meandered through farmers markets. I was California dreamin’ baby! From the top of the Santa Monica Ferris wheel I vowed to never be a stranger to California ever again.
I don’t get back out as often as I would like but since that first trip I’ve managed four amazing visits enough to know that it does rain in Southern California and it can get “cold”. Jazz at Yoshi’s in Oakland is amazing. The Golden Gate Bridge is breathtaking and the Pacific Ocean has a blue hue separate and apart from the Atlantic. Walking the campuses of UC Berkeley and UCLA are glorious and humbling experiences. You can plan an open itinerary and make it home just fine if you have the time and sometimes it’s better that way. I would have happily booked a ticket on the Greyhound back to Arkansas from California if I hadn’t found a cheap flight back. Sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith and live in the moment rather than trying to script every moment of every day of your life. I’m by no means done with California, she and I will be bosom buddies for some time to come.
~ Marta C. Youngblood