A colleague and I who both spent a good portion of our respective youths (my youth predating hers by a couple of decades) in Southern California were discussing the plusses and minuses of living and growing up there.
We both found SoCal to resemble our current location – the Washington, D.C. area – in the high percentage of transient population in both areas, which to some extent masks the underlying ethnic and regional culture. This in turn creates the mistaken impression that there isn’t a distinctive culture, that these areas are both bland, white-bread places to live in – even more so than the cities and towns in the Midwest, the perceived home of “white bread,” which actually have a very distinct regional and sometimes also ethnic flavor. After several different states of residence for each of us during the intervening years, neither one of us feels irresistibly drawn back to our respective SoCal cities; perhaps it's just been too long.
And yet there is something about Southern California; it has certain undeniable virtues and certain things that inspire an immediate and sharply felt nostalgia.
Number one among these virtues is not the weather. Though DC is a steaming swamp half the year, the temperate clime of SoCal is not enough to lure either of us back.
Number one, according to our large sampling population of two, is the produce: oranges, berries, melons, and hosts of other fruits and vegetables. But especially the oranges – heavenly, juicy, tangy oranges. (Sorry, Florida.) No melon grown outside of California has ever been able to tempt me. Apricots and grapes with a real taste.
There were other items of local color that my colleague and I remembered fondly. Speaking of oranges, there was the Orange Show. That’s what we called it, although technically it is the National Orange Show Fair. The event is held on the 120 acres of the National Orange Show Events Center for five days every Memorial Day weekend. Although Disney Land and numerous other tourist attractions and amusement parks are located within a short drive (notice I didn’t say “easy drive”), the Orange Show was always The Big Deal.
When I went to the website of the Orange Show Festival, I was happy to see that parking and admission fees were still extremely reasonable, and even though each event or attraction costs extra, you can still purchase an unlimited carnival ride wristband for $15.
The atmosphere I remember was very much carnival/amusement park. There are still a “Live Circus,” animal rides, and a petting zoo, so it’s a long way from Cirque du Soleil.
The big deal in our day was the actual Show part, which usually featured the celebrities of the day. One year the guest celebrities of the Orange Show were the stars of the TV show Bonanza: Lorne Greene, Michael Landon, and Pernell Roberts (it seems that it should have been Dan Blocker, but I definitely remember Pernell Roberts). They joked and sang. Oh, yeah.
The third thing that my colleague and I felt nostalgia for were the mountains. They almost seemed as though they were right in our back yards. The semi-desert terrain was mostly flat and I remember many cloudless days with strong, direct sunlight that could seem harsh (is that why I am squinting in so many of my childhood pictures?). The mountains, however, broke up the monotony and lent a bit of magic to the landscape. Drives and hikes in the mountains seemed like a visit to a foreign country or even another planet. Many of my imaginary worlds as a child resembled the forests where we hiked and picnicked.
It has been more than 40 years since I yearned to return to California, but every so often, perhaps when someone is peeling an orange, I want to be able to go to the local grocery store and buy ... a real orange.
Not California oranges