Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Overturned Land

I just got back from visiting Southern California (or "SoCal"), where I grew up, and where I once lived for many years. This is the first time I've seen the area for about fourteen years. We were down to visit some of my wife's relatives. Here are some of my notes:

If the place were the planet Mars, it couldn't have felt more alien to me now. Everything seemed altered. The land I knew once had been overturned and in its place was a very different and strange country — yet which had, scattered here and there, a few disconnected pieces from my memory. Flying in on our jet into Ontario Airport, the first thing I noticed was that Mt. San Antonio (called "Mt. Baldy" by the locals) was devoid of all vegetation and now looked as bare as any mountain in the Mojave Desert. In the past, despite its epithet, it had some chaparral brush on its flanks, at least as I remembered it. Our relatives told us that a few years back a great fire had denuded the entire south side of the mountain. Also, regarding the rest of the general landscape, things seemed much drier to me, as if desertification were taking hold. And indeed we were told that the area is still in the grip of a drought that has lasted for several years now.

SoCal is truly the land of the magical mountains that disappear and reappear. On some days, the mountains stand out and are very tall and impressive. On other days, the mountains disappear entirely from view, as if some powerful wizard, using great sorcery, had removed them from the earth. Of course, what really happens is the change in the amount of smog in the air, depending on the weather conditions.

If SoCal was already cosmopolitan fourteen years ago when I moved away, it is ten times more so now. Today, it almost seems preposterous to try to use categories like "majority" and "minorities" to describe the population. Everything is jumbled. Any person you meet on the street could come from any group as well as another. It doesn't matter.

SoCal is well on it's way to becoming a truly bilingual part of the United States. For example, if you walk into a Target store, the first thing that is noticeable is that everything is labeled in two languages, English and Spanish. SoCal has always had this dual aspect to some degree in the past. It's much more pronounced now. The nearest analogy would be Canada, where everything is labeled in either French or English.

SoCal already had plenty of suburban sprawl, when I lived there. There is now even more sprawl. It was astonishing. But the newer houses are nice, and many have an "old-California-mission" look about them. Many have clay tile roofs, or at least something that looks like that. And we were told that the housing is outrageously expensive. The town where I grew up now has a freeway, the 210, that traverses its northern side. My wife's relatives often use it to commute to work.

The pace of life in SoCal is even more frenetic.

I liked Disneyland.

We visited the grave of one of my wife's sisters out at the National Cemetery in Riverside.

On the way back, we went to the Harvest campus. This was our old church, when we still lived in Riverside, California. It's a mega-church now, and we were a astonished at the changes. We drove in, parked, and got out to look around. I found the church office and walked in and said, "Hello, can I talk to Greg Laurie?" The receptionists explained that Greg wasn't there that day. I said, "That's unfortunate as I don't get down to California very often. I knew Greg back when he had hair." One of the receptionists had already seen me at the home of some mutual friends, and so she already knew that I was kidding around and wasn't any sort of psychopathic stalker out to get Greg. A little disappointed that Greg had eluded us, we walked around the campus some more. Harvest had built a very large, top-notch bookstore and cafe. In front of the offices and the bookstore, there was a large, outdoor overflow area, that had a fountain and a big video display. We looked around the bookstore. I spotted a section having some of Greg's books. I felt sure that Greg has ghost writers to help him write these books, as Greg is not really a "literary" sort of person, although behind the pulpit he is a great communicator.

Ms. Moonbones felt overwhelmed by the place and wanted to get back on the road. (We had a rental car.) She said her niece, with whom we were staying, was probably right. If we were still living in SoCal, we probably would be going to a different church by now, because Harvest has just gotten much too big.