Ever since the brief time my family moved to beautiful Colorado for two years when I was young, I held one naive image in my mind of western America and California. Clean, beautiful, serene, prosperous, imaginative, and inventive. All of which are true and all of which I experienced as a visitor those few times I ventured to LA and San Francisco later in life. Maybe it was the matured traveler in me that saw things differently this time around, but as we drove through the Golden state on our last leg of our cross-country trip, I became mindful of all it’s facets, the lovely, the good, the bad, and the ugly.
On a crunch for time, we whisked through the West Coast. From Sedona, we settled in San Diego for a night. Despite the unusual grey and gloomy 60 degree skies, we did some pool- side relaxing, courtesy of our airbnb host.
The next day we made a pitstop at the Griffith Observatory in LA and enjoyed an amazing view of the city to our left and the Hollywood sign to our right. Afterwards, my friend told me why the Observatory won as our only stop in LA over all the spots LA had to offer. He told me that the first time he was in LA on a family trip many years ago, it was the first stop they made as well, and the memory of it was particularly special to him now that they were going through some hardships. I was grateful to be apart of such a meaning moment.
After a delicious lunch of fish tacos at self titled, Best Fish Tacos in Ensenada, we headed out on the homestretch up highway 101 to San Francisco. Sad to say, but middle California is mostly a dry wasteland. When we later discovered that the Golden State was under a severe drought, my eye witness account left no doubt.
But it wasn’t all desert. once we got closer to the coast, there were miles of roadside farms of everything you can think of… strawberries, cherries, pistachios, onions, and garlic.
We arrived in San Francisco to the sound of 4th of July fireworks. It was only fitting to end our American road trip on America’s birthday. After settling in at an Airbnb apartment in Inner Sunset, we explored Irving Street in search of a late dinner. When the cashier at the little Korean dinner randomly asked us where we were coming from, my partner in crime and I both looked at each other, searching for the right response. Then I replied, “actually, we’re coming from New York,” and the cashier went wide- eyed.
The next day, while my friend was at work, I went for a run in Golden Gate Park. I passed a “Help wanted” sign in the window of a Laundry Mat in Haight, at the edge of the park. At first, I walked right passed it, but then the possibilities of what those simple two words could mean emerged in my head. Help Wanted meant a job opportunity, and a job opportunity meant a means to stay in San Francisco and a chance to fulfill a dream of living in California. As I connected the dots, I found myself retreating back to the laundry mat and within just a few minutes, I walked away with an application. I didn’t think about the fact that it was a laundry mat, or that it would yield a salary that I could never possibly live off. I simply thought, I have no other job or commitments waiting for me back home, but what I do have is an unwavering itch to move things forward, an opportunity in front me, and most importantly, “I’m here” I thought. “And I kind of want to stay.”
And so I did. That same week and several long conversations with friends and family about this life changing decision, I cancelled my flight back to NY. My friend and I looked for apartments. I started working at the laundry mat (while interviewing anywhere and everywhere I could). By the end of the week, with a combination of luck and aggression, we found an apartment in Oakland, just across the Bay.
As I settled my carry-on suitcase on the floor on the new and furniture-less apartment, my novice worries of how I was to stretch a week’s worth of clothes to an unknown amount of time, was overpowered by a subaqueous and penetrating bullet of fear. The kind of the fear that only comes with the realization that you’re about to do something irreversibly risky with no visible end in sight, like diving into an ocean. Although the half -year of traveling had taught me the benefits of spontaneity and gave me the confidence to take a leap of faith, this was the first time where I truly had no measurable goal and a minimal plan of action. All I knew was that other than my friend’s generosity, there was no safety net to catch should I fall. That sort of fear is not a rush of adrenaline or a loss of breath from a sudden spook, but a churning dread deep down inside that your mind tries to reason away as you tell yourself over and over again, it’ll be OK.
“It’ll be OK.” “It’ll be OK.” I held onto those sweet simple words of blind faith as I settled into my new life in California. The re-entry phase was coming to an end, I was back in the real world and determined not to go crying back to my mama.