The State of California took hold of a particularly feverish corner of my brain at a very young age. This was due chiefly to the television shows of my youth and their aesthetic, which held a Pleasantville sort of appeal that retains its power over me even now.
I first visited California when I was 16, and returned to the state once in my early 20s. Ten years later my father announced he'd accepted a pastorate in San Jose, and I couldn't help feeling a little ripped-off. This was so typical. My parents waited until I left home before they bought a color TV. A VCR was purchased when I moved to another city. Now I was married, and conspiring with my wife to begin a family of our own, and my parents were moving to California - land of my most delirious childhood dreams.
Living in California is no longer my deepest desire. I wouldn't object to a year or two of Californian exile, but the place is perverse enough to sour the dreams of all but its wealthiest citizens. Unless you exist in the vaunted .01%, it doesn't matter what rank you occupy on the food chain: you have to work like the devil to live there.
Still, every visit we've made in the last ten years has amounted to something of a perverse thrill - consider it an arm's-length love affair, which allows for all the high and none of the jones. The fantasies California inspired in me as a child were allowed to flourish, unimpeded by the banal impositions of everyday life. I could visit Santa Cruz and, channeling Walter Mitty, dream of being a blissed-out surfer. I could walk the vertical streets of San Francisco and dream of being Beat. I could even talk with friends who had moved to Silicon Valley and dream of being a free-market, code-writing geek.
Last summer my father turned 65 and used the occasion to announce his intended retirement. Preachers can preach until their last breath (or beyond - I'm starting to wonder about Billy Graham), but most pastors gratefully acknowledge the 65-mark because even the healthiest congregation pulls a large draught from the emotional reservoir. His congregation is an exceedingly warm and generous bunch, but retirement in CA is out of the question, so my parents are returning to the Canadian prairies. I now have to face the fact that I will no longer see Mistress California on quite so regular a basis.
I am already in mourning over the loss of many particularly Californian pleasures. In an effort to come to grips with my grief, I will hereby ennumerate ten of my faves - many of which can be sampled and largely enjoyed in the comfort of the non-Californian home. If you'd like to see all 10 in one page, simply click here and scroll down. If you're a sucker for the suspense of Top Ten lists, start at number 10 - here.