I left NY on a freezing Saturday evening in January of 2003. A few hours later, I landed at the Long Beach Airport in Southern California where the temperature was 79 degrees.
I deplaned onto the tarmac, the smell of burnt wood infused the air. I inhaled deeply savoring its bitter sweetness. The warm breeze enveloped me like a mother greeting her long lost child.
“That’s the Santa Ana Winds” my sister said.
We rode with the top down in bumper-to-bumper traffic. The smoke stacks of Carson behind us resembled dancing ghosts wearing shiny amber necklaces.
“The highways are called freeways here and they are always crowded” she warned.
The never ending break lights ahead of us looked like a glitter explosion on a home made Valentine’s card.
The headlights on the opposite side twinkled brightly, similar to a curtain made of Christmas icicle lights.
A giant American flag loomed in front of a cloud of blue smoke outside one of the refineries.
I turned on the radio, The Doors and the RHCP welcomed me with California anthems.
“I love this place” I said to my sister.
Billboards, car dealerships and fast food restaurants lined the freeway. The Goodyear blimp, illuminated by a spotlight, flew above us. Everything was flat, no skyscrapers in sight. This was my first encounter with the parking lot otherwise known as the 405.
Ten years later I buy a house in Long Beach and commute daily to Westwood, traveling the same roads I did when I first landed here. Every day I am reminded, without regret and full of gratitude, that I traded crowded subways at rush hour for the privacy of my car on congested freeways.