Thursday, September 22, 2011

Happyland, USA

It's always hard to imagine that places exist in which people simply live happier, but they do.  I mean, truly, deeply, genuinely happy.  It's downright enraging if you live in a place like New York, because it makes you feel like your anger is unnecessary, and New York is the sort of place in which anger is in your bones and leaching it out would make you weak, barely able to stand.  To be in a place that is happy is to imply that happiness, like melancholy, is a place one inhabits, can get stuck in and finally break free of.

Despite having just taking a vacation in June, I was scheduled for another for the second half of September.  I barely gave any thought to where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do, because the last vacation had been so recent and I really didn't need a mental break the way I did last time.  I toyed with the idea of hitting India or just bumming around home, when my best friend M suggested I see my friend C in California.  C, who I have known since I was twelve and is a member of my core girlfriends, basically left home at age 18 for college and simply never looked back.  She has done world tours on a shoestring (and now ties a sari better than I can), tracked tortoises in the Nevada desert, performed field research in the Galapagos and finally settled in Santa Barbara for grad school.  She is terribly clever, and quite simply one of the best and most patient people I know.  I hadn't seen her properly for about two years, with the exception of all-too-brief evenings together when she happened to come home.  She was only just in the process of setting up her SB arrangements when I asked her to come by and visit.  Needless to say, she was all over it.

The thing about California is that, despite the casualness which everyone tries to exude, it is a land of extremes.  As I write this, I am in an airport shuttle on a highway wisely nestled between steep, chopped hills and the rolling, foamy sea.  A mist has settled over us, masking the red sun, and giving the eerie illusion of a Maine november.  At every turn is Latin cuisine that makes you wonder why anybody in New York even attempts mole chicken, or wine that makes you drop $80 on a cross-country shipment without thinking twice.  The nerds at Lenovo throw a seriously wild party, the roads move at 85 mph without the slightest hint of impatience, and everywhere you turn, someone is bending over to extend you a courtesy that you didn't even ask for.  It is, as they say, easy living.

But, spending time here long enough, one wonders what the difference is.  Does it really boil down to year-long sunshine?  Temperate weather?  The knowledge that a hazy morning really will burn off into clear afternoon air, every single day?  In principle, I don't believe in running away as a method of resolving an issue, although I am a person who often feels the urge to run / turn her back / cut things off when she isn't happy.  But the more I travel, the more I wonder whether New York, with all its neuroses and dissatisfactions, is really the place for me.


  1. Hello! I rarely comment, but as a CA resident I feel like I must :)

    I think "extremes" is an apt term. We definitely have a little bit of everything: snow, desert, beach, forests.

    Regardless of the state's fiscal issues, I think people are lured in by the variety of sights and people, especially along the more urban/suburban areas along the coast where there is more commerce (and college kids). Unfortunately, CA has it's share of poor rural areas, just like any other state.

  2. Being from NJ myself, I totally get you on the fiscal issues =P but the main point is that people can choose to live and exist in a happy healthy manner, but sometimes where you are can stifle that despite your best efforts. I noted that in Santa Barbara, so many people chose to eat, get around and work in healthy manners, and as an outsider, it was hard to avoid that (in a good way). If everyone eats organic and most of what's for sale is organic, you wind up buying that whether you really care or not. If the fastest way to travel to UCSB is a bike path along the coast, you bike. And if people choose to be sweet to you everywhere you go, it's hard to be a grump =P

  3. Had to comment! I've also lived in CA my whole life (Los Angeles), and I have noticed it IS easy living. I was in the east coast (Philly) and I didn't like it. I think it does help A LOT that the weather is gorgeous out here even during winter. I remember being stuck inside my apt in Philly because it was snowing. It really gets to you. Sunshine makes me happy. And, I've also noticed that everyone likes to be healthy and exercise out here. It really pushes you to be the same. Also, SB is one of the best cities CA has to offer. I definitely want to make CA my permanent home.

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