I have two (almost complete) sets of California friends. They come with a mismatched collection of knick-knack memories, some I keep on the bookshelf by my desk and some I keep tucked away in plastic bins in climate-controlled storage space.
My own experiences while living in California were fraught with disaster, personal and impersonal, natural and man-made. At our law school graduation, the student speaker gave a shout out to riots, earthquakes, and fires. Oh, my!
I left California in a hurry, vapor trail style. I moved so quickly, I left a lot behind, and I’m not talking about all of my stuff that was looted (is that really a verb?) from my fractured apartment in the Valley. Maybe it was CHiPs, and Simon and Simon, and Hardcastle & McCormick, and Van Halen but I had wanted to live in California for as long as I could remember. From 3,000 miles away life looked more special there. The interstates were freeways. The cars were convertibles. There were surfers—surfers!—bobbing in the waves with the dolphins all along the Pacific Coast Highway.
My reality didn’t match my childhood imagination, but, even after everything, I did fall for California. Dysfunctional, co-dependent, and anxiety enabling at times, but still…
When I fell, I fell hard. Few days pass where I don’t tell someone a story from those days. Even fewer days pass when I don’t remember how those friends helped me through some of the most challenging times of my life. We were silly and ridiculous and serious and committed. We shared $44 hotel rooms in Vegas and survived a hippie cleansing ceremony huddled in tents at Buttermilk Boulders. We briefed hundreds of cases and survived a lot of Socratic questioning. The star filled nights in Joshua Tree made us question our own relevance in the big, bad universe and also question our decision not to stop in Twentynine Palms for pizza before setting up camp. These moments, and, more importantly, the people populating them, are the existential building blocks of my career, my law practice, and my adult life.
A couple of years ago, I went all LL Cool J and went back to California. Not full-time. No more condos in Thousand Oaks or rented rooms in Malibu for me. This time, I was closer to Joshua Tree, baking in the desert in the Coachella Valley. I spent days workshopping stories and more nights staring at the stars. I ate what my friend calls “the best chili in the world” at Pappy & Harriet’s in Pioneertown, a movie-set ghost town in the high desert and, chili aside, one of my favorite places on the entire planet.
I made new friends, writers, who share my passion for words and stories in a not-altogether-different way than my lawyer friends. The ability to craft a narrative, string together facts into a cohesive and meaningful story, is something all of my friends share. We believe in the power of shared experience, empathy, and the humor of humanity.
This week, as I drove through the giant flakes of a snow shower here in New York, I listened to Diana Krall’s haunted version of California Dreamin’. I was overwhelmed by how much I missed my friends in California (and the ones I made there who now live all over, many in places as snowy as here.) All of them. Both sets. The ones I see and talk to and the ones who are packed away in the time capsules of my life there. It is not about the weather—even though I wouldn’t mind a walk in the sunshine of Palm Springs or the misty coastal layer of Malibu today. It is about who could take that walk with me. The people who knew me, and stayed with me, and stay will me still, at my worst, most vulnerable, most creative, most fragile times.
Collectibles lose their value when you take them out of the package. Unwrapping those friendships and those memories, like that John Spartan from Demolition Man action figure, threatens to decreases their value as sure as driving a new car off the lot. But the chips and the breaks, the yellowed crack of glue where something has been put back together, are the scars of a life lived. Lived, if not well, completely. And with a reckless disregard for resale value.