Until we meet again
Warning: This is a novel of a post. But I couldn’t sum up my time in Southern California and my decision to leave in anything less.
Let’s talk dreams. Any of my high school friends can tell you what my dream was for the longest time: California. And after I graduated college, I made it there. Maybe Southern California wasn’t the California I had in mind at first. (It was actually the rugged coastline and foggy hills of the Bay Area that made me first want to venture west.) But I ended up falling in love with it anyway.
It wasn’t love at first sight. In fact, the majority of my time was spent in Orange County. And while it was great weather and beaches and all those other California amenities, it was just suburbia I’ve always known with a different backdrop — and a little more ritz.
But then my friends introduced me to Los Angeles. What was this sprawling, intimidating beast became attainable. I discovered the charm of the individual neighborhoods that almost made the horrendous traffic worth it. I wouldn’t trade our days sipping cocktails on our favorite bar patios and rooftops for anything — no matter how expensive they were.
I had been in Southern California about a year when I started to reconsider my options. I loved my life there, but I was in a temporary job that didn’t necessarily support my life financially. I spent a lot of time searching for work locally, dead set on staying in the area and eventually moving up into LA. Because this was my dream, and I had made it right? Why would I want to leave?
Then I remembered my other dreams. I had always envisioned moving around every couple years, trying new cities on for size. Building a network of professional contacts and a varied portfolio of work. I never wanted to settle. And while that definition is different for everyone, for me it was simple: I didn’t want to settle into something that was comfortable just because I was scared of the unknown.
Many phone calls and chats and back-and-forth decisions later, I decided to accept a job in Louisville, Kentucky. I spent four years busting my ass in college to work in journalism, so I didn’t have it in my heart to give up on this industry just yet. So after close to a year and half in Southern California, I sold my furniture, packed my car to the brim, and drove my life back east.
Do I think I’ll go back west eventually? Absolutely. Whether it’s in five years or two years or tomorrow, who knows. I’m trying to focus on the present and taking things in stride, instead of always thinking about what is next or what maybe I shouldn’t have left behind.
So for now, goodbye, LA. We will meet again soon.
In the meantime, here are ten of my favorite memories of my year and a half in Southern California, in no particular order:
Fangirl status: The time I sat in the same theater as the Parks & Rec cast.
If I had known a little more about the event my friends and I were attending, my level of fangirl status that night may have been a little lower. (Although, that’s a big maybe.) Here’s what I knew: There was this event called Sundance NextFest happening at The Theatre at Ace Hotel in downtown LA. (Also home to our favorite rooftop bar.) Night movie screenings were paired with live music performances. Father John Misty was performing one of the nights and my friend was dying to go, so a few of us get tickets. A movie and a show? Why not. Sounds like a good night out. I also knew that the movie was “Life After Beth,” and that Aubrey Plaza starred in it. That’s it. I knew what I knew and didn’t think twice about it being a premiere or the fact that we were in LA.
Fast forward to us sitting in our seats near the front of the theater, just chatting until things started. I glance over at someone walking down the aisle, look away, the shoot my attention back to the person. I look at my friend, hitting her on the arm with one hand and pointing with the other, stuttering harder than I ever had in my life: “It-it-it-it’s Jerry!” As in, Jim O’Heir. But my mind was completely incapable of thoughts at the time, so his character name is all I could muster.
I snapped a couple photos, texted them to a few friends who are also fans of Parks & Rec, and then returned to a calmer state. A few minutes later, my friend turns to me: “Steph, doesn’t that look like Adam Scott?” Lo and behold, there we was. Across the aisle and few rows back. To sound (as the kids say these days) completely basic right now: I was DYING. Cue the iPhone camera zoom.
And then, of course, Aubrey appears with the other cast on stage. And walks down the aisle right next to us. (With some other noteworthy actors, I might add. Dane DeHaan, Molly Shannon, Matthew Gray Gubler.) I was still frantically texting friends and freaking out at this point. Only stopping when it was time for the movie.
I was only slightly embarrassing. Mostly, I was thrilled. That experience made passing Danny DeVito leave Rebublique seem like nothing.
My only regrets: 1) Not trying to get a photo with Adam Scott, and 2) not realizing Chris Pratt was there and trying to track him down.
Every day is a winding road: Roadtripping up the Pacific Coast.
In my ever-so-humble opinion, the California coastline is the most gorgeous place in the continental U.S. And I’m not talking about the sandy Southern California beaches. I’m referring to the rugged, mountainous terrain jutting up and out of the ocean. Highway 1 winding in and out of the cracks. A place where you actually feel like you are on the edge of the continent. Package this with my love for San Francisco, and you have a solid weekend roadtrip. So a couple good friends and I packed up and headed out for a long weekend to the Bay Area, taking the scenic route on the way up, of course.
I’ve blogged about this before, so I’m not going to add unnecessary words to this monster of a post. But I will give you one piece of advice: If you visit Big Sur — and you should! — be conscious of autocorrect on your hashtags. #bugsur
Hurry boy, it’s waiting there for you: Karaoke rituals
A few years ago I made a “21 by 21” list, and one of the things on it was to karaoke. And I did. A few times. But in Orange County, it become a monthly ritual.
I had a handful of friends who attended Cal State Fullerton for college. They are the ones that introduced the rest of us to Bigs. Just another semi-divey bar and grill with karaoke on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We went once. And then again the next month. Before we knew it, we went for the sixth month in a row. (Karaoke was a serious relationship.)
We would normally have the largest, rowdiest group in there. And while some nights were calmer than others, it was always a good time. Two of my friends were regulars. As in, the people who ran karaoke knew them by name. (You haven’t lived until you’ve heard their duet of Toto’s “Africa.”)
While I have yet to get up on stage and sing solo — OK, I rapped “Super Bass” solo, but I had backup dancers (don’t ask) that helped out at the chorus — I still sang my fair share of duets and group numbers:
“Bye Bye Bye” - NSYNC
“Your Love” - The Outfield
“Super Bass” - Nicki Minaj
“(You Drive Me) Crazy” - Britney Spears
“Man! I Feel Like a Woman” - Shania Twain
“No Scrubs” - TLC
“Say My Name” - Destiny’s Child
“With a Little Help From my Friends” - The Beatles
“Bad Romance” - Lady Gaga
Yes, the 90s was a common theme. And yes, there are probably many videos out there somewhere.
Eleven mojitos, please: Taco Tuesday rituals
Before I moved to Southern California, “Taco Tuesday” occurred whenever it was A) a Tuesday and B) my college roommates and I happened to make tacos for dinner. It was the rare occasion to use #tacotuesday on social media.
But my friends in Orange County introduced me to legitimate Taco Tuesday. Not the occasional happenstance, but a weekly event. With top-notch Mexican food. I’m sure it was at least twice a month that we would drive up to Brea after work for tacos and mojitos at Cha Cha’s. (THE. BEST. FROZEN. MOJITOS. And absurdly good fries for being a Latin kitchen.) And then rotate in some other OC and LA taco joints other weeks.
Taco Tuesdays weren’t just meals. It was bonding with new friends, creating new rituals. It was a release, knowing that no matter how crazy work had been that day, there were mojitos and Costillos tacos waiting for us just a short drive away. (Depending on freeway traffic, of course.)
246 Kennebec #3
It was in the living room of this apartment that my roommate gave me her blessing to leave Southern California. There had been many life chats in that apartment, and that was one of the last. (Well, within the apartment, that is. Thanks to phone calls and email, those don’t have to end.)
It was where we developed a more intense than socially acceptable friendship with the cat in another unit in our triplex. (And by we, I mean my roommate.) We would sometimes even call it by none of it’s given nicknames, but our own that we gave it. And play with him through the window so often that we left fingerprints all over our neighbor’s window. Honestly, you would think the small child in the other unit had been there and not two grown ass women.
246 Kennebec was where I learned that not all earthquakes feel the same. Utilities are just a blip on your monthly bank statement when you don’t use heat or AC. Life is possible without a microwave. And when you have “the eye” because of your graphic design background, it is your job to hang all art.
But mostly, I learned that when you find a good roommate, you find a good friend. From spontaneous acts of Schmidt inspired PARKOUR! (re: New Girl) to my roommate imitating Mojo (the cat I was telling you about) falling off the window sill, we were never short on laughs. From so many uncertainties in the jobs we held and what will happen next, we were never short on life chats and good advice and building each other up when we felt so knocked down.
Sure the water was sometimes turned off without notice. Or the baby downstairs would cry in the morning and wake us up. Or someone might have tried to break into the cable box at 3 a.m. But I’ll always have fond memories of that apartment on that quiet, palm tree lined street. And so glad that the person isn’t some old roommate in the past, but my good friend. Present and future.
KINETO: The time we stayed out until 11 a.m.
I’m going to do my best to write an abridged version of this memory, because it was a long night. And morning.
This particular night, I was have a productive evening in, Harry Potter movies playing a marathon in the background. And I remember tweeting that rain outside my window would make it just about perfect. (I’ll circle back to this later.)
Then my friend texts me. The wedding she was at was wrapping up early and she was all dressed up and not ready to just go home for the night. So we headed up to LA to one of our favorite bars in Silver Lake. On the way, I start hearing this noise and just can’t figure out what it is. Eventually I ask if she hears it, too. She thought it was static on the radio. I turn off the radio and the noise continues. And then we see it on the windshield: RAIN. A rare occurrence in Southern California. It wasn’t until we were parking across from Bar Stella that I remembered my tweet and confessed to her: “I think I did this.”
Quick backstory: My California friends think I control the weather. Partly because both times I went home to Indiana, I brought the Polar Vortex with me. But also because when we were on our road trip to San Francisco, it was raining while driving out of LA. My friends commended me for driving so calmly in it, to which I replied: “Psh, I’ve driven in worse.” That sentence had barely left my mouth when it starts POURING. As in, slight-flooding-on-the-freeway. I was banned from speaking of weather ever again.
Which is why I got an exasperated “STEPHANIE!” with my confession about my tweet wishing it would rain. I immediately tweeted a retraction, as if that would somehow help at this point. We hurried across the street and inside, lucking out with a couple seats at the bar. It was packed. And humid as hell. (Thanks a lot, rain.)
After a couple cocktails, we walked down Sunset to check out the Thirsty Crow and had a couple more drinks. (In the AC this time, thankfully.) Then we while walking back to my car, we got the overwhelming urge to take a couple books from the book swap box. But had none to give in return. We vowed to return another day and settle our book karma. (And on our final LA day before I left Southern California, we did just that. I couldn't leave with that weighing on my conscience.)
We got back to my car and drove to my friend’s favorite late night taco stand: Tacos Arizas. For some reason, the lights were off and it was severely disappointing and we were trying to figure out where else to get food that late. And then the lights came back on and you would have thought it was Christmas the way my friend yelled out in joy. (Tacos are serious business.)
Meanwhile, we had been texting a friend who we knew lived nearby to see if he was up for hanging out. (Now this friend was actually a bar back at Bar Stella. We had met him a while back and hung out a couple times. Actually, this may have been just the second time we were ever hanging out with him. Is that weird? Let’s go with no.) So after finding a Denny’s to use their restroom and eating our tacos in the parking lot, we headed over.
By this time, it’s almost 3 a.m. Which is apparently a good time to learn new a drinking game: Kineto. (To this day, I am not 100 percent sure if that is the correct spelling. It is essentially a dice version of the card game B.S.) So we play. With shots of vodka and tequila. Chasing with orange juice. At some point we stop and just talk and hang out until we can drive home.
But then all of the sudden it is 6 a.m. and we are driving to the grocery store to get Bloody Mary ingredients. And we play Kings while drinking those. Then we go back to talking for a while. And then there were two options: breakfast then drive home, or just drive home.
So we walk down to a little restaurant on the corner and have some breakfast. I resist the bottomless mimosas because HELLO it’s 9 a.m. and we haven’t slept and we already had plenty to drink I guess.
Finally we say goodbye and head back to Long Beach. When I stepped foot into my apartment, it was around 11 a.m. By the time I showered and changed and got into bed, it was noon. I slept until 6 p.m. (And still went to bed at a decent time later that night.)
You know that phrase “nothing good happens after 2 a.m.?” (OK, you’re only going to know that if you watch How I Met Your Mother.) Well, I can’t say this night falls into that category.
Sometimes, you just have to be a little spontaneous.
Weekends with the Gwynns
Moving to Southern California may have put me 2,000 miles from most of my family, but it dropped me just a four hour drive from my sister’s family in Vegas. (And six hours from my brother’s family in Phoenix, who have since relocated to Seattle.) But because our schedules lined up more, I spent a lot of time with my sister’s family (The Gwynns). I’ve probably been to Las Vegas at least 10 times in the past year and half, more than many people go in a lifetime. For boating and drive-in movies for my nephew’s birthday weekend, and for throwback concerts at Mandalay Bay. (Backstreet Boys and Jesse McCartney? Matchbox Twenty and Goo Goo Dolls? YES, PLEASE.) And my fourth Las Vegas Thanksgiving in a row. (Or was it third? I can’t keep track.)
They also made their way out to California a bit, whether for work or play. There were brunches and beach days and that free trip to Disney my birthday weekend. And then Fourth of July weekend spent at Big Bear, complete with fireworks, hiking and boating. (And an earthquake. Gotta love Southern California.)
I loved being able to be with my sister and nephew so much more because of our proximity. We made so many new memories in such a short time. I’m going to miss being just a drive away. (But let’s be honest, my bank account is not going to miss my frequent trips to the casino.)
A perfect summer evening: Wine. Cheese. Friends. More cheese.
There isn’t some long, detailed story behind this. It was just a good night. So simple in existence but so bright in memory. We decided to have a cheese-themed dinner party at my friend’s house. She had the most adorable setup in her backyard — pretty sure the lights are what did it for me — so of course we all took some Instagram-worthy photos before starting. But it was just handful of good friends, passing wine and cheese and crackers around the table, talking and laughing the night away. Then moving to the patio couches by the fire, passing the wine around again, talking and laughing some more. Just an all around good night with good friends.
(I should also mention that I lit the fire by tying a piece of paper towel to a fire poker, lighting it on the gas stove, and then carrying it through the kitchen to the patio. Reckless or genius? Not important.)
I’m feelin’ 23
My 23rd birthday was about six months after I moved to Southern California. And I think it was that weekend that I realized I had made a life there. I’ve blogged about this weekend before, so I’ll keep it brief. But it was full of good times with good friends and family. I felt so lucky to have met such great people in the short time I had been in Orange County. Lucky to be just drive from my sister’s family in Nevada. Lucky to have everything just fall into place and have a birthday weekend I’ll never forget. From Ducks hockey, bar hopping, brunch on the beach, a free trip to Disneyland, Sunday farmer’s market, a Superbowl party and catching up with a friend over drinks, it was more than a girl could ever ask for.
But also, a quick life lesson: When a stranger finds out it’s your birthday and buys you a “shot,” be sure to ask what the shot is before you drink it. Because it could be jaeger and you hate the taste of jaeger. And also ask why they would even call a half pint of alcohol a SHOT. (And then apologize for yelling angrily about the music they put in front of yours on the jukebox while they were standing right next to you.)
Orphan Christmas (Eve)
When you move 2,000 miles from home, it can be difficult to make it back for the holidays. When you move 2,000 miles from home AND work in journalism, it can be damn near impossible. Luckily, I worked in a place where there were many people my age who were also a ways from their hometowns, and we all had become pretty good friends by the time the holidays rolled around. So taking a page from the ever-so-popular “Friendsgiving,” we all got together on Christmas Eve for food and wine. We deemed it “Orphan Thanksgiving.” (Although, that title makes it sound like a very sad event.) While it was incredibly hard being away from my family and our Christmas traditions for the first time in my life, having such a great group of people to share those special occasions with made it all a little more bearable.