The Great Valley
I’m driving down the 5 on the way back home, and it’s the last road trip I’ll ever take back to the city. I drive a little bit slower this time, because I know this road won’t be visited for a while. With this realization I make more of an effort to be present the entire way, making sure that I engrave the landscape that leads to home into my head.
Remember the exits, remember the speed limits, remember which interstate not to take. Remember, remember, remember….
Summer is about to start so the sun is getting hotter as the days are becoming longer, and at 6pm the sunset begins. The valley looks sultry, because there’s a melting blanket of warmth covering the mountainous slopes. A golden shower is occurring on California’s Central Valley, and I am witnessing this natural phenomena occur.
The Central Valley spans a wide 450 miles where 19 counties make up California’s core geographical region. It starts at Shasta county, where the city of Redding is about 6o miles near the beautiful mountain of Mount Shasta. It delves into San Joaquin County’s River which supplies Californian’s their water supply, and helps farmers grow food in one of the country’s major agricultural regions. Trickling down the river towards the end we find Kern county, where I once got a speeding ticket in the city of Shafter. I was 19 years old and driving at 100mph south of the freeway, because I wanted to get to my destination as quickly as possible. It felt like I was racing against time, a sentiment I’ve carried throughout my whole life and will continue to do so as I grow older.
Following the center road, one can find various details that help distinguish each city’s beginning and ending as they begin to merge into one another. Connecting it all together is the 1,381 mile long road called Interstate 5, which starts at the state’s top entrance bordering Oregon, and extends itself down towards the exiting border of Mexico. This one road serves as a conduit for transportation as busses, cars, and trucks speed along the seemingly never-ending highway. If you don’t pay attention to the signs, you might forget what part of California you’re in. The Central Valley, although significant in its own right is often overlooked, because most Californians tend to emphasize two of the state’s major metropolitan cities: San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Heading north of interstate 5, San Francisco is sitting at the edge of the Golden State where its rugged hills, coastal views, and cool weather all year round makes the city worthwhile. During the summer as you drive towards the Bay Bridge on the 101, downtown’s skyline seems to reflect the color of the surrounding water and bright sky for everything seems to fall under a monochromatic shade of blue. When the fog disappears in the warm months people take advantage of the sun, and gather outdoors to sit and sunbathe out in the parks. The Mission District’s Dolores Park gets filled with a plethora of communal gatherings, and finding parking around the area can become absurdly impossible if you arrive too late. The sounds of laughter and music fill the air as the vendors walk around selling everything from snacks to blankets and drugs. From here the San Francisco skyline appears like a faraway dream, as the sun shines over the city and engulfs it in warmth.
The most beautiful view of the city can actually be found while you’re suspended mid-air. The Bay Bridge connects San Francisco to the cities found in the east such as Oakland, Berkeley, Richmond, etc. It is not as famous as the Golden Gate Bridge, but it is just as significant and even more beautiful. At night the 8.4 mile long bridge reflects upon the body of water wading underneath it, as a light show illuminates the entire pathway leading into downtown. From a distance the city’s skyline twinkles in the dark as a way of teasing you for what’s about to come. As you drive through the Treasure Island tunnel and approach the city, the view of downtown San Francisco opens itself up to showcase an array of blinding lights. It is here above the 18 meters of water that the best view of the city can be found; within time’s fleeting moments as traffic races through the bridge, you can see the beauty that the city holds even in the midst of night’s darkness. As a child my heart would swell up and beat so fast every time we passed by the skyline, but it was during the night where I’d fall in love each time with the place I grew up in. San Francisco is home and will continue to be even after I leave.
South of interstate 5, Los Angeles remains a dream. Home to Hollywood’s rich and famous, the city remains a utopian wonderland where you can get lost in the lifestyle. As the city is known for having good weather all year round, the beaches are regularly filled with people basking in the sun as they cool down naturally against the ocean air. Traffic is an issue one learns to get accustomed to for it’s an everyday occurrence; a 20 minute destination can easily turn into an hour long trip. In every corner of the city you can find yourself staring at a palm tree as these large herbs have become symbols for the city. To be in Los Angeles is to be in a different place entirely, where it feels like you’re in the process of becoming who you’re meant to be.
I can’t remember when exactly the desire to move there began, but I do remember how my plan for adulthood consisted of me living there. Admittedly downtown LA’s skyline cannot compare to San Francisco’s, for it is extremely underdeveloped and relatively small. You can ride around exploring the city and what it has to offer in less than a couple of hours, for it mainly consists of office and commercial buildings that sit alongside apartment complexes. The interesting part of LA is that its beauty sprouts from the center and spreads outwards, into smaller areas that surround the epicenter. The county itself is wide as is expands throughout 88 cities, some of the most recognizable being Malibu, Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, etc. These were the places I frequented regularly as a result of living in a nearby area that 18 year old me believed I’d never be able to afford; by sheer luck I managed to be in the area I dreamed of being in precisely. If you would have told me 6 years ago that I would have been living out my fantasy of being an LA resident, I wouldn’t have believed you. To this day I am not sure why I grew to love and idolize this Southern Californian city so much, all I know is that I felt so happy to be living in a dream world I had mentally built for myself. Los Angeles is home and continues to be even though I’ve left.
On my last drive heading home to Los Angeles from San Francisco, the 6 hour long trip was no longer an inconvenience. I didn’t mind staring at the long and narrow road that seemed to be on a never ending loop, for it gave me the opportunity to reassess my future and all its possibilities. It helped me come to terms with the fact that this era of my life was reaching its end. I would never be 23 again, driving towards my imminent past as the contradictory feelings of fulfillment and sorrow took over my existence. Is it possible to get over an experience you weren’t ready to give up?
I ruminated on this question the entire ride until I reached the Grapevine. One must pass a 1,499 foot high mountain to reach the beginning of the San Fernando Valley before arriving to the city of LA. I hated having to drive through this area, because it took so much energy and patience to do so amidst the traffic. However, on this particular day I was reaching the summit during golden hour, and the row crops were flourishing as the shrubs of greenery made a seemingly intricate path that led up towards the hill. In the warm sunny evening during the month of May, the sun’s rays were bouncing off the Grapevine while the air was ever so slightly cool. I lowered the window and stuck out my hand to feel the wind rush through my fingers as I gazed at the illuminating scenery full of aureate hues. It was during this moment that I realized just how beautiful life can be if you immerse yourself in the present. As I drove closer and closer to the Grapevine I decided that there is in fact hope in future, for I was heading towards a brighter one against the uncertainty of life. So I turned up my music, put on my sunglasses, and sped the entire way home as the sun set behind me. Highway 5 won’t be visited for a while, but it will forever be the bridge that links my past and future together.