Report From Southern California
April 14th, 2011

My first impression: Too many cars, too many houses, too many people. This was way back in the summer of ’56, from the back window of my father’s Mercury Medalist. Our family wagon was like an interplanetary probe moving through an alien galaxy. What if the car broke down? How would we EVER get back to Utah?

My older brother’s take on Los Angeles differed. “Things are happening here. WHY would I EVER want to go back to Utah?”

Fast forward nine years. My brother Chuck is now working and living the vida loca in Pico Rivera. In the summer of ’64 he invited me to come for a visit, which I did—packing my stuff into the trunk of the same 1956 Mercury that had miraculously made it all the way to the coast and back eight years earlier. My brother was living in one of those cinder block apartment complexes landscaped with frondy foliage. There was a courtyard with a swimming pool; Chuck’s bachelor apartment looked like a page torn out of Playboy Magazine.

On my second day in L.A., I unpacked my little 50cc Honda Cub and went looking for the Pacific Ocean. I never found it. Instead, I came upon this scene in Santa Fe Springs, which I snapped with my trusty Kodak Bantam 828.


On day three I returned to Utah; my brother stayed in California. Over the years that followed, we two grew farther and farther apart, until today we are as unlike as, say, the Eloi and the Morlocks—he being the laid-back, self-indulgent type, whereas I engage in drudgery under overcast skies, and have a somewhat verdigris complexion.

I sometimes wonder how my life would be different had I been able to see beyond the smog-shrouded, crowded suburbs. What if, back in 1964, I had managed to find the Pacific Ocean? What if, back in 1956, my father hadn’t balked at the admission gate to each and every amusement park? Let’s face it: Southern California is expensive, and for a Scotsman, Disneyland is most definitely NOT the happiest place on earth.

Last week I decided to give Southern Cal another try. This time around, Annie and I stayed at a high class hotel and dined at high class (by my standards) restaurants. We took our son to that fancy aquarium where my father would have taken me if only it hadn’t been so pricey. What I learned is that Southern California can be quite a lot of fun, provided you have a nice place to stay, plenty of spending money and someone who knows the freeways to drive you around. And now here I am back at my desk, anxiously awaiting the arrival of my monthly VISA statement. It’s cold here. It’s cloudy. I’m broke. Uptight.

Oh, well. I had my day in the warm California sun.

-Richard Menzies