My mom and dad raised me conventionally. We would spend our summers skinny-dipping in the Yuba River and the winters huddled around the warm fireplace, singing protest songs of the ’60s. Accompanied by guitars and harmonicas, the sound would resonate so loudly that even Native American spirits could hear us.
My hometown, Nevada City, has a diverse mix of inhabitants. The aging hippies, who still adorn themselves in Birkenstocks and loose-flowing clothing, are still around. These are the true activists who attended Woodstock and anti-war protests during Vietnam and who were part of the back-to-the-land movement. These hard-core activists tolerate the younger generation of Greens with nose rings, dreads, and babies swathed in soft cotton, hanging like little monkeys from their bodies.
I loved growing up in a beautiful, small town like Nevada City, but I also yearned for a place where no one knew my name, my family history, or my shoe size. I wanted the anonymity of a big city, with plenty of distance and more sunshine.
I’m done with Nevada City! I decided on my 16th birthday. Done. Two years later, after graduating from high school, I packed up my trusty Honda Civic and drove 85 mph toward San Diego.
“I’ve found us a great place,” my boyfriend, also from Nevada City, had told me. He’d found a job in San Clemente a few months prior and had volunteered to secure us a place before my arrival.
My boyfriend was older. He was smart, funny, and very sweet, but the man had zero street smarts. His idea of finding a house was clicking on the first ad he saw on Craigslist and viewing it with the enthusiasm of a four-year-old seeing a new bicycle on Christmas morning.
Instead of living in the posh, serene community of San Clemente, he found us cheaper housing in what he called “The O’Side.”
“It’s dirty here,” I commented on our first day in Oceanside. “There are condoms all over the roads and flower pots are filled with trash.” It was not the sunny, happy San Diego that I had pictured.
“This place is great,” he told me. “There’s a Jiffy Lube across the parking lot and a Ralphs within walking distance.” But it took only a few days before his vision cleared.
The location of our new apartment filled me with dread. In the small, gated complex, steps away from Interstate 5, I unpacked my things. The grey carpet felt dirty on my bare feet, and the broken blinds that covered our sliding door cut off the only source of light in the studio apartment.
The man who lived beside us ordered hookers like pizza, and that, coupled with his habitual drug abuse and middle-of-the-night electric guitar, made life hell.
The atmosphere of downtown Oceanside was no better. Gangs and the military roamed the streets, and though I had craved something diametrically opposed from my hometown, this wasn’t it. Gang shootings and packs of drunk, horny soldiers weren’t all that homey.
The two of us would hide out in our apartment, watching cartoons late into the night, searching for any semblance of innocence that we could find. If we did venture out, it was always down to Ocean Beach, where the streets flowed with bikini-clad girls riding beach cruisers.
Over the next year, I visited places all around San Diego. Though many of them were beautiful, they never felt like home. But it was in O.B. that I finally found my sanctuary.
The laid-back, pot-smoking folk of Nevada County intermingle with retirees who have relocated from the larger surrounding cities. Citizens of San Francisco, Sacramento, and even L.A., have crumbled away from the city to enjoy the lifestyle of a small town.
Directions include phrases like, “Turn right at the rock shaped like a moose, drive past the ridge, and then follow the wildflowers until you see my teepee.” Back home, marijuana and hippies grow wild.
The tree-huggers of Nevada City take their hippieness to the extreme by living off of the land, building treehouses, and snubbing their noses at The Man. (In O.B., there are also people who are obsessed with recycling and who sleep under the night sky — but here, we call them homeless.)
“Silly liberals, paychecks are for workers!” is a bumper sticker seen on many of gun-toting Nevada County Republicans’ SUVs. These deer-hunting folk tend to believe that homosexuality is a disease; they add a certain je ne sais quois to the mixing pot of Nevada City.
“Left is Right” stickers are usually plastered on Volvos, in stark contrast to the conservatives’ jibes. It is an inside joke that Volvo struck a deal with all of the liberals to buy their brand.
At my house, my dad’s sweat lodge was a constant and unwelcome lesson on anatomy. I learned from an early age the affect that gravity has on the aging human body.
During these sweats, my friends and I would climb up the ladder from the basement and gently lift up the trap door that led into the house. This gave an excellent vantage point for the designated scout to peer into the living room and see if the coast was clear.
If no saggy body parts were in sight, the scout would shout, “Go!” We would scramble through the trap door, grab some food, then jump back down the rabbit hole before the sweaters emerged, covered in hay, eagerly awaiting the potluck in the nude.
When I first got my driver’s license, I drove a yellow Toyota pick-up. It was fairly distinctive, resembling a lemon that someone had drop-kicked, stepped on, and left in the dirt. Excited to be in the car all alone, I drove to the local grocery store. I decided to take a shortcut. But as I was driving against the designated arrows of the small parking lot, the keen eye of a fellow shopper followed my every move.
While in the store, my cell phone rang. “Do you know what arrows mean?” my dad sarcastically asked. “I heard you’re driving horrible already. You have been driving for one day. One day, and already I’m getting calls.” After that, city life had never sounded sweeter.