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Elan Barnehama Headshot

Snowless, Shaken and Stirred in SoCal

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I have traveled a great deal in Northampton, MA. Love and friendship, imagination and wonder, progeny and family -- they happened there. But I never planned on being in one place forever and when I checked the clock, decades had passed.

I love road trips. They're full of possibility; they suspend time like a baseball game and exist just outside of reality. My bags were packed and I looked to the West.

The trip counter counted my way through MA, CT, NJ, PA, MD, VA, as I avoided weather. Then, in Tennessee, I shifted onto I40 and was westward bound. In Nashville, with moonshine and music, I toasted the road ahead.

In the car again, I crossed the mighty Mississippi in Memphis and then made my way through Arkansas, Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle -- which, by itself, is double the area of MA. The final push through New Mexico and Arizona brought the California border and a sense of urgency as the Pacific beckoned.

State borders rise up as natural topographic dividers that offer entry into wonderful new worlds of dialects, dishes, vegetation, music, accents, architecture and more. But they also create unnatural barriers between US the people. State by state variations in tax codes, speed limits, licensing, all categories of regulations, turn neighbors into outsiders. My official Massachusetts self became increasingly less official the further I got from home. Sure, there are no checkpoints to pass through, but freedom of movement is curtailed by paperwork barriers and local regulations. State rights have merit, but shouldn't our U.S. citizenship have equal value in all of our united states?

Three thousand miles. Fifteen cups of coffee. Four time zones. Nine refuels. Thirteen states. Winter to not winter. Atlantic to Pacific. Northampton to Santa Monica. I kicked off my sneakers and waded in the water. I had left seasonal chores behind.

After 48 hours behind the windshield, I opted to explore the coast on foot. I walked and jogged the snow free streets, watching. And what a show. The 3rd Street Promenade, Dogtown, Santa Monica Pier, muscle beach, the Venice canals, the Santa Monica stairs, and of course, the beachfront bike and walkway. Hipsters and hippies, tourists and druggies, boomers and techies, street dwellers and artists shared the streets and it mostly seemed to work. The Santa Monica/Venice community is totally walkable. The rest of LA, well, sure, that's walkable too if you drive.

Between the weather, that walkability, the miles of beachfront walkways with plenty of restrooms, significant crowds gather at all times of day. This is a welcome antidote to the national fear and mistrust that inhibited our ability to gather for no reason, to lean against lampposts waiting for no one. Public spaces that once encouraged community have become less comfortable. I say this as my home state boldly prepares to host the 118th running of the Boston Marathon in the shadow of last years horrific bombing.

Santa Monica has a wonderful public library system, as does LA. Branches are open and friendly and have many public events. But I can't take a book out because I don't have a local utility bill. The library staff is wonderful but I'm reminded that I am less than a full citizen here. Why can't I leave a credit card on file? I just want to read a book but I don't want to buy a book because then I'll have to buy a bookshelf for the book and then I'll have to buy a house for the bookshelf and I might want to go to Seattle or Denver of Austin.

But first I have lots more discovering to do right where I am. And with MLB's spring training coming to an end I'll be in baseball paradise. The Dodgers, Padres and Angels all play close by and my Mets are scheduled to visit each of them. And with the new season comes hope and promise, even for my Mets. For now, anything is possible.

Recently I was shaken and stirred from my sleep by a 4.4 earthquake. As I opened my eyes, I had no idea what was happening. This was followed by even more moments of having no clue what to do, so I just hung on.

I can not wait for what's next.