Though I was born in the high desert, and raised by desert people, I lived within a mile and half of a major body of water — Lake Michigan — for my entire conscious life. The lake is a defining feature of both Chicago and Northwest Indiana, and eventually I learned to turn to the lakeshore (or the evergreen Chicago River) when I was feeling particularly overwhelmed or melancholy.
Until I moved to California.
So dependent was I on the soothing properties of a large body of water that during, my first, carless year in Orange County, I would borrow a vehicle from a car-sharing service for a couple of hours and drive myself to Newport Beach every few weeks. Just for a little while. I just wanted to be by the water.
When I finished grad school and moved up to Los Angeles, I assumed I’d search for a place on the Westside — i.e., near the ocean. After all, I didn’t move all the way to the edge of the country to NOT be near our planet’s second largest body of water! But fate set me on the Eastside, and I am just about as at home here as I’ve ever been anywhere. I have a car now, but it’s at least a 45 minute drive to the Pacific. And one of the defining features of my neighborhood is a substantial reservoir. It’s no ocean, but it’ll do in a crisis.1
In TV and movies (and in Sweet Valley High novels), Southern Californians are always going to the beach. But I’ve lived here for almost a decade, and in my experience, it’s more common to hear about how long it’s been since someone’s last beach day — as in, “it’s been too long.” Gradually, I have become one of those people for whom it’s been awhile. Part of the problem might be the very concept of a “beach day.” It sounds relaxing until you start getting into logistics. You have to have an entire day free? You have to bring food and drinks, towels and toys and changes of clothes? Where are you going to park?! And in 2020, there were those added concerns that went along with any outing: Is it safe? Is it allowed? Is it a good idea? Will people be wearing masks? Do I have to wear a mask in the ocean?
And that, friends, is how I ended up not visiting the beach a single time in 2020.
Then, in April of this year. I suddenly found myself working a few days a week on a small set in Marina del Rey, situated right between the Pacific Ocean and the Grand Canal that empties into the eponymous marina. LA Fate had twisted once again, and now instead of a “beach day” I could simply have a “beach hour” or even a “beach five minutes.” On my first day at this gig, I arrived early, parked, and spent a few minutes staring at the ocean from the edge of a vast expanse of empty sand. On my third day, after we finished up, I returned to the beach, took my mask off, and walked a little closer to the water. On my fifth or sixth day, I took a camp chair out there and wrote some early issue of this newsletter, waves crashing just a few meters away.
Even on days that don’t allow for a beach hour (or half-hour), I sometimes find myself walking along the Grand Canal just to get from my parked car to the studio. If I’m in the right frame of mind, I can start to fathom2 just how lucky I am to be there.
The studio will be moving soon, to a more practical location. It will be closer to home, meaning less time in the car, meaning (hopefully) less stress, and (hopefully) less need for facetime with those healing waters. When one of those days of melancholy or overwhelm inevitably arrives anyway, it’ll probably be “back to the reservoir” for me. But I’m going to try and remember the easy power of the “beach hour” (or even “beach five minutes.” Just go for a little while. You don’t even have to get in. It doesn’t have to be complicated.
I do wonder, though: what else am I overcomplicating?
When I worked in Beverly Hills, which is neither the Eastside nor the Westside, I would sometimes stand by the fountain at Wilshire and Rodeo and just stare at it for a few minutes. I am probably in the background of a lot of tourist photos.
Pun noted, if not intended.