When I first moved to California from Indianapolis, where I was born and raised, I never imagined living in Long Beach. Now, some thirty years later, I can’t imagine not living in Long Beach.
As a college freshman at USC in 1980, I’d barely heard of Long Beach, let alone dreamt of living in the mid-size burg 25 miles south of downtown Los Angeles. After all, my California dreaming had been fueled by Three’s Company, Starsky and Hutch, CHiPs and countless other Hollywood depictions of life in LA. To my knowledge, no shows beamed like sunlight from the golden, star-studded streets of Long Beach (little did I know).
For two and a half decades, Long Beach was a vague blip on the periphery of my life in the golden state, a life that began with two years at USC in the heart of urban LA; then, after transferring, three years at UCLA in the heart of the glamorous westside.
In my early pioneer days out west, it’s safe to say I preferred the quaint, college-town atmosphere of Westwood to the mean streets of south LA. (A little easier and safer to get one’s college boy on.)
After graduating from UCLA in 1985, I did time in the San Fernando Valley, mostly in Sherman Oaks, the slower paced ‘hood full of lamp stores and yogurt shops along Ventura Boulevard.
The LA-adjacent part of the Valley was sort of like LA Lite: less traffic, fewer people, but plenty of Hollywood, what with its plethora of movie and TV studios. Plus, nightlife in LA was just over the hill, a bonus for a young man in his twenties.
For eight years I was a young adult living in the Valley, working in Hollywood. Then came the Northridge earthquake in 1994, a birthday present that shook me out of my Valley contentment and sent me on a quest for solid ground and a better place to call home.
By the 90s, LA’s hold on me had weakened, frayed by a decade that saw the city of angels endure fires, floods, race riots, and a few months after the quake, OJ.
Cut, yelled the director in my brain. It was time for a location change, a change influenced by words I’d once heard in college, spoken by a friend’s father: “If you’re going to go all the way to California, you may as well go all the way to California.”
Thus, after Northridge, a new dream was born. Going all the way to California. The Pacific, not LA, became the thing. Next stop: Santa Barbara. Took me a year to find an affordable apartment. Or is that, barely affordable?
Unlike North County San Diego (where I had also looked), in Santa Barbara I felt at home as a black man. That meant I could go most places–the movies, the mall–and not feel less transparent than those around me.
In other words, black people fit it, were part of the landscape, didn’t widen eyes everywhere they went. (Yeah, you think about those things when you see an OJ verdict that feels more like a basketball game where winners and losers react to a shot at the buzzer. (Blacks win! Blacks win! Blacks win!) (Funny, I didn’t feel like a winner.)
Did I mention Santa Barbara is expensive? Limited growth policies keep this slice of riviera in check, meaning demand exceeds supply in all things, rentals, groceries, gas, a poor black man’s ability to enjoy himself.
Next Stop: San Diego. My golden mutt Boomer will vouch for SD being the most dog-friendly city in America. Not only could he romp on the massive Dog Beach in Ocean Beach any time he wanted, he was also allowed on all beaches during certain hours. Plus, he could roam over Fiesta Island in breathtaking Mission Bay, and on another dog beach on Coronado Island. Did I mention San Diego is a great city for dogs?
Have I mentioned that it was a great city for me? Matter of fact, don’t think I did.
Next Stop: Long Beach. Call it a perfect storm that brought me to the LBC in 2003. The cost of living on the coast in San Diego was rising, while the lack of diversity in their beachside neighborhoods caused a waning of my enthusiasm for living there. In addition, my mother had sold our Indianapolis family home of 30-some years and was living a few blocks from the beach in Port Hueneme in Ventura County.
Thus, to be closer to mom, find a cheaper place to live, still be in an urban environment and still be near the Pacific, I, a man who never dreamed of living in Long Beach, moved to Long Beach.
Over the years, I had visited the city maybe a half dozen times, most memorably when I was a USC yell leader for a regionally televised, USC vs. Cal State Long Beach basketball game at the Long Beach Sports Arena in 1981. That nineteen year-old kid would have never dreamed that one day in the next century, he’d be living beachside, a few hundred yards from that very same arena.
The smile plastered on my face as I write this tells me what I already know: I am so glad I moved to Long Beach, I am loving Long Beach, and I am so lucky to be living in Long Beach.