Going to California

Made up my mind to make a new start
Going to California with an aching in my heart
Someone told me there’s a girl out there
With love in her eyes and flowers in her hair

Not long after I was born one of my Dad’s brothers moved from Muncie, Indiana to Southern California. This would have been around 1961. He got a better job making more money and told all his brothers and sisters he could get them all jobs too. Over the next few years all of them moved out there. Except for my Dad. We stayed put. That set us on a course for making that long annual trek in a station wagon without air-conditioning and only an AM radio to spend our vacations with our now west coast relatives. The first few trips were made on the Mother Road, Route 66. Three long days on the road out there, three long days back home.

I’m not sure how we survived it. I remember on one trip we overheated on the two-hundred mile stretch from Needles to San Bernardino. A truck driver stopped, gave us water for the radiator, and told us to go back to Needles get a hotel for the day and wait to make the final run after it was dark, and cooler. We did. I spent the day in the hotel pool while Mom and Dad slept. We always stayed with Dad’s relatives when we were there. Hotel money was saved for the journey itself, not the destination. My aunts and uncles (and so many cousins) had all settled around Riverside and Orange. We visited Knotts Berry Farm and Disneyland in Anaheim before there was a ‘World’ in Orlando. These were especially good times for me and I remember making that trip four times. My parents repeated that journey without me a couple more times as I had started to work in my teen years and didn’t want to go with them.

I’m telling you all that because I always saw California as a special place. A land of beauty and adventure. A place where my Uncle could pull fresh lemons off the trees in his backyard. Given all the magic that place conjured in my head it’s surprising I never moved there. Years later, in the 1990’s I worked in the San Francisco Bay Area for six months and got my fill of traffic jams and overpopulation. Fortunately, my client footed the bill for everything so I never had to complain about the high cost of living there. Perhaps because of my frequent musings about my time spent in a charming land, my youngest son and his wife decided to vacation in Northern California a few years ago and they came back with nightmare stories of panhandlers, drug addicts, and mounds of discarded needles in the streets of San Francisco. They won’t ever go back, I probably won’t either.

Like smoke escaping a blown capacitor the magic fled California decades ago.

But when I got my Novice license (1977) it was still a beguiling location to me and the occasional CW contact with any 6-call would give me more joy than working rare DX. That my radio signal was traversing thousands of miles at the touch of the key was special in a way that’s difficult to dissect. It took us three long days of driving to get to California and here my HW-16 was doing it almost instantly. I’d touch the key and imagine my RF speeding down Route 66.

How could I not see that as magic?

These days a 6-call doesn’t mean what it once did, but I still give deference to them. Like an indelible stamp on my soul, working a station in California is still special for me to this very day. If I see a pile of strong signals from all around the world while working the FT modes I tend to always call those in California first. I know things have changed. A lot. But somewhere deep in my long ago California will always be that enchanted place where we once traveled as a family and it’s where my radio signals follow a similar path on almost a daily basis.

It’s still magic, to me…

5 thoughts on “Going to California

  • Scott, N0ZB

    I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area during the 1970s and 80s. Graduated from the same high school as Wozniak and Jobs – being twenty years behind them. That area of the country is beautiful; I had no idea of what weather was until I left for college (Charleston, South Carolina in August without air conditioning). After college, my Army career started with a year at language school in Monterey. Hard to find a place more beautiful than that. Completing my Army commitment, I returned to the Bay Area in an attempt to take advantage of the silicon gold rush of the late 1990s.

    We know change is inevitable. I have had the opportunity to study California in its transitions: the Gold Rush and World War II. My dad’s side of the family came to California in the late 1800s, in between these events, and am sure were part of the group resenting the changes they saw with the influx of people that came with the manufacturing boom of the war years, to include my mom’s side of the family.

    My return in the late 1990s ended up being for only a bit over two years. The changes taking place must have resembled what had occurred previously. The California I had grew up in was gone. But, like you Jeff, there is magic in the memories.

    • Hi Scott! Man it does my heart good to know you’re still around and reading! It’s been so long since we last chatted.

      I think of California as the last great American frontier, land of great opportunities, spawner of dreams, the place to go when you need a do-over in life. That’s all nostalgia now of course, but what a tremendous history and I’m so happy we share that.

      Stay in touch my friend!

  • Mike KJ4Z

    I grew up in Tennessee, but by my early 30s I was sick and tired of the place and moved out to the Bay Area. I wound up spending around a decade there, and it was my own little slice of paradise. I had the little house in Palo Alto with the lemon and orange trees in the back, I could walk to Fry’s Electronics and to work, and it seemed like every day was beautiful. I had my choice of stores where I could buy computer parts or variable capacitors, and so many outdoor recreation activities were a short drive away. Life was good for a geek.

    By the end though, the magic was gone. Fry’s Electronics closed, Halted closed, Weird Stuff Warehouse closed. Prices were out of control, traffic became intolerable, and I started to wonder why I was still there. The final blow was when I had two different intruders coming into my backyard during the night to steal stuff. During the pandemic, I moved to Washington State.

    I guess everyone’s California is different, and we are all probably destined to lose whatever made it special for us. But like you guys, I have great memories of my time there. No doubt someone else is forming special memories right now, and so the wheel turns.

    • Thanks for your comments Mike. I think I’m still grieving the loss of Fry’s. I used to visit one near Fremont every few days when I was working out there. Then not long after I came back home Fry’s opened a big place in Indianapolis (50 miles) and captured my attention and a chunk of my treasure for many years. Then it closed and the grieving began in earnest. You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.

      One other thing I took from my time in San Francisco was KCSM – the FM station at the College of San Mateo. It had a permanent place on the radio dial in my rental cars when I was working there and I was delighted to find I could still listen live via streaming after I left. I still listen to this very day (“Alexa Play KCSM”) so I guess I’ve been a fan for a quarter of a century!

      Dreams are forever. Thanks again for your comments!

      • John McGrath

        I grew up in California, living in both south and northern ends of the state. I relocated to the Midwest and kept my ‘6’ call because of the time I have invested in it and in remembrance of my Elmer’s who helped me get my ticket and other life lessons.
        I rarely travel back there; my childhood and young adult memories are not the reality today.
        I also enjoy making contacts with ‘6’ land. I get a special thrill in doing so.


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