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…