This week marks the 12th anniversary since I moved from Columbus, Ohio to Southern California. Those 12 years have resulted in so many major changes in almost every aspect of my life that looking back at that move almost feels like I’m looking back at a different lifetime.
My father (who has now retired to Florida) was a social worker and typically worked in non-profit or government agencies that didn’t always have a lot of long-term stability. As a result, we moved around a lot. Prior to my move to California, I lived for various lengths of time in Illinois, Iowa, Florida, New York, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ohio. As long as I can remember, though, I always had a dream of eventually settling in the Los Angeles area once I grew up and was on my own. I never really liked the cold mid-western winters (I don’t care for snow) and the stories of the very mild Southern California weather along with my affinity for the entertainment industry combined to form a very appealing destination.
After finishing college in Milwaukee, I actually sent a lot of resumes and applications out to various California-based companies, but without any success. I ended up spending that summer with my parents back in Ohio and then found a job with Columbus-based CompuServe, the online information service pioneer. Although I spent the next 4 1/2 years living and working in Columbus, I never really lost the interest in a life in California and I even privately set a 5-year goal for eventually figuring out how to make that change.
In 1995, my sister and I started having conversations about vacationing together in Los Angeles. She lived in Orlando (actually still does), so our idea was for each of us to fly out there separately, but split the cost of hotel accommodations, rental car, and other expenses. We ended up actually making the trip in September of that year. Other than a family trip when I was too young to remember, this was my first actual visit to the Los Angeles area. During those 10-days, we visited many common tourist destinations (Hollywood, Disneyland, Universal Studios, Magic Mountain, Santa Monica Pier, Griffith Park, Century City, Beverly Hills, etc.) and, thanks to a friend that I knew from the old GEnie information service, we even were able to visit the Paramount studio lot and the non-public part of the Universal lot. As a special splurge, we even ate dinner at Wolfgang Puck’s famous Spago restaurant one night.
My reaction to this vacation was that my expectations for the area were pretty much met. What had been a personal dream based largely on stories and reputation was now much more rooted in reality. I returned to Columbus determined to start a very concentrated job search with a goal of getting moved as soon as possible. Of course, it didn’t hurt that I was starting to see the future at CompuServe as somewhat limited with the rise of AOL to industry leader and the growing influence of the World Wide Web. I was increasingly aware that my career would benefit from a change of employer, regardless of whether I moved or not.
Over the next several months, I sent out a lot of resumes and did numerous phone interviews, learning that finding a job in Los Angeles is pretty difficult when you aren’t already living in the area. I talked to a number of companies that were very interested in my skills and experience, but none were willing to help pay for relocation or were even particularly interested in flying someone in from out-of-town for an interview. Southern California has a huge population, with a pretty large number of people in the same business I am. I didn’t really have the savings available that would let me move without already having a job lined up and I even had pretty serious doubts that I could figure out how to pay for a move without assistance. I was starting to think that a couple more years of saving was probably going to be needed before I could make that move.
During this job search, I had started regularly purchasing the Sunday edition of the Los Angeles times from a local book store. In April 1996, I came across a classified ad that had been placed by a small computer game company (now defunct, but that is another post…) called The Dreamer’s Guild. Not too long after sending in my resume, I had a very promising and productive phone interview. As a small company, they had to stretch out a bit to find talent and were willing to invest a bit in someone from out of state.
In early May, they asked me to come out for an interview. To lower costs, they asked me to fly out on a Saturday morning, do a round of interviews in the late-morning and early afternoon, and then fly back to Columbus that evening. Thus, my second visit to L.A. turned out to be a very unusual (and exhausting) day-trip. Later that week, I was offered a position. Initially, they offered me a signing-bonus to help with the moving expenses, but I negotiated the deal to where they instead agreed to hire a moving company that would bill their charges directly to The Dreamer’s Guild. That actually ended up being a bit of bad news for the moving company as I noticed their name on the list of unpaid creditors during later Dreamer’s Guild bankruptcy proceedings…
With all that in place, I put in my notice at CompuServe and scheduled my move for Memorial Day week. Coincidentally, my father had been job hunting at the same time and had landed a new job in Shreveport, Louisiana. We ended up scheduling our moves for the same time. After their movers left, they drove down to Columbus and helped me finish up packing. After my movers finished loading up their truck and departed, and after a quick McDonalds lunch, we all headed out of town at the same time. My grandmother lived in the St. Louis area, so we made that our first night’s destination.
At that time, none of us had cell phones, so I was essentially on my own as soon as we got on the road. My parents were pulling a U-Haul while I had been able to just load the essentials directly into my car, so I was able to drive a fair amount faster than they could. One funny incident during that first day’s drive helped us realize a bit how much our family tended to be on the same wavelength. After a few hours on the road, I decided that I needed a break and a bit of a snack, so I stopped off at a Steak ‘N Shake restaurant (a chain I was familiar with from various travels, but which wasn’t available in Columbus) for some cheese fries and a milk shake. As I was pulling out of the parking lot after finishing eating, my parents were pulling in. They obviously had the exact same idea for a snack break!
After having dinner and spending the evening visiting with my grandmother, the next morning my parents and I went our separate ways, with them heading south and me heading west. Thinking back on it I’m not really entirely sure that I realized what a big deal that morning really was. At the time, I think my overall excitement and anxiety around the move itself dominated my thoughts and emotions enough that I don’t remember even being particularly aware of the depth of the occasion.
My parents had moved to Ohio at the start of my second year attending college in Milwaukee, so I had already essentially "left the nest" back then, but I did still spend the summer months and the more extended school holidays at my parents’ house. During the time that I was living in Columbus, my parents were still living in Sandusky, which was only about a 2-hour drive. Busy schedules would sometimes result in us going a couple months between visits, but I still generally saw them pretty frequently and typically spent holidays, birthdays, and other major occasions with them.
As I moved to California and my parents moved to Louisiana (and then to Florida a couple years later), the physical distance became substantial. After we parted that morning in late May of 1996, I didn’t see them in person again until I flew out to visit them for Christmas 1997. For a variety of reasons, my parents didn’t manage a trip out to visit me in California until they came out for my wedding in 2000, although I had visited them in Florida in mid-1999. While we certainly have talked regularly on the phone over the years, and visits have pretty much now expanded to twice a year since the birth of my son, it still is very reasonable to say that morning is the point where I truly went off on my own.
As a short aside here, I will note that that evening spent with my grandmother was, sadly, the last time that I ever saw her. With me moving so far away, I knew that was a distinct possibility and she did unfortunately pass away a couple years later. I feel fortunate that I did get to spend quite a bit of time with my grandmother over the years, including a visit or two without my parents during my college and post-college years. I do feel a touch of regret that my last visit with her was very brief and on an evening when I was pretty exhausted, but I am still very glad that I made that last visit before heading out West.
For the rest of the drive out to California, I was pretty much on a low-budget trip. I didn’t do a huge amount of pre-planning (such as getting motel reservations), but instead basically took the approach of driving around 8-9 hours per day and then looking around for an inexpensive motel to stay in. Including that first day’s drive to St. Louis, I took six days of driving to make the journey from Columbus to Los Angeles. I certainly could have cut that down by a day or two, but I preferred to keep to a somewhat leisurely pace and had intentionally scheduled enough time before my new job started to allow that.
I generally tried to stop for the night before it got overly dark and I didn’t shoot for getting back on the road at the crack of dawn. I allowed myself to take my time at meals as well as to stop off for breaks when I felt like I needed them. On a couple occasions, I did get off the freeway briefly if there was some sight that I wanted to see, although I generally recall that there wasn’t all that much interesting to see along the route that I took During the weeks leading up to the move, I had made a whole bunch of cassette tapes (both straight copies of CDs and various mix tapes) that I used during the drive for entertainment. I didn’t yet have a CD player in my car and MP3 players and satellite radio were still mostly futuristic concepts in 1996.
I don’t entirely remember the exact hotels or even towns where I stopped, but I recall that I spent the second night somewhere in Kansas, the third night in Denver (I do remember that was a Motel 6 right by the airport), the fourth night in Utah, and the fifth night in Baker, California. During the night that I stopped in Utah, I stayed at a Motel 6 that was at the last exit offering lodging before about a 100 mile+ stretch with no exits. The next day, I stopped briefly at a rest area towards the middle of that stretch of dessert road (which was not heavily traveled that morning) and remember that it was the most absolute quiet that I had ever experienced.
One side-trip that I kind of chickened out on was Las Vegas. I did get off the freeway to drive up the Vegas Strip as I passed through town and stopped briefly at a McDonalds for a snack, but otherwise I did just pass through. I had given some thought to stopping there for the night and trying to get a room at one of the hotels there, but I found that overly intimidating and ended up driving on to Baker instead. I had never been to Vegas before and I guess I still had a somewhat over-inflated conservative mid-westerner’s concept of the place. In recent years, I have made several trips there now and, in retrospect, I realize that it probably would have been a very enjoyable respite on the last night of the drive. On the other hand, it is nice to be able to tell people that I spent one night at a motel right across the street from the world’s tallest thermometer…
The drive from Baker to the Los Angeles area isn’t that long and I pulled into the apartment complex (in Stevenson Ranch) that would be my new home right around lunch time. It was still a couple days before my furniture would arrive, so I had a couple days where I was stuck sleeping on an air mattress and getting by with only the various stuff that I had been able to fit into the car. I did have a small black & white TV, but no cable hookup and very little reception in the Santa Clarita Valley. I suppose it wasn’t the most ostentatious start to my life as a Californian, but I still was pretty excited and happy to be there. I recall making trips to the Media Center in Burbank, Universal Citywalk, Santa Monica, and that type of place over the first few days and just generally drinking in the overall atmosphere of the area. It was all really pretty exhilarating.
It is definitely fun for me to look back at those events of 12-years ago. I know I’ve been a bit wordy about this, but I admit I’m mainly writing this up for myself and tend to doubt that I will have many other readers that make it this far. Unquestionably some of the gloss and glitter of life in Southern California has faded as I’ve settled into my life here, but I do admit that I still feel an occasional thrill when I drive through Hollywood or some other major L.A. landmark or when I even give much thought to the fact that this is now my home.