Adios California

23:12, Jan 07 2014

Last Monday morning while I ground up coffee beans and watched the muted 8am news in my parents' kitchen, I had a flash of déjà vu.

My fully-loaded black and purple tramping pack was by the front door, which was slightly ajar.

Beside the pack was my laptop bag and a small carry-on backpack with a scarf, my sunglasses, and my freshly-charged mp3 player resting on top.

I had already checked twice to make sure my passport(s) - both current - and bankcards were zipped up safely in the pocket lining.

Boarding pass: check. Cheap hotel reservation number, snow boots, and digits for a dodgy sounding taxi company: check, check and check.

My father wandered through the living room, glasses off, rubbing his eyes, patting his pockets down for the keys to the car. ''Didn't we just do this?'' He asked.


I poured the coffee and nodded sleepily. Yep. We did. Both of us know this routine too well.

Monday morning marked exactly five months since I left my crib in Omaui and The Southland Times in Invercargill and arrived back at my parents' house with this same pack, full of my life in New Zealand, parking ticket receipts and all.

It was a hot and dry Californian summer in July. Now it is a cool and damp early winter, with bare trees and fog in the fields.

I was still in running clothes this morning - a sleeveless shirt, which will seem remarkable 24 hours from now when sliding glass doors open to a snow storm - but I knew I still could do a fast shower and change in less than eight minutes into clothing that could be layered up or stripped down per security check.

This routine has been carefully honed on mornings exactly like this one since I have been back in California. The packing up to leave.

The waiting on my dad to drop me off at an airport, train, or bus stop on his way to work in Santa Barbara.

There has been an excursion to Anaheim to visit Southland Times reporter Collette Devlin during a journalism conference; a birthday trip up the coast to Northern California in August; a six-week stint in Michigan to work in a hotel restaurant in the autumn, followed by a trip to Portugal.

There was a 15-day train trip up to Oregon and Washington, then across the country to Virginia and Washington DC and back to California.

Most of these trips started out just like this one: grinding coffee, the morning news on in the kitchen, my tramping pack by the door, a last run down roads that I love, and a lunch bag from my mom on the kitchen table, complete with bottled water and packaged almonds (which I always protest that I don't need, but always end up eating gratefully, in a terminal somewhere at midnight).

There are two routes to Santa Barbara to get to airports, trains and buses: the coast and the pass.

The pass takes my dad and I over mountains that look back down on Los Olivos - one of five towns that make up the Santa Ynez Valley, with its ranches and vineyards, backed by the Los Padres National Forest.

The coast goes just north and west around these mountains before heading south again, and we travel with the Pacific to our right - an ocean landscape dotted with oil rigs and the Channel Islands in the distance - past the beaches of Gaviota, Refugio and El Capitan, where I grew up swimming and camping.

We almost always grab a coffee for me and a hot chocolate for Dad at the coffeehouse in Los Olivos or at a petrol station before choosing our route. The 45-minute trip is spent sipping our drinks, toying with the radio, looking at the scenery, and talking about what is next for me.

The hours leading up to this journey are normally sleepless and chaotic.

I want to fit in last minute visits with friends before I take off for a while. I am cleaning out drawers and file cabinets; scrambling to find a current driver's license or a lost copy of my Social Security card. I want to get in a last run before I sit on a plane for hours; I always try for a last session in my parents' hot tub in the backyard - my sanctuary - to look at stars and plan out my next steps. And I still love leaping on the trampoline under walnut trees and listening to music - the next best thing to flying - which is kind of a farewell routine to the neighbourhood.

And then, of course, I start packing.

So getting in the car for this last drive with Dad is always a bit of an exhalation as I buckle up.

There is nothing to do other than be a passenger and enjoy the calm of this launch pad - the final hour of being taken care of - before I am released.

And this is a little bit more than just another adventure. Today, this trip will take me to a new job in another state - a far colder one - and I am still not sure if this will be for a winter season or longer. I am excited to be in snow for Christmas, but homesick already for the beaches and sage-scented hills of California.

I want to leave my hometown, and I don't. Having this as a home base for five months has been good for my spirit- I can feel the difference in me as I tighten up the straps on my pack.

More than a year ago I remember driving through the sand on Oreti Beach as a storm approached and when I flicked through radio stations I caught the end of John Hiatt's Adios to California.

I had just come into the car from a run; the rain started to spit down and I was still barefoot and shivering.

It was the first time I ever heard that song and I've loved it ever since. It's a desolate song and it's always reminded me more of Southland skies during a spring storm then the heat of the summer that - probably one-dimensionally - I associate with my homeland.

But the lyrics play in my head this morning as I slip my feet into my boots - So adios to California/nothing to do but turn around/I always thought there's  someone coming for you/Only way you'd leave this town.

''You ready?'' My dad calls out from the driveway as the car starts.

I hug my mom hard, take my lunch bag, and heave the pack over my shoulders.

I am ready.

Adios California.  

If you enjoy this blog, please vote for it in the NetGuide Web Awards here by copy/pasting in this URL as your vote -