We wake up this morning to Quinn saying "It smells like a candle burning in here" and we think, umm, that's not a candle and that can't be the Montecito fire an hour away. So, we turn on the tv and see the BREAKING NEWS!!!! that a new fire is burning a few miles north of our home. We go through our regular morning routine, but quickly realize that the smoke is becoming stronger and stronger and I'm starting to have a tight chest and maybe it's not such a good idea for us to stay here. And, then my mom calls saying she's worried about our health, so that just confirms my thoughts - time to book a hotel by the beach and get out of here. I know, I know, not so horrible to stay in beautiful Manhattan Beach for the day and night - didn't take much convincing. Ya, in fact, I'm looking forward to a change of scenery and a chance to revisit my beloved South Bay area.
The $109 3-bed-suite at the new beach close hotel is perfect (and a total deal), so we check in, bounce off the walls with excitement, drive mommy crazy, then head for the beach. As we walk downhill toward the pier, I take in a big whiff of fabulous fresh ocean air and I actually get choked up a bit. "Damn, I really needed this" I think to myself. I've gone out of my mind crazy pressured with work and the routine of the day-to-day stuff and have barely had a life. I really miss the beach. I keep inhaling the familiar salty air and smile as we walk to the end of the pier and back. I try to not be too self conscious in my old jeans and t-shirt over my pale body but I can't help it while surrounded by bronzed shirtless young local hunks and cute tan tank top wearing boobs jiggling no cellulite cute 20-something women. Boy, do I feel like such a haggard old fart mom from the Valley.
After a yummy lunch of crepes with the out of control aliens that look a lot like my children but can't possibly be because they are so obnoxious, we take a drive to scout the changes in my old neighborhood. First stop, my old apartment building where I lived with crazy paranoid never washed her sheets for a whole year roommate #1, then crazy breakup with same abusive boyfriend from hell every week then make very loud make-up sex noises the next week roommate #2, then finally my #1 husband (yea! the end of roommates!). On to the great breakfast restaurant where I got engaged, only Unky Roys is now a sushi place (I'm crushed!), then off to one of my favorite stores called Mulberry Cottage that is thankfully still open (yes!!!). I always loved it because they sell neat Christmas stuff all year and I collect Santas and I bought one of my first Santas there oh so many years ago. So, of course I have to indulge and purchase a great Santa to mark the occasion, then drive back to the hotel along PCH and gasp at both the many changes and steadfast institutions that still remain.
So, as I sit here at the hotel room desk, sipping from my water glass of Smoking Loon Cabernet and nibbling on my Ritter Sport Dark Chocolate Marzipan (they were out of the butter biscuit one damn them!!), oh, and listening to my waaaaay overtired alien children not sleeping, I'm thinking that today is one of the most interesting days I've had in a while. I am so grateful that our home was not in danger from the firestorm and that I have the means to stay at a hotel far away from the smoke for the night. But, it is really odd to come back to the town where I lived during my mostly single years of barely getting by financially and with hardly any friends, but yet feeling so free and happy. I'm here in this familiar place that seems to have changed so much since I've been gone, but yet I come here with a totally new life, too. The worries that I had all those years ago are so different from the worries today. Honestly, I wish that I still lived here by the beach, but my real roots are back in the smokey Valley. My husband is there, my closest friends, my mom, my family, my home, my kid's great charter school, and my favorite restaurants. Sure, I was happy at the beach with the 359 days of perfect weather and laid back lifestyle, but you just can't put a price on being surrounded by loved ones and the feeling of being home.