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MARINA del REY, Calif. — While vacationing on the West Coast to visit my daughter-in-law, I was hoping for some sunshine and some fun new experiences. It’s instant spring here – almost summer. I didn’t expect the trip to lull me into this feeling of well-being while creating new happy memories.

I thought my old memories of a young me living in Southern California would suffice in my old memory bank. I will just update. I was thinking. Boy, I was delusional. I had so forgotten about our beautiful golden state, and I had no idea the pace of today: its growth. Its traffic.

My daughter-in-law, Valerie, lives in Marina del Rey near Los Angeles, about ten minutes north of the airport. Her beautiful condo is two blocks from the marina filled with floating sailboats amid local shops and restaurants. Val, a graphic designer, spends most of her weekends surfing at the beach, four blocks away. His life is almost perfect.

In the 16 years that I have known her, I have not managed to visit her. Val constantly extended invitations, and I really wanted to see her digs, her life. One evening in February, while we were chatting on the phone, I asked her if she had any plans for her birthday in April. ” Can I come ? Would that be okay?” She was also happy that I asked that I was with her YES! So we made plans.

There were many reasons why I wanted to visit Valerie – the first being my need to capture the mental image of her at home. Now, when we talk, I’ll imagine him making a salad in his crisp white kitchen. Now, when she describes the day’s weather, I imagine her working on her laptop, sitting among the white roses and potted cacti on her patio. She has a nice place.

And then there’s the sun – and the air.

Oh, looks. The soft, pure air whispering against my cheeks with whiffs of ocean, bougainvillea and jasmine. In one day, I was captivated by the everyday beauty of Southern California…why these millions of people choose to live in this nirvana. All of my happy memories of living in San Diego decades ago came flooding back. I had to remind myself why we had abandoned this idyllic life. We left for graduate school on the east coast, and since we were easterners, we didn’t pay attention to it. Somehow we never returned to sunny Southern California.

But today’s reality of this pretty way of life has an added factor: traffic. There is no escaping the horrible and frustrating traffic. It’s the harsh reality of navigating the life of an Angelino. No travel or tourist foray is attempted without checking the traffic. Fortunately, today’s electronics tell you how long it will take you to get to Rancho Cucamonga and, just as importantly, back. Round-trip driving time is THE critical factor in deciding any destination.

Each highway has six lanes, tightly packed. When they move, the road network is efficient. Except when it’s not. What could be – anytime.

My first beautiful day, we went to Descanso Gardens in LaCanada, an exciting destination for gardeners like Val and me. Val is also a talented semi-professional photographer. Her new passion is photographing flowers with a macro lens that brings her closer to stamens, pollens and hummingbirds. My eyes and Val’s camera had a “lover” daytime. The gardens are 30 miles – and 54 minutes – away. One hour ten to return. Not too bad according to Val. But worth every mile and minute.

The next day’s program was the magnificent and huge Getty Museum. The billion-dollar Getty is such a lifetime experience that it was #1 on my travel wish list. Not only are the art collections world-class, but the complex itself is a work of art rivaling the Sydney Opera House or St. Peter’s in Rome. My heart sang – an unforgettable day.

The Getty is 13 miles from Val’s condo. It only took 28 minutes to get there. Just over an hour back home.

At the end of the second day, I started to realize how many millions more people live here than when I did. And I’ve decided that most of those millions are on the highways at the same time. Morning rush hour is 7am to 11am. “Evening” rush hour is 2-7 p.m. and gas is $6 a gallon.

Still, happy Angelinos love their world. This daily sun, the air, the ocean – this is why they come and why they stay. If they can afford it.

I will drive back from Buffalo airport at night, probably the only car on the last country roads. In 27 degrees and gusts.

But spring is coming… isn’t it? Soon maybe ?

We all have to find our own perfect. Mine is almost perfect. Close enough.

Marcy O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

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