California dreamin’ on a winter’s day.

Imagine it is January and the thermometer drops below 0F every night. And when it doesn’t, it’s snowing. That just means shoveling your driveway and sidewalk all over again. If you should get a rare warm streak (above freezing) the road turns to slush, the ground turns to mud, and the river overflows from ice dams and snowmelt.

Sure there’s skiing and snowmobiling and ice fishing. Snowball fights and snowmen. But the days are short and dark and the roads are glare ice until they salt them. And then your car starts to rust. “Back east” cars rarely show up on the used car market out west while California cars are a prize everywhere.

All you folks in Iowa or Michigan or North Dakota… don’t lie… don’t you secretly wish you were in California? Yeah, the government is screwy, the taxes are high and real estate is expensive. So, don’t live here, just come here and couch surf for a while.

And those California girls… It’s true. Every woman who ever dreamed of making it in television or movies or rock music migrated out here over the last century. Those beauty genes build up and concentrate. Ditto for guys. All those sun-kissed maidens and youths along miles of beach. Stunning lookers in Beverly Hills and the Hollywood Hills. Even the mall rats are gorgeous.

Los Angeles is a place where talent comes to be “discovered.” More often they end up pumping gas…

Starting with the hippies of the 60s California has become a mecca for sexual freedom and acceptance. Out here you can always find a niche – even if it takes a bit of searching. You can be who you really are better here than anywhere else in the country.

Even someone like me. You’ve heard of round pegs and square holes? I’m a triangular peg.

Technically, there is no official “Ventura Highway.” When Dewey Bunnell, the vocalist and writer for the group, wrote those lyrics he was thinking of the stretch of Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) from Lompoc to Ventura. (In some places, its route has been overlaid by US Highway 101 which is named the Ventura Freeway.) PCH, aka CA Highway 1, is an amazing road full of beauty and charm passing through resort towns, spectacular coastal mountains, and sun-drenched beaches. Many of its small towns have become urban areas but there are still hundreds of miles of empty coastal magnificence.

Very young Sally Field. What is not to love? The adorable Sandra Dee also had her turn at the iconic role.

It is here that the beaches became legendary. I grew up watching Gidget and Beach Blanket Bingo while the raw winter winds blew snow into drifts twice my height. Locations like Malibu, Zuma, and Venice beaches were burned into my imagination. Sally Field moved into my secret crush zone, along with Doris Day and Diana Rigg.

Imagine my amazement when this cornfed, midWestern, and deeply closeted nudie discovered what Black’s Beach was famous for.

The beaches are still stunning today but they are also far more crowded. There are currently two and a half times more people here than in Gidget’s day. There used to be numerous informal nude beaches up and down the coast but most are gone, victims of less tolerant days.

My California Dreamin’ was all about the beach and the big city, the opportunity to grow and prosper in a growing economy. It wasn’t until later that I discovered the desert and the mountains to fall in love with. The outlines of my dreams were colored in by the many television series and songs set in the west. Everything from police procedurals like Dragnet to humorous satires like The Beverly Hillbillies.

I imagined glitz and glamor and a laid back life. LA was supposed to be mellow – as opposed to the cut-throat competition in the east. It was also about hooking up with a counterculture that was beginning to fade before I could make the trip out. I got lucky and caught the last hour before sunset on that.