Telling people in South Carolina I was moving to California evoked a similar reaction every time. “You are going to fit in so well!” “That is so you!” “You would.” And the occasional, “watch out for all those liberals!” Because Los Angeles and the entire state of California are basically the same thing anyway. I was quite convinced that moving to Cali (“Cali,” I mean, just look at how local I sound!) meant going on a two-year beach town vacation. I found the world’s greatest bikini and I was going to live in it. My lunch breaks would consist of grabbing my surfboard (note to self: scour Craigslist for a surfboard… and a longboard… definitely need a longboard) and catching some waves. I’d survive on exotic vegan dishes like quinoa. When I visited SC I would have to endure an unending flow of compliments on my bronze complexion and all my fans, I mean friends, would seek my counsel on the latest indie bands, to which I would sadly reply that without a record player all was pointless for they only released their albums on LPs. Mark and I would lead a happy life in a constantly warm and relentlessly sunny town and our hair would start coming in blonde. Obviously.
Well, at least I was right about the abundance of quinoa.
What I have come to learn quickly is that there is Northern California (where we live) and Southern California and neither can quite live up to the expectation that all of South Carolina has (that it is either a dangerously liberal place with ideas that will seep through your windows and infect your opinions or that it is the best of Big Sur and Los Angeles – a sort of promised land, minus the promise). It is important to note that we South Carolinians tend to forget about the existence of Northern California. A brief summary of Northern Cali: organic food, vineyards, redwoods, hippies (real ones), huge coffee culture, sustainable energy, farmers markets, and a notably slower pace than Southern Cali (or “SoCal”).
As Mark drove me from the Sacramento airport to Davis for the first time, I wondered at the endless farmland beyond the car windows. “And those are rice fields, and those, oh you’ll love those in the summer, sunflower fields!” Mark excitedly identified each field to me as I traded in my Pacific Ocean paradise for an ocean of sunflowers. Didn’t seem a fair trade. My only pre-marital visit to Davis gave me time to let my preconceived notions dissipate: it turned out that, despite what everyone in SC insisted, homosexuals do not attack Christians on the street here with pointed sticks (as there are no guns in all of California). In all actuality, Northern California has a sort of Bible Belt, slower pace, and farming culture. Not too different from the South after all.
Well, sort of. Any Southerner would feel overwhelmingly out of place upon approaching a public trashcan here. I’m rather used to the simple concept of taking my trash and neatly dropping it in the bin. I’m not totally uncivilized; we do recycle in the South. I’m a fan, promise. But it’s so much more than that here. There aren’t trash cans, but trash stations. With bins for everything from recycling to composting (don’t worry, there are pictures of what qualifies for each category), you may be overwhelmingly tempted to take your small paper bag and empty coffee cup and just toss them until you notice that the last option isn’t labeled “garbage,” “rubbish,” or “trash,” but “LANDFILL,” complete with a horrifying picture of Mother Nature weeping (ok, it’s just a picture of a landfill, but I’m pretty sure I can hear the sound of crying when I look at it). So you naturally spend the next five minutes guiltily matching your items to the ones displayed over each bin while making audible realizations like, “You can compost that!?” It’s a bit awkward knowing what to ask when eating dinner at a local’s home: “Excuse me, where is your—er—landfill box?” This is when I try to lay the accent on thick in hopes that my cluelessness will be found endearing.
The biggest adjustment so far has been that of transportation. Getting from A to B here (“here” being specific to Davis) involves two wheels, not four. Biking. It sounds so classic, I know. I could see myself wearing a little scarf around my neck blowing in the wind on a sunny Davis day as I pedal around the city. The first few times weren’t short of that, either. But as it turns out, winter is the Davis rainy season. (California lesson #523: Rainy seasons aren’t reserved for third world countries.) On the first proper rainy day we had I vowed to stay in the apartment. The sound of wind whipping around the building worked to solidify my certainty for about an hour before I started to feel the apartment walls growing smaller. After much restless pacing, I grabbed a sweater, my North Face “windwall” jacket, a pashmina to wrap around my head, winter gloves, and boots and pedaled through the seeming downpour. Two miles later, I locked my bike and hustled to the nearest awning where I watched in amazement as students happily bobbed along—no umbrella, no pashmina, no hustling as though the rain was made of acid. Tough as nails, they are. I’ve since invested in a rain jacket and a better attitude, but I will say that the latter can be hard to find some days. I’m learning.