California Girl

The other day, an account I follow on Twitter, @beachboyslegacy, asked followers to post pictures if we had ever been to the legendary (in Beach Boys fan circles) Paradise Cove near Los Angeles. This is where the Beach Boys’ album cover for Surfin’ Safari was shot, which was their very first album way back in 1962.

I certainly have been there, as the Beach Boys were my first musical heroes and pretty much set me on this path to groupiedom.

Carl Wilson passed away in 1998, and that fall, the first Carl Wilson Foundation charity event took place in California. I wanted badly to go, but as I was only 15 when it was announced, it wasn’t really feasible. However, the next year, they announced there would be another event, a walk, in October 1999. Somehow, I decided, I was gonna be there.

In the words of Lindsey Buckingham, I never change, I never will. 

The biggest issue, I reasoned, was that I couldn’t yet drive. (This was the biggest issue. Not the flight from one side of the continent to the other. That part was just fine apparently!) I asked my dad if I worked all summer and saved enough money to pay for the whole trip for both of us, if he would come with me, as this was the only way I could make it work. He said yes, only because as I later found out, he thought it would never happen. But he was a lifelong Beach Boys fan, and I figured he would wind up having just as much fun as me when we got there. When. 

So I got a job at a huge theme park near my hometown, and proceed to work every. Single. Day. Seriously, I took only 2 days off that whole summer. I would work from 8am to midnight, come home, and do it all over again the next day.

Because you can, when you’re 16!

I saved just about every penny I made. I watched my bankbook balance accumulate. I don’t remember how I knew the cost of airline tickets, this being the early days of the internet (Lord I’m old!), but I remember I needed about $1100 by Labour Day to make it work.

At the end of August, I found myself in my dad’s car, flying along the highway to the Toronto Airport to buy 2 tickets on an Air Canada flight to Los Angeles.

And on October 1, I found myself on a plane.

You have to understand, I didn’t grow up with money. I never went to Florida, or Disney, or New York or any of the other fancy places everyone I knew had been. I’d never been on a plane, never been more than about 3 1/2 hours from home, and certainly never left the country. This was pretty much the impossible dream.

I was terrified of takeoff. I still am. I remember gripping the armrests (or possibly an armrest and my dad’s arm) and closing my eyes as we left the ground, then opening them, then closing them again. “I can’t look I can’t look! That’s so cool!!!!! But I can’t look I can’t look!!!”

Chicago was the first American city I ever saw. It came out of nowhere, emerging from the clouds over Lake Michigan, skyscrapers looming so tall I was scared they would touch the plane. We flew over farms, deserts, and the Rocky Mountains.

That may or may not be the Rockies. Either way, those remain some of the biggest mountains I’ve ever seen!

I’m really wishing digital cameras were invented sooner, because as I’m going through them I’m noticing most of my pictures are not the greatest. I was enchanted with everything as soon as we landed, from the Welcome to Los Angeles sign at the airport to the rental car, to palm trees.

We rented a Chevy Malibu, because we were going to Malibu, and I hugged a palm tree outside our Calabasas hotel because I really wanted to hug a palm tree!

My dad was just as excited as I was once we were there. As it turned out, one of the first towns you go through after leaving LAX is Hawthorne, famously the hometown of the Beach Boys. He couldn’t stop grinning, and as we fought the infamous Los Angeles traffic, he said, “If you’d told me a year ago I’d be driving on the Ventura Highway, I’d have told you you were crazy!”

LA traffic wasn’t much different 18 years ago, evidently. Same deal, older cars.

A friend of mine at the time had told me where Carl was buried, and we headed out there so I could pay my respects, and say goodbye. I cried hard. This was one of the first deaths I had ever experienced, and I felt it deeply. I got attached to my musical heroes then.

I still do.

My dad took the second picture as I knelt, crying, praying at the grave. I had no idea til I got the roll of film developed. I love it, it is very beautiful to me. Sums it up perfectly.

The first night was a singalong event by the beach, at Paradise Cove. I stood in the Pacific Ocean for the first time, living a dream I’d had all my young life.

The next day was the actual walk, which was a hike at a ranch in the Malibu hills.

AKA just about as far from Toronto scenery as you could get.

I met several of my other favourite singers there, Beach Boys friends and family that graciously took pictures and signed autographs, and just generally vacationed in fantasyland for a weekend. It was absolutely incredible.

This is a hard trip for me to talk about, a hard one to remember. It wasn’t the fault of lovely California of course, but after this trip, my life got worse before it got better. My depression took over, and some things happened that made me step away from the Beach Boys community, and even their music, for a very long time. This photo album gathered dust for years, but I always carried it with me, waiting for the day it wouldn’t hurt to look at it again.

That day came a few years ago now. This trip was the one that started it all; it’s the one that made me. Who does that?! Who decides at 16/17, in the 90s when air travel and internet friends were still very much a novelty, to fly away to a music event on the other side of the continent? I mean sure, enough 16/17 year olds probably decide to do that. But how many of them do it? How many did in 1999?

I’ve built my whole life since then around making sure my dreams come true. I can’t look back on this trip now with anything but love and gratitude. It made me believe anything was possible.

And it truly is.

Thank you, @beachboyslegacy, for making me think of this trip again!

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