Friday, December 19, 2014

I Won't Be Home for Christmas

Believe it or not, every single year of my life thus far, I've spent Christmas in Syracuse, New York.

We never traveled as a family.

When my parents kicked me out of their house, I found friends to take me in, and when my friends' families kicked me out of their houses – or I fell out of favor with my friends – I found other friends to take me in.

My senior year in college, I had nowhere to go and thought I might stay on campus, despite the fact that the small, rural town would likely be buried in snow, and that the dining halls and most student facilities would be closed. I would need to find a way to eat, and I would need to find people to hang out with. I was prepared to be alone, until my friend Chrissy took me in.

After graduating, I never spent a Christmas Day in New York City. It was close enough to Syracuse, and even at my lowest income level, I could usually afford at least a Greyhound bus ticket back. Even though I was estranged from my family, I would still see them at least once, and even exchange gifts with them – though I was no longer welcome to sleep in their house (and nor would I want to).

In years when all of my friend invitations dried up and I was making a bit more money, I stayed in cheap motels by Carrier Circle. Walked through the mall by myself. Called upon ex-lovers. Went to the movies.

I always found a way back, by bus or train or plane or rental car.

Around 10 years ago or so, I found my place at Christmas with the family I now consider my own, though I was not born unto them.  I've spent Christmas morning on their living room carpet emptying my own stocking and opening gifts from Santa. I've snacked on rye boat dip way too early in the day, buttered toast for everyone's to-order egg breakfasts, and eaten way too many Buckeyes for dessert. After years of practice and training, I've learned to recognize love when I see it now. I'm still learning to receive love from them.

The best part is, all of us – now in our 30s and 40s – are still the kids, for now, until one of us procreates. So, in the meantime, at my advanced age, I'm making up for lost time by getting the Christmas experiences I never got as a kid, when holidays were fraught with guilt and jealousy and disappointment and contempt.

Except I can't do that this year.

This is the first year ever that I can't go home for Christmas.

It's not that I don't have a home to go to. I just can't get there.

Nearly four years ago, I moved so far away from everyone I loved in order to try to build a new life and, for once, find happiness. I've doubted that decision many times since. I wonder what I've done to myself. I may be better than I was in New York, but I'm still not so happy. I'm not sure what it will take. But then again, it's been a rough year.

So now, in this holiday season, I'm on the opposite coast, with no airline points or miles left for redeeming, barely any credit left for charging, no cash for spending and no income for saving. I just can't swing it.

And I wonder what it will be like to spend Christmas alone, no tree, no cookies, no kisses. No jingling bells or wrapping presents or braving the mall or playing games or staying up all night talking while A Christmas Story plays for 24 hours on the TV. No one will force me to watch Star Wars – again – and no doggies will lick my face.

What will I do?

A package arrived from back home yesterday, so I know I'll have something to open Christmas morning. But I don't need gifts. I need that feeling of walking into a room, and everybody being really genuinely happy to see me. And walking out, knowing they're really truly sad to see me go.

I know I'm not alone in LA, per se. There are a lot of what we call "orphans" around the holidays – people just like me whose loved ones are just far enough to be out of reach. So many of us give up everything to come out here, and then we have nothing left to get ourselves back.

Apparently, this is living the dream.

Maybe things will improve enough for me to go back home in May. Or maybe next Christmas. I have to tell myself that nothing is forever, and that one Christmas away from home does not equal "never again."

But the first time is always the hardest.

Related Posts:
Nowhere Woman
So This Is Christmas
Open Letter to Santa
Upon the Fourth Thursday of November

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Photo Essay: Combing the Beach For the Royal Palms Country Club

Royal Palms State Beach is considered one of the hidden gems of LA County – a family-friendly picnic spot "where Western Avenue meets the sea," with an active surf, and pools wriggling with life at low tide.

But not many know about the beach's namesake, the Royal Palms Country Club, built in 1927.

Originally developed as the Royal Palms Recreation Center out of a share of the original Rancho Palos Verdes land grant... an area occupied by the Gabrielino natives and discovered by Spanish explorers around 1770...

...Roman Sepulveda (1851–1940, a descendent of Mexican colonial soldier Francisco Xavier Sepulveda) used local stone to build two fireplaces and benches...

...installed a terrazzo dance floor...

...and planted a grove of palm trees.

Photo from the Los Angeles Public Library

The palms are a bit taller today...

...but the recreation center portion of the beach looks very much the same now as it did back then.

The location  – "only 45 minutes from Broadway," and about 300 yards from the current Paseo del Mar landslide area) – was very popular, especially amongst the wealthy...

...who came to these palisades to play golf at the country club (financed by 15 prominent LA men, including James Oviatt, operating out of the Great Republic Life Building in Downtown) and use its various other amenities (fishing, swimming, yachting, dining, dancing).

Built to be "America's Most Wonderful Social Organization," the Club operated until 1933, when it closed in the wake of the Great Depression.

In the advent of World War II, the military took over much of LA County's shoreline...

...including Royal Palms.

Today, you can still spot large concrete slabs along the rocky shore...

...which are all that remain of any of the structures from the country club...

...or its guest house.

Their steel reinforcements have become rusted...

...and their Stonehenge-like arrangement has made them a magnet for lobster cages and other debris from the sea.

It is haunting on a winter day... beach-goers in sight.

It's not obvious what some of the ruins used to be...

...but despite their proximity to the crashing waves...

...the pelicans and the fisherman...

...and the rubble falling from the bluffs above...

...these remains have withstood the test of time...

...although when the military left after the War...

...the beach was combed by the Hedley family, who leased the beach and scoured the shore for any debris they deemed useful.

Since 1960, Royal Palms has operated as a public beach, first by the State of California and then by the County of Los Angeles.

Stay tuned for photos from the ruins of its neighbor beach, White Point.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Cabrillo Beach & A Crumbling Concrete Bunker
Photo Essay: San Pedro's Sunken City
Photo Essay: Hike to a Ghost Shipwreck
Photo Essay: Crystal Cove Cottages, Frozen in Time
Retreading Old Ground
Land of Opportunity

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Photo Essay: The Light at Angel's Gate

I first spotted the Angel's Gate Lighthouse – officially known as "Los Angeles Harbor Light" – from atop the Point Fermin Lighthouse. I couldn't help but notice the huge Pacific Ocean waves crashing against the breakwater that curved and stretched out for two miles from the shore to a tiny black and white striped lighthouse.

We heard stories of people trying to hike the rock wall to reach the solar powered lighthouse – where a keeper became unnecessary upon automation in the 1970s – but the sea is too volatile out there, making it too dangerous of a trek, and forbidden.

Fortunately, you can take a U.S. Water Taxi from the Port of Los Angeles.

Boat trip tickets are sold as a fundraiser for the upkeep of the lighthouse...

...which was restored by the Cabrillo Beach Boosters in 2012...

...just in time for its centennial.

If you can get a minimum of ten people together, you can take the boat ride out to Angel's Gate...

...see it up close...

...walk out on the breakwater yourself...

...and say hello to a sea creature or a pelican flying by.

The lighthouse is built on a huge concrete block, which was once the foundation of a private residence that got washed away by a tsunami.

The lighthouse itself was constructed of steel-reinforced concrete, the first and only of its kind.

The structure has proved resilient to the waves, but recently, its front gate wasn't so lucky.

Waves tore it off its hinges and tossed it off the side onto the rocks. Half of the gate is still missing.

The lighthouse exterior was originally white, but its signature black vertical stripes were added for increased visibility during fog conditions.

Before the restoration a couple years ago, windows were broken, and everything – inside and out –was covered in rust...

...but all the walls have since been sandblasted...

...and painted and covered with an extra coat of zinc for protection.

Although the lighthouse feels a bit abandoned... is just unoccupied.

It is fully operational...

...with battery cells powered by solar panels...

...although when it first opened, unlike its candlelit peers... was powered by electricity.

Angel's Gate Lighthouse is four stories high...

...with spiral staircases winding up through the tower...

...reaching an exterior platform along the way...

...and through various rooms that used to be used for radio transmissions, etc.

It leans a little to the South.

The lighthouse is in a critical position in the Port of Los Angeles, still an active shipping harbor with plenty of deep sea vessels trying to navigate the rough waters. A foghorn still blasts.

And after a narrow ladder climb up to the top... reach the characteristic (now solar-powered) green light...

...though not the original 4th-order Fresnel lens (made in Paris by Barbier, Bernard, and Turenne and on display at the Maritime Museum)...

...and soon to be upgraded.

It's a beacon essential to preventing shipwrecks, and flashes every 15 seconds...

...operated by remote control by the Coast Guard.

Not only can you see it from afar...

...but, on a clear day, from its uppermost catwalk, you can practically see forever.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Point Fermin, Keeping Watch Over the San Pedro Bay
Photo Essay: Hike to a Ghost Shipwreck
Photo Essay: Southwest Marine Shipyard at Terminal Island, A Japanese Fishing Village Ghost Town