My move to Leucadia was inauspicious. In early 2001, having lived in Manhattan for 17 years, I’d been going through changes outside my control. A kidney donation (OK, in my control) followed by a sudden job loss and a daughter leaving for college. Then the World Trade Center attacks, the friends who escaped just in time, the local firemen and fellow world citizens lost. And a love heartache too painful to fully absorb.
Back in the ‘80s, I’d wanted to come west, but instead my baby girl, her father and I had gone to the Big Apple to ‘make it all happen’, and we did. Now, in 2004, on a dare and without a better offer, I was entertaining a lateral career move out of children’s media and back to music and the arts, my first true loves. My name was Sandy, this was San Diego … it seemed right. So I cut and ran from Manhattan, leaving behind indescribable experiences, friends and colleagues, and landed in the arms of, well, the quiet.
I wasn’t convinced I could trade sirens and skyscrapers for songbirds and palm trees. We had exactly one day to find a new place to call home, and we targeted the “west of the 5, west of the 101” zone. When the Del Mar races traffic kept me from realtors’ appointment further south, I went for the post-Vietnam war, avocado-tinted, upside-down townhouse with the neglected garden patio and the mockingbird that liked to rock out at midnight. No one had to buy him for me, he was all mine.
I spent the next few years reeling from the new job that kept me on the road half of every month. I came to realize that the “golden handcuffs” of my rent-stabilized apartment were nearly all that was keeping me tethered to the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Oh, and the fresh-from-the-oven H&H bagels we stood in line for on Saturday nights — that is, when I wasn’t trying to keep up with underground cultural events several subway rides away. At first, returning from business trips, I felt as if I’d gotten on the wrong plane, heading west rather than east to make it home. But I noticed I didn’t cry at the sight of my new city as our plane soared over Balboa Park upon arrival. The multilane straight shot drive home, and the welcoming scents of old eucalyptus and new jasmine, served me better than the bagels, brown-outs, hot tar and steaming grocery store garbage ever did.
I settled in. I found the farmers’ markets and the art film houses. I met my surfer-gardener neighbors who design video games and photograph surfers for Japanese publications. There was unexpected complexity and nuance everywhere I cared to look. I could almost do this! Sure, I missed friends, my lover, my delivery men and my building super, but they were all stunt-doubles for just one stable, strong partner. I wore my golden handcuffs two more years, subletting to grateful pre-med students as my last hope, even though the apartment had always made me feel claustrophobic and small. In Leucadia, well, the expansive view up La Costa Avenue takes my breath away every day.
I’m hitting the big 5-oh this summer, and I’ve lived here for nearly five years. My zip code matches the year I’m expected by Social Security to retire. I’ve lined my baseboards with rocks from beach walks; my walls and dishes comfort me with their peaceful blue hues. There is no street light at the end of my little street; take pride in finding the turn in the dark. From my office window, tiny sailboats bravely cut their way across the currents of the Pacific, and dolphins jump and dive. I’ve shared the Green Flash and the phosphorescent waves with old and new friends. My daughter escapes from Los Angeles now to think and write in our Leucadia home.
Who knows how long this affair will last. I have been fooled before. But for now, I thank the natives, pioneers, yogis, birds and dolphins who’ve shared this special place with me. I’m nostalgic and I’m peaceful. Leucadia, you’re holding me for now, and I’m grateful.
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