It was only and hour in the air, and there I was. Why, then, has it taken me nine years to return to that not-so-little city that holds a huge piece of my heart and still gives my tummy butterfly flutters when the words “come back” is whispered in my imagination?
I took off early from work last Thursday, and hopped on a flight to Long Beach, the southern California city that always felt homey and warm when I lived there nine years ago. I was nervous flying in. Nervous that I would find everything I once loved to be different — or gone completely. Nervous to feel that nostalgia or maybe some regrets, too. So excited to, for a few days, share a home with a best friend, but nervous of what it would be like now that she’s a wife and momma to two babies, quite different from the do-anything-anytime single college student who shared my apartment when we were adventurous 20-somethings.
I wondered if I’d leave with an ache to return permanently. In a way, yes — I miss my friend, as well as those that even Facebook hasn’t helped me stay in touch with. I miss the culture that I sometimes don’t feel living in a quiet town. I miss the opportunity that always seemed to knock, but maybe that was just part of being young.
I wandered Long Beach alone on Friday while my friends worked. Some thought that was strange, but it was how I had planned the trip, so that I could have time, on my own, to explore all of the places that have just been memories in my head for nearly a decade. I woke up early and left the house early. I took Uber for the first time — and would do it three more times that day. I wandered Belmont Shore hours before shop owners unlocked their doors, and found an iced coffee at Coffee Bean, a chain – yes – but one I loved back in those days. I walked several blocks through beach bungalows with decorated porches until I was at the beach, where girls were already sunning themselves on beach blankets at the water’s edge. It was just after 8, and I chose the obvious heat wave weekend to visit.
After a walk in the sand, I looped through more homes and over to Naples, where tourists ride gondola’s through the Vanice-inspired canals. I strolled. I daydreamed. I walked to breakfast, where I had a chicken salad sandwich and a blueberry mimosa while I watched two young friends share a mountain of whipped cream waffles as they silently editing their pictures for Instagram. I smiled because I was doing the same.
I took Uber to my favorite coffeehouse, where I would read and study and Internet loaf for hours as a college student. At first, I was sad they’d remodeled and become modern. But after a second visit, I decided it was still a great place. I walked Retro Row, partially browsed thrift store racks and stood at the entrance of the Art theater. I walked a few blocks of my old neighborhood, and made my way to downtown, where I walked all of Pine, two or three times, and waited a half hour for a free bus before seeing the tiny sign that my bus stop was no longer a legit bus stop. So, I started walking. I crossed Ocean and wandered through the Pike to Shoreline Village, where I snuck out of the sun at an Irish pub where I ordered some sort of fruity mojito and watched the passersby. It was nearing quitting time, and the pubs and restaurant’s were filling with people, and that was my sign to return home, where my friend would be arriving any time.
I arrived “home” before my friend, but I was greeted by her husband, his neighbor and their children with a plate of fancy cheeses, salamis and a glass of sparkling raspberry wine. So perfect. When my friend came home, we ate steak and chicken her husband prepared — “the secret to good steak: Use garlic olive oil,” he taught me. Then, we ended the Friday with sunset in the pool and good chat while the girls watched a movie.
It was a wonderful, wonderful Friday. It definitely won’t be nine years before I do it again.
Here are some photos from the weekend. I have several posts from this weekend that I will share in the next few days.