February 1, 2015

The Accidental Californian by Harley Jane Kozak

            Like many Californians, I’m a transplant. I came to L.A. in 1985 to work on a soap opera called Santa Barbara and a year later my soap character was dead, crushed by a giant neon letter “C” – but I was still here.
I didn’t mean to stay. I’d left my stuff in storage back in NYC. But one job led to another, and the next thing I knew, thirty years had passed. What began as a marriage of convenience became a love affair, but so gradually it’s hard to count the reasons I adore California. But that’s the gig, so here goes.
First, it’s big. If it were a country, it would have the 8th largest economy in the world. So while my California may not be your California, there’s something for everybody. At the risk of sounding like the Chamber of Commerce, it should probably get more than one blog. How many? Well, we have fifty-three seats congressional seats. North Dakota—where I went to kindergarten—has one. 53 blogs might be excessive, but maybe one for San Francisco, another for Napa Valley vineyards, then the deserts of Palm Springs, the ski slopes of Mammoth, Big Sur, Pebble Beach, historical Santa Barbara, Mexico-adjacent San Diego, Topanga Canyon hippies, Orange County conservatives, Silicon Valley brainiacs, migrant farm workers . . . Yosemite! Disneyland! Burning
Man! Real Housewives of Beverly Hills!

Who’d I leave out? Several million people.
What are we all doing here?
We are barbecuing, here in the southland. Even in February. Even the vegans. Surfing or swimming or wading in the Pacific. Praying for rain. Praying that the Big One (earthquake) will not happen until we and everyone we love are either dead or on vacation.
We are sitting in traffic.
It took me a long time to say unreservedly, “I love L.A.” because like all NYC expats, there were things that bugged me about my adopted town, the most obvious of which is that it’s not New York. But what is?
However, we have world-class museums, theatre, symphony, rock concerts, basketball, colleges, luxury cars, subcultures, cuisine, every kind of language and ethnicity, high-end shopping, insanely expensive real estate, spiritualism, hooey-wooey, many, many unbelievably physically beautiful people and an equal number of very, very odd ones.

We have a lot of sun.

My backyard today is covered in lemons, oranges and grapefruit, hitting the ground faster than we can catch them. The downside of chronic sunshine is that when it does rain, people stay home, cancel their reservations, call in sick. Not everyone—runners training for the LA Marathon are still out running. But drivers grow disoriented. Even former Nebraskans may succumb to Southern California-induced weather  
amnesia. We forget where our windshield wiper buttons are located.

My personal California is Hollywood. Where filmmaking was born. For me, the romance never fades, even though the reality isn’t anything like—well, like it is in the movies. It’s not easy to find a parking place on the boulevard of broken dreams and when you do you have to keep running out to feed the meter. But that’s what’s kept me here, even when I took a break for 15 years, to raise my (native born) children and write books. It’s not easy to admit, that I’m still in love with it, this boyfriend who rarely calls, the one who’s seeing younger women. The one inspiring these endless metaphors. But yes.
I may leave California one day, when my kids are grown. But if I do, the song running through my head will be . . .California Dreaming: Mama's and Papa's--flashback:  http://youtu.be/3kcmwXUdDCE

CONTEST! Tell me your favorite California thing, something I left out—the Top 5 most memorable ones will get a signed copy of my latest book, the paranormal romance, Keeper of the Moon, or the first in my mystery series, Dating Dead Men. Your choice.

As an Actor and Author, Harley Jane Kozak is all over the web, currently working on several projects.  Find her here:  http://www.harleyjanekozak.com
(all info provided by author) 


  1. Excellent post, says this transplant from back East! (Although I've now lived here longer than anywhere else.) I would add the wonderful NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where big dreams are made into reality and robots get sent to Mars and beyond!

  2. My favorite California thing is the desert communities. I'm out here where they host the golf and tennis tournaments, PS film festival, amazing art shows, and a lifestyle that is truly cosmopolitan. Ours is a tourist destination and snowbirds flock here for three to four months of the year. It's a small city but with the constant flow of people from "other places" we get to mix and mingle, and that keeps the place vibrant and the mind active.

  3. Okay, those are two very good ones. I LOVE the NASA JPL. I can't understand any of it (I'm not sciency-y) but it fires up my imagination. My kids loved it when they were little.

    And I left out film festivals altogether. I was at the Santa Barbara film festival yesterday and it was truly wonderful. I'm sure Palm Springs is also a contender. Thanks, Robena.

  4. Hi Harley,
    Love your California blog and of course I agree with everything you said! I'm a transplant from NY, but I was young when I left the Big Apple. Your blog resonates with me on so many levels. I love CA! The weather, the beaches, the friendly people, Disneyland, back when E tickets were the thing, and the Hollywood Bowl,were I saw the Doors and The Young Rascals as I teen. BTW--loved your metaphors!!
    Congrats on your books!!

  5. Okay Harley, you should run for Mayor, or at least be on the tourism committee! My first, most vivid introduction to California, was the scent of jasmine trees or perhaps They were citrus. I arrived in L.A. on your heels from N.Y. I was so anxious to leave the smell of concrete behind me. It was my first morning in February, when I stepped out of my car to attend an aerobics class at Jane Fonda's studio.I was so disarmed by the fragrance I almost passed on the class; heavenly!

  6. Gulp. Did I really leave out Hollywood Bowl? Yes.

  7. Ah, yes, the smell of citrus. And did I really leave out Hollywood Bowl? oops . . .

  8. Harley, I loved learning more about you. You've done a great job explaining California.

    Some of the things I love are the small towns like Santa Paula and Fillmore that have authentically historical main streets. And another fun find for my husband and I is the Camarillo airport with a great diner to watch those toy-like planes land and take off.

    And, of course, days like today. Clear, sunny, comfortably cool.

    On and on and on...I love California.
    Now, off to buy your Nocturne!

  9. Nancy from PAFebruary 01, 2015

    Redwood trees! I'm still in awe.

  10. California mid-century modern architecture

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  12. Great post, Harley! Echoed so much of my feelings as a transplant from the Philadelphia area. My favorite thing about California is the "anything is possible" attitude. New ideas or crazy dreams are met with "Cool. Go for it." There may be some downside to this unanalytical approach, but its the fuel that keeps so many reaching for the stars...and inventing Silicon Valley, for instance. :-)

  13. I'm a huge fan of those big trees and the wild coast around Carmel. The smell of the greens and the water, the feel you could almost be in Maine if you didn't know better....

  14. Thinking of Palm Springs, I'm reminded of that strange device that pulls you up the side of the mountain, taking you from desert heat right into freezing cold --the most wild, unexpected change of terrain and temperature imaginable and in just a half hour, or whatever it is.

  15. Anyone who loves the stars, both the kind commemorated on the Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Fame, and those in the sky, has got to love the Griffith Park Obsevatory, itself a star in both the film and astronomical worlds.

    The Observatory was a magical place my parents took me, before anyone knew I had severe myopia. Daddy would carefully lean me over the ledge, so I could watch the Foucault Pendulum swing back and forth. I was certain that, beneath the glass under the golden orb, a hole stretched all the way to the opposite edge of the earth.

    In college, my first serious boyfriend took me there on our second date. Not too long after that, for the first time, he told me he loved me, as we looked at the city spread out like a glimmering and magical carpet beneath us.

    Summer nights found us taking the turns in his old red Karmann Ghia, all the way to the top, where we looked at the moon and planets through the Observatory's roof-top telescopes.

    Today, I take my mom to the Observatory. We listen to lectures and attend planetarium shows, sponsored by the Friends of the Observatory (FOTO). As our grand finale, I haul her up the semi-circular path in her seated walker, then we slowly roll/walk down the very same path together, chattering to each other about the wonderful 13.5 billion year timeline made up entirely of stars, moons and suns costume jewelry, mostly donated by one long-time Observatory volunteer.

    To have a world-class, historic, astronomy gem in our midst gives me great pleasure, especially when I'm crawling along the #10. I can look northward and see my beautiful Observatoary sitting squat, nestled in the Hollywood Hills, just a few ridges from the Hollywood sign.

  16. Mount Shasta! While I love southern California and the desert, Mount Shasta and Mount Shastina tucked in next to her in the Cascades make for one of my favorite places, not just in California, but on the planet. I preferred beaches over mountains until I visited Mount Shasta. Breath-taking mountains surround you in all directions and the scents of pine and cedar follow you everywhere. Want some of the best tasting water on Earth? Ask one of the uber-friendly locals to give you directions to where everyone goes for water. The water from Mount Shasta makes up the headwaters of the Sacramento River. Lenticular clouds and other amazing cloud formations in the area fascinate the eye. Here’s a Mt. Shasta cam: http://www.snowcrest.net/camera/highres.php. I named my Schipperke after the mountain. I don’t normally name my pets after volcanoes, but in this case it worked. If you want a great vacation, check out Mount Shasta. -Diane Celesky

  17. I've been to California twice. The first time San Francisco and yes second time Anaheim for an RWA conference. Loved Fishermans wharf, Chinatown,Alcatraz, Hollywood, Beverly Hills, pretty much everything. While I love Iowa, warm memories of California make it easier for me to accept the 10 inches of snow outside my window because there is somewhere warm waiting for me.

  18. You guys are great at filling in the blanks. Alcatraz, Mount Shasta, the Observatory! Love all these and didn't even think of them.

  19. Hi Harley,

    Great post! Between your post itself and all the comments, it was Like taking a turn on the Disney CA Adventure ride, "Soaring Over California" without feeling my stomach drop to my knees.

  20. Read all the comments. Agree with them, but Hello? Disneyland?
    We used to take our kids every Christmas Eve. My older son proposed to his wife in Disneyland. I stole that for my book, Time and Forever.
    Like you I transplanted here as an actor and I still relish all calls I get from that neglectful lover.
    My favorite part of your post: We are barbecuing, here in the southland. Even in February. Even the vegans. Surfing or swimming or wading in the Pacific. Praying for rain. Praying that the Big One (earthquake) will not happen until we and everyone we love are either dead or on vacation.
    We are sitting in traffic.
    I live in the Valley, but by choice I am a beach human. My favorites are Paradise Cove for the tide pools and Ventura for the funkyness.

  21. Thanks for the great post, Harley. Forty years ago my husband and I drove from St. Louis to Los Angeles. We crossed the mountains, throwing stuff out of our car and Uhaul trailer just like the pioneers, hoping the car which couldn't seem to achieve a speed over 7 m.p.h. would not roll all the way back to Missouri. But we made it and I never looked back. And those of us in the northern part of the state can enjoy all four seasons, and if you're crazy enough, surfing and skiing on the same day.

  22. I grew up in Phoenix, Arizona and we all went to California for - like everything. The ocean, Disneyland, get-togethers. It was like I lived there, but didn't. Then I moved with a job to San Mateo. Then I moved again much later (my husband's job) to the Central Valley of California. I'm not a Californian, but in a way I am. The posts and comments are interesting.

  23. Linda ThorneFebruary 02, 2015

    I'm not sure my original comment went through, so I'll just say that I identify with The Eagles' song, Hotel California, as I've found myself back there more than I thought I wanted. Yes, you can always check out, but you can never really leave.

  24. Wow, barbecuing in the winter? Here in Chicagoland we got 18 inches of snow yesterday, with more expected tomorrow night. Sigh...

    I've never been to Cali, though I have cousins who live near Fresno. I understand that's up north of LA? They're always after me to come visit them, but I'm afraid that my weight getting off the airplane would be the catalyst to set off the fault, and we'd sink into the sea. ;-D

  25. Yes, Susan, yes -- Paradise Cove (well-named) and truly, Disneyland deserves a blog unto itself, love it or hate it. (I happen to love it even though I can't go on any ride scarier than It's A Small World.) It's going to be very challenging to pick the contest winners -- and now I'm thinking I may take my kids to Mount Shasta next summer. We need a "driving distance" vacation this year after blowing all our money on Europe last summer. :)

  26. Fiona, Fresno is a place unto itself, as I discovered when I was asked to speak there and I didn't bother looking at a map until the night before. Oops. (Did I mention that California is large?)

    Cindy, if anyone is crazy enough to ski and surf on the same day, it's you.


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