I’m not sure when I first became aware of California. Maybe I saw it on TV. Or maybe on a box of raisins.
No, I think it was the Beach Boys. I was a young boy at a seaside resort in England, and music was playing. It spoke of a far off world, a mystical place where people stood on polished wooden boards and somehow rode on the waves. I’d never seen waves like that on an English beach—or at least, not on a sunny day. Waves like that ought to mean the gale force winds and torrential rain of an English summer.
(Ironically, decades later I learned that Brian Wilson was morbidly afraid of the water, and would never go near the ocean.)
Clearly this “California” was a strange and marvellous place. People threw plastic discs at each other through the air, and they sort of hovered. I found one in a seaside shop and tried to interest my family in the idea, but they didn’t seem as inspired by it as I was.
At some point in the 70s I must have seen The Streets of San Francisco. All I remember is the way the cars would drive really fast down a hill, hit a crossroads with a thump, and launch slightly into the air.
I don’t think we’ll be trying that.
My young mind gradually came to understand that California was more than one place. In fact, it was three places: San Francisco; Hollywood, where TV and movies came from; and Disneyland.
Years later I got SubLogic Flight Simulator for the Atari ST. The default start location was a runway at Oakland airport. My first and favorite route was to take off, fly across the Bay Bridge and over Alcatraz, and dive for the Golden Gate Bridge. After New York City, it was the most impressive scenery in the game.
The point of all this is that my strongest associations with San Francisco have always been unreal ones. That’s part of why I wanted to confront them with reality.