David Bowie died. Although I recognized his importance to a great many people, I had never been particularly a fan of his music. I recognized his genius, but but my sadness at his passing felt muted.
Alan Rickman died. That made me very sad: Rickman was one of my favorite actors. He consistently made my famous people dinner. You know the game: pick six people to have dinner with you. In my case, I invited Alan Rickman, Michelle Obama, John Scalzi, Georgia O’Keefe, Mark Twain, James Thurber. Although the other diners changed over time, Rickman and Thurber were constants.
Then Glen Frey died.
I have always thought it weird to grieve for famous people: I had friends who cried when Princess Diana died. I know that I cried over the Challenger and Columbia astronauts, and when Nelson Mandela died. There have been a few others.
Glen Frey is one of those I grieve.
Glen Frey’s music threads its way through the soundtrack of my life. I have had a lot of times in my life when I looked on “Desperado” as a theme song, and “Smuggler’s Blues” somehow captures the feel of South Florida, probably because it was used in an episode of Miami Vice.* And then there is “Hotel California.”
In 1992, The Rocket Scientist and I headed back East to Virginia, so that he could spend a year on a temporary assignment at NASA headquarters. Virginia was the South, was home. We were a day’s drive from his family, another down to my family in St. Pete, close enough to visit more often than once every two years. The food was familiar — true, it was hard to find a good burrito, but you could get great barbecue. And grits made properly. There were green fields even in summer, and thunderstorms.
We lived in McLean, in a house I loved: a split-level with a half-finished basement, and a cool unfinished area where the Rocket Science could stash his homebrew to lager. There was a planter box out front that I was looking forward to finally eradicating the mint in, and a huge backyard where it was a battle to stay on top of the bamboo shoots at the edge of the property. It had three bedrooms, a study, a living room, a formal dining room, and a large kitchen. It’s the nicest house I’ve ever lived in in my life. We liked our neighbors. We were only a couple of miles from the Metro station, and forty minutes to Maryland. I would take The Not-So-Little Drummer Boy (who was a toddler) to the Smithsonian, and Glen Echo Park, and Potomac Falls.
The way that temporary assignments worked back then was that they were essentially year-long job interviews. If you did well, and were happy, you stayed on. We fully expected that outcome. We could have settled down: I was pregnant with Railfan, and the owners of the house were looking to sell. Everything looked rosy.
Then Al Gore came along and reorganized the government. A lot of jobs at headquarters went away. We were lucky: there was a job back in California that the Rocket Scientist could go back to.
I was disconsolate. I moped all the way West, crying occasionally. I did not want to return to California. I was in tears as we crossed the state line, just as…
…”Hotel California” came on the radio. I couldn’t tell if fate was mocking us, or welcoming us back to the state. In either case, it was quite an eerie coincidence.
As it turned out, coming back was not the disaster I feared. The Rocket Scientist found work he loves, we found a church community, and The Red-Headed Menace came along. Maybe we couldn’t go to the Smithsonian, but we could go to Muir Woods, and the beach. My kids are thoroughly California: wherever he goes, the Not-So-Little Drummer Boy will sound vaguely like a surfer,* and The Red-Headed Menace and Railfan, although they don’t have a pronounced accent, have been shaped by the weird cauldron that is the Bay Area.
And me? I’m not a Californian, not really, but have resigned myself to living out my days here. The area has a great deal to commend it — see my road trip post. I’m close to the ocean, and if for some bizarre reason I ever want to go see snow, that’s three hours east. Three national parks are within half-a-day’s drive. And, quite frankly, I have been thoroughly spoiled by the climate. I don’t really want to deal with a Florida summer, even if I do miss thunderstorms. Not to mention the politics.
So, even if sometimes we want to check out, we haven’t left.
:*The summer after his freshman year in college, the NSLDB came home. We were having a conversation in which he used “like” in every sentence. “Can’t you go just one day without using “like”?” I asked in exasperation. “I can’t, Mom, I’ve tried,” replied. I threw up my hands and snapped “You sound just like a Californian!” Silence struck as all three kids looked at me in confusion. “I am a Californian, Mom,” James finally replied.