In 2004, I moved to California. I was twenty-five years old—it's hard to believe it's been nearly two decades since then—and I'd never lived anywhere on my own before. I don't mean having an apartment of my own; I'd done that before. I'd never struck out for an entirely new place, with which I had no prior history, without having someone with whom to do it. I'd driven through California before, but never spent any real time there.
"We all have two ages," a former coworker once said, as a group of us walked to a nearby restaurant for lunch. "We have our biological age, marked by how many years we've been alive. But then we have our spiritual age, which is all about our character and our soul." Everyone took turns saying what they thought their spiritual ages were. When the conversation came around to me, I said I didn't know. Without hesitation, the first coworker said, "Eighty-five. Minimum."
Perhaps that explains why, when I moved to California, I settled down in Morro Bay, which seemed like, more or less, a seaside town for retirees.
Morro Bay was a happy little place for me. It's tied to all those feelings of independence and self-sufficiency, for one thing. But mostly it was just cozy. It was butted right up against a state park that was home to all sorts of protected birds and wetlands critters. It was parked right on the coast, next to a massive stone formation, and with a small range of mountains between it and its neighbors. It enjoyed its own weather system, some twenty degrees cooler than San Luis Obispo, and often socked in by the marine layer. Of all the towns I explored before relocating, it reminded me the most of the Pacific northwest.
Mornings I'd venture out to a local diner for breakfast, then have a walk on the beach, then wander back home and start my day. (I was working on Eleanor back then, and freelancing as a web designer.) Evenings I'd head "downtown"—really just one or two little streets with salons and book shops and galleries—and catch a movie at the Bay, a single-screen theater that was often the only business open after 7pm.
The freelance design work that kept my bills paid also changed the way I engaged with the world. I didn't have to be anywhere at 8am, and only rarely had to meet actual clients. As a result, my biorhythms either mutated, or my true ones finally emerged, and started running the show. I stayed awake all night, and slept during the day. If I had errands to run, I did them in the late afternoon, when I woke up, before the town zippered itself up for the night.
Though I lived in California until 2012, I didn't spend all those years in Morro Bay. Searching for more space than my little apartment allowed, Felicia and I moved, first to Arroyo Grande, then to San Luis Obispo. Both were nice, but neither enjoyed the same coziness, the same heavy morning fog, the same eucalyptus-perfumed breezes. We haven't been back to Morro Bay since moving to Oregon; we'd hoped to return last summer, but the pandemic rose up and squashed that plan.
That little town is a bright spot in my memories; I think about it all the time.