Arrive Like a Whisper, Go Out With a Bang, by Patrick Acuff

Los Angeles, California, January 7, 2003. We arrived as newborn babies out of a womb of isolation and despair to a world of freedom and stimulation with new people staring at us from every direction. To fully understand this moment, I must take you back exactly six days prior to our arrival in L.A., back to my parents’ basement in Milwaukee, WI.

On December 31, I was in my room, a half-finished basement room that contained my bed, a large sectional couch, an old 1990’s version flat screen television, and a six foot pool table in the middle of the room. I don’t recall all the people there that day, but the two people whom I definitely remember being there were Jon, whom we called only by his last name, “Bunch,” and the local pro skateboarder Greg Lutzka. In that basement we passed vast amounts of free time, especially in the long, frigid, winter months here in the Midwest.

New Year’s Day is often a time to make resolutions, but Jon, Greg, and I had no idea what big changes would be soon taking place in our lives. We were in the middle of a game of pool when I shouted, “After New Years there won’t be anything to look forward to for at least another four months.”  So, depressed and anxious for some kind of substantial change in our lives and environment, we brainstormed different ideas about possible solutions to our dilemma. Should we all move in together? Get a place downtown or somewhere? Travel for a couple months? Our brains were looking for positive reinforcement, screaming “Why? What the hell are we doing here?” Then just as all great movements begin, we had the idea. California, yeah, that would be paradise, but did we actually have it in us?

I remember looking at places on the Internet and being astonished at the price of a one bedroom that was offered for $1,100 a month. Nice place, it seemed, but five hundred and fifty square feet for that price! We quickly cancelled the first California plan and went back to the drawing board. Again dead ends–nothing seemed as close to perfect for us as California. The only way we could do it, though, was if all three of us shared a one room apartment. We figured out a few more of the minor details and decided we would sleep on it and talk some more about it the following day.

Wow, was I excited! My mind was going a million miles an hour, and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t stop thinking about it all night. Later that next afternoon, we started discussing the idea again, and to my dismay it seemed as if Jon and Greg were completely against it now.  I said, “What are you guys thinking? We had all these great ideas going last night, and now you are both over it? Come on! Don’t you want to rid yourselves of comforts and security and live in the now? Let’s do this! We only have the now!” 

Seemingly, they were shocked and moved by my enthusiasm; maybe I was getting through to them. The energy in the room ignited like a wild burning forest fire. At that point the idea was much too electrifying to diminish or contain. We seemed to have solutions to every weary question and answers to the entire unknown.

Now, we were ready to leave immediately, but first things first; we needed to find a place to live. We cautiously looked for a few hours but kept coming back to the place we had found the previous evening. “Regency Palms” was advertised as a large apartment complex in Huntington Beach. It had pools, hot tubs and was just few blocks from the Pacific Ocean and only about twenty miles south of L.A. For no more than fifteen minutes, we pondered booking it. We fully understood that by renting the place we would be completely liable, and there would be no turning back. I called and the phone rang twice and a feminine voice answered, “Hello, Regency Palms.” I was at a complete loss for words, but after taking a second to gather myself, I was able to give the necessary information. Now the place was booked, and the security deposit was paid for occupancy starting that day!

First, we had to tell our parents we’d be out of their houses in two days because we were moving to California. Our parents must have thought we were crazy, and their reactions showed how much confidence they had in us. We were then quizzed about when, why, how, and just about every doubt a parent should and could possibly have. They had no trust in us whatsoever. I immediately started to alleviate some of their concerns with the “We Are Big Boys Now speech,” being quite positive that Jon and Greg at that very moment were having the exact same conversation with their parents. The movement was developing.

The next day, plans went into high gear! Jon and I started to gather the necessary supplies. Renting the U-haul was our first mission; I say mission because that is what it turned into. The biggest issue was that none of the U-haul places would rent us a trailer because it is a roll over, flip hazard or some kind of serious safety flaw between Jon’s older S.U.V. and the large trailer. So after going to five or six different rental places and not having any luck convincing them we were using it for a truck that we “had down the street,” we resorted to lying to his parents about what we needed their car for, but we ended up getting his parents truck and quickly drove and made our purchase. Using the larger, safer vehicle was not our plan though or even an option; we had to get Jon’s S.U.V. there, my scooter, and all our stuff. We promptly hooked up the trailer and began packing it with anything and everything our parents didn’t want: old furniture, pots and pans, lamps and just about any of the junk they were just waiting to give to Goodwill.

A thirty-four hour drive is what Map Quest told us it was. Greg was to follow in his car with his father as passenger, so they left the same time we did, but within an hour, they were so far ahead of us that Jon and I didn’t see them again until we arrived at our new place. Jon and I understood that it was going to take much longer if we were to make it there alive with the trailer and car still intact. Until we started driving on the freeway, we hadn’t realized how much of a hazard the big trailer was. We hadn’t even gotten out of the state before we had some close calls, and quickly we learned that if we went over fifty-five mph, the trailer and car would shake so horribly that both were impossible to control.  

We slowly made it through Illinois, Missouri, and Oklahoma. As we approached the next state, the sun revealed the top of its head over the horizon behind us. Re-energized by the radiant rays, we pushed on to the deserts of New Mexico. The geography was nothing like we had ever known; farms, grassy hills, and lakes were replaced by barren, red rock mountains, and dry deserts. When we arrived in Arizona, we needed some sleep, so we pulled over to the nearest rest stop and dozed in our seats for a good five hours. When we awoke, we felt as though we had slept on a pile of bricks, and then had them dropped on our heads. Then as the sun set over the hills in front of us, we exited Arizona and entered California.

The mountains and hills of southeastern California were the last leg of our trip. By the time we were thirty miles away from our destination, we experienced beautiful ocean breeze, a slight drop in temperature, and a sudden stop in traffic. We were in grid lock, something we never fully experienced till we saw this mess, sixteen lanes of traffic all stopped dead for no apparent reason. Two hours later, we finally turned off the 405 freeway onto our exit and proceeded down a couple of streets to our new place.

 Getting to that apartment was one of the best feelings I had up to that moment. Finally we were free to do whatever, whenever, and with a long list of explorations. We lived the sweet life for a good six months in sunny Southern Cal, living every day as if it were our last. Then, one day, just as fast as we had decided to come, Jon packed his car and drove back home to be with his now ex-girlfriend. Greg and I managed to keep the place for another few months but eventually went our separate ways. The occasional party and other social events were all that we saw of each other after a while. I stayed out there for another five years working in construction and other odd jobs. I had a lot of amazing experiences living on my own; I’ve met movie stars, seen astonishing concerts, skateboarded some of the best spots in the world, and made some everlasting friendships.

My overall view of California is that it is great to go to on vacation, but I can’t live on vacation. I lost all sense of time and reality. In contrast, I think if anyone has a chance to move there, they should. If I ever had the opportunity to go to any university out of state, I would. At least once in my life I got out of all my cozy little comfort zones and broke the mold. I took a chance, saved a couple thousand dollars and moved far away from everything I knew. It was an essential and fundamental way of finding myself, really, some of the best “soul food” I’ve had.

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