1. Even though I grew up in the Midwest, my family would sometimes spend the month of August near my grandparents' place in Laguna Hills. While driving to all the touristy things families did in the 1970s, I began to shape my ideas of the area. For one thing, there were lots of orange groves, eucalyptus trees and exotic flowers. The air around my grandparents' apartment always smelled like jasmine and freshly watered lawns.
2. Later, when we lived in Anaheim for a year while Dean did an internship at Fullerton Evangelical Free Church (more about that tomorrow), I learned another truth about Southern California: you can get to the mountains or the beach in an hour. It will also take an hour to get to downtown LA, to any of the airports, to whatever amusement park you choose, or to a museum. Things you do on a regular basis, like work, church or shopping, may (or may not) take less time. Driving on freeways is a necessary evil, and the freeway will always be both crowded and under construction.
3. It can be incredibly beautiful. The first snow on the mountains will suddenly show up against a blue sky. Palm trees sway above tropical flowers. Waves crash on sandy beaches. Afternoon light falls across undeveloped places that look like something on the moon. Summer hillsides are the color of a lion's fur.
4. I always feel like I'm on vacation when I'm there, but I also always feel like I'm running late and just a little bit lost. Sometimes I love it and sometimes I don't like it at all.