Aspen Princess: I’m not over you yet, California.
When I was young, my mom had this really lame T-shirt she bought at some cheesy souvenir shop in Keystone that said, “Life’s a mountain, not a beach” in big, bright colored letters. Like most of her opinions, she did not sugarcoat the fact that she did not like the beach.
“I hate getting sand stuck in my bathing suit,” she’d say.
I loved the beach from an early age. Growing up in Connecticut, we used to go to Watch Hill, Rhode Island. It was a quaint little town with beautiful public beach and a bunch of little shops. I remember candy stores and ice cream parlors, shell necklaces and rope bracelets. I reveled those trips in the summer, loved the way my skin smelled like suntan lotion mixed with sweat and how my hair would thicken and curl from the salt water.
I used to dream about California, dancing in my room to the Beach Boys’ “California Girls” and singing at the top of my lungs. (If that doesn’t date me, I don’t know what does.) I always thought of California as this exotic, faraway place where everyone was blond and beautiful and cruised around in bathing suits on roller skates. And in many ways, I was right.
I didn’t move there until I was 24 years old. I remember being proud of my address, of writing the letters “CA,” and it felt like I had gone as far as one could possibly go in terms of finding a new life for myself.
The truth was, as the old saying goes, you can take the girl out of the East Coast but you can’t take the East Coast out of the girl. I quickly found that laid-back California also was somewhat reserved. People weren’t so receptive to my penchant for intellectual banter. Plus, I couldn’t get a boyfriend. It was that whole California girl thing — too much competition.
Plus, most of the guys spoke in 10-word vocabularies limited to terms like “rad” and “stoked” and “epic” and “it’s all good” and “my bad” and “no worries.” We used to call it “Sandy Ego” because the guys were almost as in love with themselves as they were with their surfboards.
Still, there were so many things I loved about California. I loved the cuisine; the freshness of the produce and the fish, the fish tacos and the smoothies and anything with ahi, avocado or mango, all foods I hadn’t really discovered until I moved there.
Even though it took me forever to learn, I loved the surfing lifestyle. I loved duck diving under a wave and seeing the barrel roll above me, the spray that rained on my head when I popped out the back. I loved seeing dolphins at sunset and laughing with my girlfriends in lineup. I loved dropping in on a clean left in the fall when the Santa Ana winds blew hot and dry and offshore. I loved the way my hair turned almost white, totally bleached out from the sun and salt water. I loved the new muscle tone in my arms and lower back. And, of course, I loved the weather.
Looking back, it’s hard to believe that was really me. I always ask my friend Ashley, “Did I really surf? Or did I just think I was surfing?”
“You always ask me that!” she’d say, rolling her eyes. “Of course you surfed.”
I loved living close to my cousin Todd, who is like an older brother to me, and Eric, his best friend from childhood who also is part of our family. Eric is the artist who created the princess drawing that’s run with this column since its inception. He’s hilariously funny and adorable and a total pain in the ass. No one makes me belly laugh like those two.
So I’m here now as I write this, nursing my hangover from dinner with Todd and Eric, and have been here for a week. I came out to visit my dear friend Amanda, who left Aspen to move to L.A. (five years ago already), and to visit old friends.
The whole time I’ve been here I’ve had this little ache in my chest. I lived here 20 years ago, but not much has changed. My friends are all still here and they’ll still drop everything to see me. They still serve the best ahi wraps and mango smoothies at Ki’s. The pineapple fried rice and salmon panang at Siamese Basil is still to die for. The Pannikin is still the cutest coffee shop on the planet and the view of the point break at Swami’s is still as iconic and unforgettable as ever.
I’ve also been loving exploring Amanda’s new zone, the south beach cities of Manhattan Beach and Hermosa, where there’s a yoga studio and a juice bar on every corner and you can ride your bike on the strand for miles and miles, the soft, fragrant breeze kissing your cheeks. You can’t beat the nail places where I had three people massaging me at once or the abundance of fresh, delicious, healthy food (the big thing right now is almost everything seems to have either housemade almond milk or coconut oil in it, even coffee).
I brought Gertie with me and everyone here loves pugs. People go nuts, taking her photo and squealing and fawning over her. She is like a joy-spreading machine, and everyone here seems to have plenty of that to go around.
Unlike my mom, I remain torn between the mountains and the beach. Some people would sooner die than leave during ski season, but for me, taking a break from winter for a good dose of sun and oxygen has felt like some kind of rebirth. Of course, Colorado will always be home, but there is still a part of me who still wishes she could be a California girl.
The Aspen Princess misses Amanda and Kate. Email your love to email@example.com.
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