Exit 198. It’s okay to have two hometowns.

I was born in Salinas.  Salinas is a medium-sized city in central California, by which I mean it is considered small by California standards, but if it were located in Wyoming or West Virginia, it would be the largest city in the state.  It is located 100 miles south of San Francisco and one row of hills inland from the Monterey Bay, an inlet of the Pacific Ocean.  I lived there until I was 18, the day I moved away to begin my university education, in the same house where my parents live now.

In some ways, Salinas will always be home.  That is where my memories of school take place, and that is where I spent many hours playing with Legos and Hot Wheels.  That is where I watched Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoons, Full House, the 80s-90s Mickey Mouse Club, and the early seasons of the Simpsons.  That is where I spent hours in my room reading Choose Your Own Adventure books and playing the early Mario and Zelda games.

But in other ways, Salinas does not feel like home.  In addition to the memories above, many people seem to have memories of home that involve good friends, organized youth activities like Boy/Girl Scouts or sports, and first loves.  I don’t have many of those memories associated with Salinas.  I did not really have friends until I was a teenager.  There were kids in the neighborhood, but many of them only lived there for a short time, and some of them also weren’t so much friends as people who came over to play with my toys.  I went to school one town over from where I should have, as I have explained before, so until I was old enough to drive, I never saw my school friends outside of school.  My brief forays into Cub Scouts and tee ball were very forgettable, and I did not have anything resembling a first love, beyond a couple of formal school dances that I actually did go to with someone, and a few crushes that left me heartbroken, with the other person never knowing how I felt in most cases.

Yesterday was Picnic Day, a large event that I have mentioned a few other times in this blog; it is essentially an open house and community festival event at my alma mater, UC Davis.  And I realized that I have a second place that feels like home in some ways.  I lived in Davis, a university town just outside of Sacramento, from age 18 until a few weeks before age 25.  Many of those maturing experiences revolving around friendship happened to me there.  This is where I finally felt like I had a community that wanted me around.  Davis is where I came to faith, and where I finally felt like I had connections to the greater community, after I started getting involved in church activities and volunteering with the youth group.  In many ways, going to Davis and the adjacent campus also feels like going home.

I should point out that I don’t mean to put down Salinas or any of my old neighbors or school friends.  I’m just stating things the way they were.  There were some neighborhood kids and classmates who were nice to me, and I started to finally have something resembling a group of close friends by the end of high school.  I think if I had had another year or two around those friends before we all scattered for college, I would have grown a lot closer to them.

Neither Salinas or Davis feels completely like home, and neither one is home anymore.  But being both places gives me a feeling of going back home, each in its own ways.  And that’s okay.  Everyone is different.  Not everyone has one place they consider home; many people move away during childhood, for example.  And, of course, I did not experience a first love in either Salinas nor Davis.  What I would call my first true relationship, with Vega The Nice Ex, happened later during a time when I really did not have a home, but that’s another story.  For now, it’s okay to have two hometowns.

Exit 57. Underneath, there is a beautiful little story.

Sorry I’m late.  I had a lot of unexpected things happen this last weekend.

One thing I did recently was watch the movie Orange County.  I’ve seen this movie probably close to 100 times since its 2002 release.  And it was not at all a movie I expected to love so much.  I actually passed up a chance to see it on the big screen when it was first released.  I had a friend from Church I with the Problems who was a live-in nanny at the time.  She was taking the teenage boy to the movie theater to see Orange County with some friends of his, and she and I were going to go see something else.  I’m not even sure now what it was, although if it’s what I think I remember it being, it was one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen to the point that I don’t even want to discuss it.  I passed on Orange County because I had seen commercials for it, and I thought it looked like a dumb and disgusting teen stoner movie.

For those of you who don’t remember this movie, or (especially) for those of you who are getting it mixed up with a similarly named but unrelated TV show from a little later: Orange County stars Colin Hanks (Tom’s real-life son) as Shaun, a high school senior, a former surfer, stoner, and underachiever who has finally found inspiration.  In one horrible day, his dreams of leaving Orange County and following this inspiration constantly go wrong, despite the best efforts of Ashley, his overly positive girlfriend (Schuyler Fisk, the real-life daughter of Sissy Spacek), and Lance, his lovable loser older brother (Jack Black, playing the exact same character he always plays so well).

About six months after the time I didn’t see Orange County on the big screen, in June, I was visiting my parents while on school break.  My brother was borrowing the DVD of Orange County from a coworker, or community college classmate, I forget which.  He was into a lot of those dumb teen movies at the time, and I’d usually give them a chance.  But the day after we watched Orange County, I watched it again.  It was rare that I would want to watch one of his favorite movies a second time.  This one was special.  A few months later, my family came to visit me for my birthday.  At the time, the tradition was that my brother would get me a movie for my birthday.  I hadn’t mentioned to him any movies that I wanted, nor did I give him any gift ideas.  After taking me to dinner, we were opening presents in the parking lot, and my brother was holding my present behind his back, unwrapped, so I couldn’t see it.  Mom asked, “Do you think you know what [your brother] got you?”  I had a serious dilemma on my hands here.  If I said I thought he got me Orange County, that would mean admitting publicly that I liked this silly movie.  If I didn’t say anything, though, I’d miss a chance to be right.  I went with the first option eventually, saying something like “Ummmmmmmmmorangecounty?”  He pulled his hand out from behind his back, and sure enough, there was Orange County on DVD.  I watched it around 30 times in the next month alone.

So why did I change my mind about this little piece of cinematic brilliance?  The whole teen surfer stoner culture is just the backdrop.  Underneath, there is a beautiful little story about being yourself, figuring out what is really important in life, and having a love-hate relationship with your hometown and the way it influences you.  (Notice that the movie is named after where Shaun lives, not after what he does or what he wants to be in life or anything like that.)  And those are all things I can relate to very well.  Long before I had this blog or Facebook or Myspace or Livejournal, I used to send a monthly email to stay in touch with all my friends.  I mentioned this movie in one of those monthly emails around the time I first discovered it.  One of my good friends from high school replied, “What is it with you brilliant people and stupid movies?  My brother was just telling me he was watching Bring It On while writing his dissertation.”  (I haven’t seen Bring It On by the way.)  I replied something like, “I have a special connection with movies I can relate to.  And let’s look at it this way.  Shaun, in Orange County, is a confused kid who is tired of his hometown.  His family drives him crazy.  He writes a story based on his life.  He can’t wait to get away from all of that, but nothing goes right, and in the process, he learns what’s important in life and that running away won’t solve all his problems.  DOES THIS SOUND LIKE ANYONE YOU KNOW?  I rest my case.”

So there it is.  Orange County is one of my all-time favorite movies.  If you’ve never seen it, and you want to, come on over.  Unless you’re a jerk and I don’t know you, in which case maybe you should watch it with your own friends.

What about the rest of my readers?  Do any of you have a lesser-known movie, or book, or anything else, that you really connected with like this?