A Good Life

I have spent my entire life wondering what is just over the horizon and

By Warren Miller

I was lucky to have been born in Southern California when there were less than 1 million people living in greater Los Angeles. At the age of 11 my grandmother gave me my first major freedom vehicle in the form of a balloon-tired bicycle for my birthday. I could pedal it to the beach at Santa Monica that was approximately 20 miles away, spend most of the day body surfing and then pedal back home. In March after the winter rains, every vacant lot had tall green grass growing. Sliding down those steep grass-covered hills on cardboard boxes occupied most of the time after school during every March of every year of my childhood.

I spent weekends for a couple of years riding my bike on the many fire roads in nearby Griffith Park. We lived about 2 miles from the swimming pool that you could use for five cents. For another five cents you could get the key to a locker and a clean towel.

I could pedal my bicycle up to the summit of Cahuenga Pass and then west on Mulholland Highway and then west to Boy Scout Camp Arthurlet’s. If you took your rucksack and sleeping bag you could camp out there for 10 cents.

This is probably the time in my life when I got irrevocably dedicated to peanut butter. From those early Boy Scout days until now I always have at least one jar of peanut available in my food box in the car or somewhere around the house.

There were Friday nights when I rode that bicycle all the way to the Pan Pacific Auditorium to make endless left turns on my ice skates. By the time I was a senior in high school I had saved up $38 to buy a pair of custom-made racing skates with offset blades. Those blades were offset to the inside of the left turn so I could skate faster without the shoe itself hitting the ice. One night I fell badly and they put a dozen stitches in my kneecap.

My parents prohibited me from hitchhiking, but from the age of 11 until I got out of the Navy at 21 I don’t know how many thousands of miles I hitchhiked. I do know I had seen most of the state of California by the time I had enough birthdays to qualify for my own driver’s license.

On La Cienaga and Beverly Boulevard there was Gilmore Stadium, a massive farmers market and the Pan Pacific Auditorium. In that same vicinity were the La Brea tar pits. The bottomless tar pits had claimed hundreds of prehistoric animals, including saber tooth tigers and all other form of life from ancient times. I was fascinated seeing the city wherever my bicycle and roller skates took me.

I met my wife Laurie 30 years ago. We were geographically undesirable because I was living in Manhattan Beach, California and she was living in Seattle. It only took me three weeks cruising in my 20-foot camera boat with her in the Pacific Northwest to realize that there’s an awful lot more to the world than the boundaries of Southern California.

Two of my three children still live in Southern California and I really enjoy visiting them for a few days, but then the crowds and traffic and lack of green trees and the beauty of the Northwest puts me back on an airplane to our home in the San Juan islands.

In short, anyone who is privileged enough to live in California during the ‘30s, through ‘70s, or Washington state currently, is among the privileged few in the world.

At the same time only 5 percent of the people who live in Seattle have ever traveled the 80 miles north to the San Juan Islands. I have spent my entire life wondering what is just over the horizon and going and taking a look at what is there.

I was very lucky to find out at a young age that streets are straight, houses are square and bodies are round … so we don’t belong in a house in a city.