California Dreamin’

It was summer of ‘63 and the while the world was rocking to the British Invasion, I was dancing to the beat of the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean. Okay, okay, I may have had a tiny crush on Paul McCartney, but I think looking back that I was simply jealous of his hair. I could name the surfing and beach themed movies of the time, my most favorite being The Endless Summer. I wanted so badly to drive in a woodie! Seriously, could a girl from Queens find California in New York? The answer for this thirteen year without miles was to spend my summers at Rockaway Beach.

Traveling with mother and four sibs on public transportation meant waiting for the bus in the heat, riding the bus in heat, arriving close to death by dehydration and/or asphyxiation and always saved by the breeze as the hideously hot coffin on wheels opened its doors and I sucked in the salt air of Beach 112th Street. Me and my green bottle of Sea & Ski; perfect together. When I was old enough, I ditched family and drove to Jones Beach, West End. I can’t remember whether it was West End One or Two, but it was “hip” one. And how hip was I arriving in my powder blue $85/month car payment Camaro or my BFF’s Firebird, equipped with custom (made by her mother) black terry seat covers which certainly prevented burning one’s butt when we returned to the baking car.

When I was 25, I was found myself working overtime for my first Hamptons summer rental, a cottage on North Road, a stone’s throw from Peconic Bay. There were several consecutive summer rental seasons – all in Hamptons Bays. I did not know enough to explore. It seemed a natural destination for a kid who grew up going to the Rockaways. It was over these summers spent in shacks that I knew it was highly unlikely that I would ever be able to afford a real home in the Hamptons. It was even more likely that pigs would fly than I would be living in California.

The need for a home — anywhere — had begun to surface for real in my thirties. After all, I was not married. What if I never married? Would I never have a home? I started to view a home as a necessity. I was invited to use my boss’ vacation home in Columbia County one fall weekend and fell in love with the area. He encouraged me to explore the real estate market up there, and, in contrast to my friends who were shopping H. Stern for jewelry as an investment, I purchased my first home in 1984. It was a perfect little two bedroom, one bath home on 7.5 acres. I was quickly the envy of my jewelry laden girlfriends.

I found happiness in this home for the better part of 25 years. Decades of seasons of memories made. So what would possess me to think of leaving the Currier & Ives rolling hills of Columbia County? The lack of sand in the soil!

After fifteen years of bliss in the Berkshires, I was missing the beach and found myself staying home on weekends and driving out to Robert Moses early on a Sunday morning. My pulse would slow and my breath would deepen as I drove past Exit M9 on the Meadowbrook. The breeze would almost immediately pick up as the landscape morphed into coastal reeds and grasses. In the early years when I went to Jones Beach, the speed limit was 70. Oh, how I wish I’d had a convertible in those days! Well, as I said, I enjoyed the drive so much I drove all the way down Ocean Parkway crossing the Robert Moses Causeway, baseball cap taming my hair, SPF 30 on the face and Bob Marley blasting through the car speakers of my Saab convertible.

I began funding family vacations on the Outer Banks about 12 years ago. The Outer Banks offer huge families huge homes at not-so-Hampton’s prices. Of course, you do have get there, which for some is a deterrent. Not me. Water, water everywhere, total fun in the sun, and while it certainly passed the test as a perfect summer destination, it was not a weekend destination for this weary water seeker.

I attempted to satiate the need in my fifties by making California a vacation destination on more than one occasion. I took a painting class in Carmel. I rented a home in Mendocino. I made San Francisco and the wine country a destination. I travelled to Pacific Grove just to stay in a hotel that aired in a Visa commercial probably a decade before. You know the ad: “You can wake up and see the ocean, hear the waves crashing, have a great breakfast but don’t think of using your American Express card at the Seven Gables Inn. Visa; it’s everywhere you want to be.” Well, I was not yet where I wanted to be!

The cherry on the top of this story is that sometimes, when you least expect it, you get what you want. The financial crisis of 2008 was the catalyst for me to reexamine the possibility of a becoming Hampton’s homeowner. Fear actually drove me to think real estate! If the house I would purchase were to lose its value I would still have a house; if my portfolio were to lose value, I would have nothing.

In early 2009, I went in search of a house I could afford. I quickly learned that many were rentals being offered for sale ahead of rental season. I spent the winter traveling out on weekends to look at houses in the hopes that summer would be a new experience. They were reminiscent of my rentals in the 70’s. I must have seen thirty homes. I bid on one and lost. I toiled over one, visiting three times, but in the end I decided against it. At the same time, a friend decided to look at houses, inspired by my search, but his criteria was different. Having nothing on my calendar I accompanied him on a drive out to see a house his broker just knew was “the one.” It was; it was “the one” for me! I walked through the gate and my heart skipped a beat; my friend walked through the gate and began speaking with the owner about their shared interest in dachshunds. I would never have seen this home based on my wish list.

When I arrived at the front door, the owner said, “Shhhh, if you are quiet, you can hear the water.” I did, I’m here and the soil? Just the right amount of sand. Every time I walk through the gate, my pulse slows and my breath deepens. I’m home. Maybe this east coast Aquarius has finally found peace with her California dream.