It was 12:30 a.m. Eastern Standard Time. I’d been traveling for more than 12 hours, flying cross-country, from Bangor to San Francisco with a very active toddler.
All by myself.
I had a terrible time trying to pick up my rental car, the aunt I hoped to stay with was away for the weekend and a police dog was loose in her house.
Figuring I was better off tired than fending off an animal trained to attack strangers, I hit the interstate and headed north 100 miles to Sacramento, where another aunt lives.
The dark road stretched before me, and as the miles passed my mind wandered and my heart grew a little homesick.
Although I only left California six years ago, life there felt so different. The contrasts to Maine, which I hadn’t noticed so much on previous trips home, became more clear as my trip went on.
I haven’t seen such new looking cars in a long time. Shiny blacks, reds and deep blues filled the six or seven lane highways and sat parked at tract homes and McMansions boasting green lawns, despite the drought.
I was confused at first, knowing first-hand that cars last a lot longer on the west coast. I drove a 1992 Toyota Camry with 212,000 miles on it until about two years ago. But as my trip went on, I realized it wasn’t the year or make and model of the cars; they were just clean, devoid of snow, mud and salt residue.
There was less neighborly dialogue and casual conversation with strangers. Construction workers, sweating bullets in the 80-plus degree “spring weather,” didn’t wave back as I drove through coned work sites offering the friendly gesture so common in Maine.
And despite staying in a small town — read: 26,000 — I didn’t notice anyone talking with someone they “just happened to run into” at the grocery store, an experience I’ve become accustomed to here in Maine.
Then there was the local park. At one point, I felt completely out of place among the stay-at-home playground moms talking about their house cleaners, personal grocery shoppers and other “hired help.” I just couldn’t see those conversations happening in Maine, unless you consider the neighborhood plow guy “hired help.”
I loved visiting my family, and I love California. The sunshine is good for my soul. For one, you’d be hard-pressed to find 10 for $1 avocadoes for sale along the side of the road in Maine, and there’s not much more delicious than Mexican food ordered from a hole-in-the-wall restaurant where no one speaks English.
It takes a long time to travel between California and Maine. The Pine Tree State is about as remote as it gets, and the ice and snow that greeted us after a brutal red-eye flight and an ill-timed mechanical failure was not exactly inviting.
But I realized something important about our lives here as the plane touched down at Bangor International Airport: I’ve never felt more at home.