Orinda: Loving It, Leaving It
I’ve always been suspicious of attractive things. Orinda was no exception. I’m a subscriber to the cautious adage “if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.” So it really took me a while before I trusted this place. California was for cool people, and I wasn’t sure I could deliver. Try as one might, you can’t unlearn the term Flyover State.
This place has earned its bragging rights. Recall the first time you crested the hill on Rheem Boulevard (before the much-needed stop sign at Zander Drive). Suddenly you glimpse this sweeping, unexpected vista of Rheem Valley. My jaw dropped. This is my schlep to pick up hamburgers? Well, heck yeah. Or the first time to glance out over the sports fields at Sleepy Hollow Elementary. Surreal. What was the catch?
Once it settled that, yes, I truly do live in a place this cinematically exquisite, the bigger question that lurked below now surfaced. If my life were a Pixar flick, a little animated frog or, since I live so close to Glorietta, a gopher, would cozy up next to me and ask: “So, if this place is so beautiful, why does everyone constantly want to leave?”
I don’t mean permanently, I mean leave as in travel, escape. Up until the pandemic, my little animated gopher and I have noticed: Orindans do not lollygag, as we say in Flyover States. Our herd was forever galloping somewhere. I state this, not in judgement, as I jumped right in. Although I was more like that wild-eyed, straggler wildebeest, frantically hoofing to keep up with the rest of the stampede who has just trampled Mufasa in The Lion King.
Right away I noticed the kids’ new friends were welcoming and cheerfully available on the weekdays, but disappeared to Tahoe on the weekends. If your kid’s birthday fell during ski season, forget about a party. Spring Break resembled episodes of Black Mirror where all the citizenry has disappeared. Our streets echoed just the slightest bit.
This unnerved me at first. I love to travel, but here I felt I had to travel, or I was doing my life and my family a huge disservice. A three-day weekend? We must go somewhere! New friends would state, unflinchingly, they took their toddlers on flights to Japan. Japan! And this was not a cautionary tale. They would go again next year!
This was growth for me. The gauntlet had been thrown. I would be that mother, too. My kids were crossing an ocean. Fast forward about 12 years, and my daughters will unapologetically state they only remember the scenes we captured in photographs from these back-and-wallet breaking vacations.
Europe and Asia beckoned, but also many exciting attractions nearby in every compass direction — skiing, hiking, camping, surfing, beaching, sailing, wine tasting, museum-ing. Why would anyone stay home?
I adapted to this mobile culture immediately. Home was soon relegated to a common hub to shower and refresh the clothing in our duffle bags. I also immediately bought into signing our kids up for 50,000 activities. Because kids should be well-rounded, right? I certainly was not trying to re-create a bucolic, athletic childhood I wished I had. Okay, maybe a little bit (swim team). Okay, maybe a lot (Sharlyn’s Dance Experience). Or maybe I actually liked waking before dawn on Saturday morning to drive 90 miles and see if a town called Turlock truly lived up to its name.
The irony became laughable: We paid a dear price to live in Orinda so that we could behave as if we couldn’t wait to get away from it. I knew this was ridiculous. And yet, if I weren’t researching a getaway or, at the very least, making reservations for sports tournaments in some far-flung inland greenhouse, my life felt severely out of kilter. Self-worth was measured in Hilton Honors points.
And then, from out of nowhere, a pandemic. Shut us all down, equally. Surprisingly, I’m pretty okay with it. I still lustily peruse my TravelZoo Top 20 email, although these days the features are more comical than enticing. Seriously. Forget the luxurious amenities. Who can’t wait to plunk down money on a trip whose best selling point, in all caps, is FULLY REFUNDABLE?
I am, at least temporarily, relieved of feeling my home is merely a place to catch my breath.
How many times have we said to ourselves, “If I have to be quarantined, how lucky am I to be quarantined in Orinda?” The natural beauty soothes my soul, especially during the unsettling first weeks when we had no idea what madcap course this contagion would take. Out on a neighborhood run, I could briefly hit the pause button on the chaos.
The life I watch on television is largely a dumpster fire these days. I suppose my limited exposure to the outside world is what is allowing me to remain positive. I’m extremely grateful to live among intelligent, cooperative humans who wear masks to grocery shop and respect social distancing guidelines. No confederate flags or Dixie paraphernalia in sight. Compassionate, concerned, open-minded citizens who bravely gather, despite the pandemic, to show their support for an important cause like Black Lives Matter.
Staying home, when home is here, is very attractive indeed.