Whenever someone asks me where I grew up, I have a pretty good idea of how the conversation is going to go.
"I'm from Palmdale."
"Oh, like the Afroman song?"
"Yes. Like the Afroman song."
Now, I don't begrudge Afroman for immortalizing my hometown in what is, by all accounts, a pretty catchy rap song. In fact, without it I'm not sure anyone would really know that the city, and the greater Antelope Valley, even exists.
Such thoughts occupied my mind in early February as my fiancée and I loaded up the car to make the 3 1/2 hour drive from the Central Coast to the place where I grew up.
Nestled to the East of Los Angles in the "high desert," Palmdale is your typical California suburb. When my family first moved there in the late 1980s, it seemed more desert than city. In the ensuing years, I watched as the large swatches of hilly desert dotted with Joshua trees was slowly replaced with shopping centers, restaurants, golf courses, and all the other suburban luxuries that you'd find in any sizable SoCal city.
Still, the place has its charms, and I make it a point not to trash the city where I grew up, went to school, and lived with friends and family in relative peace and safety. But what really keeps me coming back—besides the chance to grab some seriously awesome Mexican food from Speedy Joe's on 10th Street West—is, of course, my family.
My parents, as well as my sister and her husband, still live in the area. Before moving to the Central Coast, I spent a few years kicking around New Mexico and Texas, missing holidays and my family's frequent get-togethers. Being away gave me an appreciation for them, and so I tried to make up for lost time upon my return.
This trip was particularly exciting, as we were making the drive to good old "P-dale" to visit a new addition to our family: my sister's first child, a boy—my parent's first grandchild and my first nephew.
His name is Decker, and he is, in my unbiased journalistic opinion, the coolest and most amazing baby ever born in the history of the world. As we all met at my sister's home in neighboring Lancaster for dinner, I was formally introduced to the little dude, who was surprisingly alert and on his cutest behavior for his new audience. As I held him, I immediately made myself a promise to spoil the little guy rotten.
It is a fine thing to know that, in addition to having some truly wonderful parents and grandparents, my nephew will get to grow up in the same place I did. Years of living the nomadic life of a working journalist can sometimes unmoor you from people and places that connect to who you are, that shaped you. This new little presence, with all its promise, was a reminder that those places still hold potential and surprise and wonder. Yes, even in the Antelope Valley. He will look in awe at the desert's vast expanse. He will smile and laugh as he takes in a minor league baseball game at Jethawks stadium. He will walk though the colorful vendor booths at the annual Poppy Festival or Antelope Valley Fair and beg his parents to buy him fried food and toys.
These experiences will be as new to him as they once were to me. And that thought fills me with a little more pride for my hometown. I wonder if it will leave the same impression on him as it did on me. I also wonder, when he is an adult and I am a cranky old man, if he will get the same question when he tells people where he grew up.
"Oh. Like the Afroman song?" Δ
Staff Writer Chris McGuinness can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.