The sun, the heat. The big open spaces and shade trees. It makes me want to get naked and feel the hand of the sun on my skin, run around in the field, it's the way human beings should be. The vast rolling hills just beg you to get on a horse and ride (though our shitty world of fences and private property make that only a fantasy).
The biking is just fantastic. Pretty deserted roads (though there's more traffic than I remember being here 10 years ago), decent pavement. Grape vines and oak trees all around, and lovely rolling terrain. I hate flats, and I kind of hate endless climbs; here I have the sweet mix, a hard sprint climb, and then a fun windy descent, then a bit of a gradual climb, up and down, lots of variety, never boring. Really great riding, and so many different routes with varying difficulty levels, all out in the country but close by.
The smell; maybe above all the thing that hits me any time I come back to California are the sweet smells; sage and grass up on the dry hillsides, and bay laurel down in the river hollows, the gentle breezes just rich with the wild smells.
October might be the best time here; the grapes are ripe and just about to be picked (in fact there are pickers working right now); you can smell them as you ride around, or stop and have a snack. Wine grapes are super delicious; they have much more interesting flavors than the garbage you get in grocery stores, tons of weird musky notes and caramel and just lots of complexity, not so sweet and boring.
I love that everyone drives fast in California. It just makes life so much easier for me, because I'm not constantly fighting the general flow around me. (in fact being used to Northwest driving, I'm often the slowest person here). I know that it doesn't mean that people here are actually more intelligent or better drivers, they're just following the regional habit the same way Northwest people are (the way people so uniformly just go with the habit of their area is a great demonstration of how little actual individuality anyone has; 99% of your "personality" is just where you live and the time and place you were raised), but man it is a fucking bummer driving in the Northwest with all the up-tight busy-body dumbass passive-aggressive speed-limit followers (who are actually very dangerous drivers, because they don't adapt their behavior to the situation at hand).
Seattle Joy :
This is a memory of July/August, trying to remind myself of the good things.
Being able to walk down and swim in the lake is incredibly nice. I love to just swim out a hundred feet or so and float; getting away from shore you get a view of Mt Rainier and the city skyline. Incredibly it really never gets too crowded in the lake, and even on busy boating days it clears out around twilight, which is one of the best times to be in the lake.
It's really magical when the blackberries get ripe all over the city. The sweet rich smell fills the air and you get it just everywhere as you walk around town. You can ride around Mercer Island and stop and snack as you go.
I've found some pretty decent river swims; they aren't the river swims of my dreams (too cold, and not private enough to get naked), but they are a joy on those rare hot summer days, when you get a bracing dip that shocks you and makes you feel alive.
One of the things that I totally take for granted is that we have no bugs. I completely forget that it's true until I go visit some place like PA or The South where you just can't even sit outside at all without being attacked. It absolutely sucks to live in places with bugs and it's some kind of bizarre miracle that we don't have them (it makes no sense to me that we don't, there's lots of water, and it doesn't get that cold, it should be ideal mosquito land, wtf).
Of course the high mountains are really incredible. Once again I only got backpacking twice; every year I tell myself that I need to go more next year, but it doesn't happen. One problem is that I feel like I can't take that much time off work; another problem is that just staying in the city and swimming and biking near home is so sweet in the summer that the motivation to go way out to the woods is reduced. Anyway, once again I swear I'll try to get out more often next year. It would be easier if I could work in the mountains.
Comparing the Northwest with California, I've had some revelations about what makes for really great driving/riding roads. The driving & riding around Seattle just sucks, and surprisingly in CA which is a much much more populous state, that doesn't really seem to be that much older, it's way better.
The key thing for great roads is that they are somewhat old and now disused. That is, there had to be some reason to put in good country roads long ago (mining, farming) but now there is not much reason for people to be on those roads, so they are low traffic. They have to be old enough to be made before earth-moving equipment, so they are nice and windy and narrow.
The problem with the Northwest is it's just too young. Habitation in the area is only 100 years old; there aren't farm roads from 150 years ago. The only old roads are logging roads and those are/were dirt and temporary. There's only a handful of nice windy old mountain pass roads, and they all are popular tourist attractions which makes them no good for me.
Of course one of the things that makes the Central Coast area so great is the strict development controls that keep the towns from creeping into the countryside and devouring it with endless suburbs. With no housing subdivisions on these old farm roads there's not much use for them, and that makes them heaven for a windy road lover.
Being back in SLO gives me some perspective on how badly I've lived my life. Walking around downtown Tasha asked me if I did this or that, did I go to college parties? did I surf? did I make wine? No, not really. What did I do all the time that I lived here? Pretty much just worked. What a retard.
I feel like I accomplish a lot more than the average programmer, and I like to think that it's because I'm smart and more efficient; I think I have good methodology and solve problems more directly, but maybe I don't, maybe I just work more. When I'm in the moment I can't see it, but any time I look back at my life with 10 years or more of distance I go "wtf I was just doing nothing but working the whole time".
Maybe that's just the way it is for everyone; you work and buy groceries and sleep and go through life without ever doing much.
In related news, I think going out to dinner and going to movies and such is a really horrible way to spend your time. It doesn't really impact your life, you don't remember it down the road, it's just a way of killing time, it's not much better than watching TV or drinking booze (which is the ultimate in "please just make this lifetime go away with as little involvement from me as possible").