When I retired in June after 35 years of teaching in Long Island's North Shore district, I decided to spend the winter in sunny Carlsbad, California.
I was a little nervous about it because although I'd traveled extensively, I've never lived off Long Island. I grew up in Glen Head, and at 27, I bought a house in Sea Cliff, two miles away. Two addresses. That's it! Never had an apartment, lived in a dorm (I commuted to Hofstra) or even slept in a tent.
Now I was taking a big step and renting an unseen apartment 3,000 miles away. Would I feel out of place? Would I survive?More ExpresswayReader essaysReader essaysGet published in NewsdayCartoonMatt Davies' latest cartoon: Bill and Donald's binders
My fears were allayed my first day in Carlsbad when the real estate agent handed me the key to my studio apartment, a cute little place right on the beach, and said, "Welcome to paradise!"
Indeed, it was -- gorgeous magnolia and eucalyptus trees, pretty shops, tidy streets and what seems like a million bikers, joggers and surfers. I think I saw maybe three chubby people. Strangers smiled at me on the street, saying hello, as if they knew me. In the beginning, I turned around to see whom they were talking to.
And, I haven't even mentioned the weather -- 68 degrees and sunny. Every day. (No need to get a weather app in Carlsbad.)
So, without hesitation, I became a Californian. I had a library card, I frequented the Mexican-run bagel shop, I read the local edition of the San Diego Union-Tribune and I shopped regularly at Albertson's supermarket, where I schmoozed with Miguel, Edna, Sumner and the rest of the staff.
Each night, I watched the local news, which always seemed to lead with a car chase. Given that traffic in California is as bad as in New York and in some areas, worse, I couldn't figure out how any car could be involved in a chase.
And I walked everywhere. People told me when I left Long Island that I would need to rent a car. They were wrong. I walked to the supermarket and the library. I walked to the weekly International Food Festival on State Street.
I walked 3 1/2 miles twice to Trader Joe's. (It was, of course, 68 degrees, the sun was shining, the birds were chirping and I never noticed the distance.)
For day trips to Encinitas and Oceanside, I took the bus (only $1.75 each way). For downtown San Diego, I hopped aboard the Coaster train ($5.50 each way).
And in the evening? I was second on line at the Jewish Film Festival, where I think my presence doubled the Jewish population of Carlsbad, a predominantly Christian community.
I attended a play written by sportscaster Dick Enberg and posed for pictures with the author and with basketball great Bill Walton and football's John Brockington. I went to a lecture by author Joyce Carol Oates and took a selfie with her.
Other advantages: the Grammy Awards, the Super Bowl and the Academy Awards were all on TV three hours earlier than on the East Coast. When I was teaching on Long Island, the Oscars would end after midnight on Sunday night and I'd get only six hours of sleep. I require at least eight, so I'd be a mess all week.
During my time in California -- and I have rebooked for 2016 -- I was fully aware of the snow and ice and cold back home on Long Island, and so I didn't post pictures on Facebook (didn't want to rub it in). But as I drifted off to sleep each night to the sound of the waves crashing on the beach, I thought, maybe next year my family and friends can join me.
It would be nice to welcome them to paradise!