Maria Gutzeit | Road Trips and Coming Home

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As I write this, I’m channeling my inner vampire, avoiding direct sun at all costs, as the summer heat once again bakes the Santa Clarita Valley. Even as many of us go muttering through the week, sweating and showering multiple times a day, it still strikes me how lucky we are.

This is nothing like a Midwest winter. “Ah,” people say, “I wish we had seasons! Think of all the fun winter sports!” Our winter sports in northern Illinois were eating, napping and watching TV, because no one actually goes out willingly, for fun, when it’s 20 below zero (yes Fahrenheit zero, not Celsius zero.) When you do go out, it’s with lock de-icer, kitty litter (for traction under the tires,) coat, boots, hat, mittens, extra blanket to keep warm should you get stuck in a ditch somewhere. So, our heat wave is like that but luckily far shorter. It’s also a bit like the southeast, where it’s lovely and green but the AC is on 24-7 all summer long. Here’s hoping we can go back to opening our windows at night very soon.

We are 45 minutes from the beach. August and September are when we need it most, and it’s just a quick drive away. The mountains are bit farther but also 20 degrees cooler. Our nighttime low was 80 last night. In Mammoth it was 50. How lucky are we to have options that don’t exist for folks in Nebraska or much of the country.

We’re also lucky for all the things the community has for visitors and residents alike. Ample parks. Hiking trails on all sides. Bike trails where you can get away from traffic. And, in the summer, the pools! Not only are there HOA pools, but also city pools, and the great Castaic Sports Complex and the Santa Clarita Aquatic Center, which feature separate shallow pools/splash pads/mini water parks for the little ones. Entrance fees are minimal.

Talk to parents from most of Los Angeles and they lament the logistics, the cost, and the shuffle of getting their kids into a good school. Here every corner of our valley is served by a free school with great test scores and great programs. And there are tons of after-school options provided by the city or county, especially during school breaks. We have a hospital and multiple medical facilities. Many senior care and housing options. Free transportation for seniors, too.

When it’s scorching, our thoughts turn to our all-too-frequent brush fires. However, there is probably nowhere else in the state, if not the country, better protected than L.A. County. True, we pay a fee on our property tax, but the air operations upon which we depend so much to protect life and property are spectacular. Low crime rate. Almost non-existent graffiti (promptly cleaned up) and most services from arborist advice to help with abandoned vehicles are only a call or email away.

We have roads with better pavement and less traffic than surrounding areas. Relatively short drives to multiple airports, major business centers, and top entertainment destinations. We have ample and varied water supplies. We have both city and county libraries where avid readers can plow through books for free or even buy books for under a dollar. Computers, software, and research resources are all available to visitors and residents alike. Multiple live music opportunities happen every weekend, and low- or no-cost museums like Placerita Nature Center and Hart Park welcome all comers.

Since childhood I’ve driven back and forth across the country, through all but a couple states. It’s fascinating to see all the different places and ways people live. They live in skyscrapers and don’t own cars. They live in the middle of nowhere, an hour from the grocery store and farther from a doctor’s office. In homes 200 years old. In trailers on a reservation. In ski towns and beach towns, in factory towns or in no town at all, surrounded by corn, coal, cows, mountains or desert.

No place is perfect, true. Sure, I miss some of the history and the architecture of the East. The green grass, the woods, and fireflies. I definitely don’t miss mosquitos, tornados, and subzero winters.

Summer road trips are all about possibilities. You should stop and stay awhile, wherever suits you. The best feeling, though, is when you come home and realize you already live where you want to be.

Maria Gutzeit is a chemical engineer, business owner, elected official, and mom living in Santa Clarita. “Democratic Voices” appears Tuesdays and rotates among several local Democrats.

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