I started working in Santa Monica nearly 17 years ago. I worked there for nearly 8 years, making the 20 miles commute from Studio City each morning and backtracking each evening. Then I transferred to our Washington, D.C. office, which is actually in Arlington, VA. At first, I returned to Santa Monica frequently but as time passed, those 5 or 6 trips/year evolved into one trip per year. As the intervals grew longer, Santa Monica changed more and more each time I visited.
Used to be that I worked in a building built in the 1950s. My office, on the 4th floor faced the West Side. I could see the Getty Museum atop Sepulveda pass, and the building of Culver City, and all of Brentwood and various neighborhoods sprawled out before me. If I leaned back in my Aeron chair and looked across the hallway, I could see the Pacific ocean, always there, so much so that I never really thought about it. That office building was old and dusty and looked its age but its guts were a wonderful collegiate atmosphere that reminded me of the buildings of my university. I recall fondly my morning walks to the McDonald’s on Colorado and 2nd when it was still dark and the wind blew though the palm trees.
Now that old building is gone, replaced by something much more corporate and not quite as close to the ocean. Next door, the empty lot that housed the old building still remains, fenced off, desolate, a memory cast in dirt and weeds. When I walk by it, however, I can see the ghost of the building still standing, as if shrouded in some coastal mist.
The McDonald’s is long gone, the original structure torn down and rebuilt into something more modern, an avante garde Micky Dee’s. The Philly Cheesestake place next door is gone, too, replaced by a health shake establishment. The pier looks the same. The pier never changes. But the courthouse and the seat of city government is all new. Modern structures flashing with neon replace flat parking lots. The big mall across Colorado was torn down and then rebuilt into something utterly different. Gone are the places a dozen of us would go for our daily lunches, the lot of us together, talking about work and life. Gone are the big group lunches, too. They seemed to die out with the old building.
It’s strange to think of a city aging, but 17 years is a long time for things to stay the same. In many respects, Santa Monica is an old friend that has aged before my eyes.
And I imagine that when I arrive on my annual visits, she thinks the same thing of me.