There is a time and a place that sings to us in the middle of the night. Though real at one time, it is now a place of dreams, of fantasies, or curiosity. It is a place so vivid and enticing that, if someone actually invented a time machine, it would be the first and only place we would think of going.
For Civil War buffs, it might be Charleston in April 1861 or Gettysburg in July 1863. For aging hippies, it might be San Francisco in the summer of 1967.
For me, it’s Los Angeles in 1962, for so many reasons. It was the time of surf music, of the Beach Boys celebrating beaches and bikinis and hot rods. It was the nascent home of the television industry, having shifted its epicenter from live productions in New York to filmed productions in Hollywood. Using film, as Desi Arnaz had proved with I Love Lucy, meant that shows could be syndicated almost forever, or at least until DVDs were invented.
But it wasn’t just the television industry taking advantage of Hollywood’s understanding of film that gives that time and place its allure. It was also the increasing popularity of color television, starting with the debut of Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color in September 1961. People in the east had been watching the Rose Parade on television for years (and it had been broadcast in color since 1955), but only after the widespread popularity of color television did people see southern California in all its sun-drenched glory.
Nor is it television alone that makes the time evocative for me. It was also a time when southern California was becoming a bigger part of America, what with the splashy opening of Disneyland in Anaheim and the move of the Brooklyn Dodgers to Los Angeles and the New York Giants to San Francisco.
One theory says that was made possible by the release of the Boeing 707 in 1958. For the first time, with jet aircraft, road trips to the west coast weren’t a debilitating detriment to the visiting team. Suddenly, here was a place where cool breezes blew on fans in the summertime, a place where there was no humidity and no rain delays.
To someone coming from the grime and overcrowding of the East Coast, or from the flat, dry, and treeless plains of the Midwest, it must have seemed like the most magical place in the world.
It didn’t last, of course. Jack Kennedy (who had been nominated for president in Los Angeles in 1960) was shot. The war in Vietnam escalated, sending more and more young men out of southern California ports. In August 1965, Watts, a horribly poor ghetto in south-central Los Angeles, was one of the first half-dozen cities in the U.S. to explode in the fires of race riots. The Beach Boys completed their last album of the era, Pet Sounds, in 1966. Television devolved into programs devoted alternately to the supernatural (I Dream of Jeannie, Bewitched) and the implausible (The Flying Nun, The Addams Family, Gilligan’s Island, The Munsters). The Manson family unleashed its horrors on the southern California landscape. It was never the same again.
But I’d still love to visit Los Angeles in 1962, to nestle down in the sand at the edge of the continent, to indulge in a soft drink and a summer breeze, and to revel in a new world full of sunshine and possibilities, even knowing that it would only last for a short time.
Where would you like to go?