This past weekend, I took a very long drive down to my old stomping ground in Southern California. My daughters had a scheduled visitation with their father, and I, well, I had to get my hair done. 

Yeah, I know.  Seems like a long way to go for a few highlights. But you have to understand . . . I have been going to my stylist for more than 20 years!  I’m having a very hard time giving him up for somebody local.  He’s like a brother to me, or maybe more like a sister because he’s gay.  He’s been with me through my single years, and all those crazy perms and experiments with reds. He did my hair for my wedding. He talked me into getting my first bob.  And he made me look good through two pregnancies and one divorce.

The whole point of this blog is to share with you a certain perspective I acquired from this 400-plus-mile trip.  And that is this:  Southern California is a meat grinder!  Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s the entertainment capital of the world. But it was only after I left it and returned for a short weekend did I also discover that it is the STRESS CAPITAL of the world, too.

The minute I came down off the Grapevine and got into the Mulholland Pass, I noticed a distinct physiological change in me. I gripped the steering wheel tighter and I could feel my blood pressure rise. Or maybe it was bile. Most noticeably, I became angry.  Really angry.  This asshole (and I’m not even sure I’m allowed to use that word on this family travel site) behind me, who was driving a convertible BMW with a pristine-white leather interior was tailgating me so closely, we were practically spooning. I could see him in my rearview mirror gesticulating wildly and pounding his steering wheel as though that would intimidate me into speeding up. 

 I could hear him thinking, “Hey, You, the Nobody in the Honda!  Move the hell over for me, a very important balding Hollywood type in a fancy car who just had an illicit nooner with my production intern and now I have to make up the time on the freeway to get to the charity auction that my trophy wife is hosting.”

 (I lost track of how many stereotypes I just used.)

 My daughters noticed the change in me immediately.  They had just told me days earlier that since we moved up north, I seemed calmer, more  happy. My teen even told me that she thought I had become “less strict.” But once I entered the crazy, frantic gravitational pull of Southern California, I became my old self again.  And it didn’t make me happy.

 Maybe that’s why people in Southern California seem so self-absorbed half the time. It’s not that they really are, it’s just that they are entirely focused on rushing from one place to the next. There’s no time for niceties and common courtesies, because God forbid you should slow down and get trampled by the angry mob.

Another interesting observation . . .  we  noticed the thick smog for the first time. When you live down in SoCal as long as we did, it’s not smog.  It’s “morning haze.”  Well, I can tell you after living up in a smog-free town that boasts fresh air and bright-blue skies, that stuff they’re trying to pass off in SoCal as “haze” is really disgusting, choking air pollution. Don’t be fooled by the lure of the beaches.

 What, you say?  You want me to say something NICE about my weekend in Orange County?  OK . . . the hotel where I stayed was awesome.  The Quality Suites at John Wayne Airport. Nothing fancy, just a nice, clean, roomy room at the right price.  For $71 a night (which included a Triple A discount), I got a living room with a TV and a separate bedroom with another TV and a king bed. PLUS, a free, cooked-to-order breakfast every morning. Fresh eggs, hot pancakes, coffee, juice, you get the picture.  

 The only complaint is that on Sunday morning, the line for breakfast snaked way out the door, as everyone had the same idea:  to sleep in on Sunday and rush down to breakfast 10 minutes before they closed. 

 A stressful start to another crazy day in overpopulated – but beautiful! — Southern California.