I moved to Los Angeles 20 years ago.
Moving to L.A. from Ohio was like that moment in the Wizard of Oz where everything goes from sepia to bold technicolor. I exchanged the comfortable cultural binaries of my youth for the confusing spectrum of cultures, languages, and faiths.
It took more than a decade for me to admit I was becoming Californian.
It felt traitorous. My cheatin’ heart was revealed itself in Prague, in a moment of travel exhaustion. My feverish wanderlust had given over to a gnawing homesickness.
I knew something had changed inside me because my weary bones longed not for Ohio, but for a booth in a Mexican restaurant in LA, where I could enjoy a Corona familiar, overloud Norteno music, and a torta milanesa, a breaded cutlet on a warm roll.
Confusion. Why did my homesick heart long for LA? How did this boy of the scarlet and gray come to hold an LA burrito joint as close to my heart as my mom’s kitchen table? Answers eluded me as much as guacamole did in Prague.
It was not until about a year ago when the answer came to me in a bar.
I had flown back to Ohio for a funeral in my hometown – a solid bastion of Anglo-Germanic cultural traditions. We had the taverns to prove it, but only a few remained the family-friendly beer-hall variety.
At my first opportunity, I raced down to my family’s favorite beer-hall, “Hamelburgs,” to wolf down a tenderloin sandwich with an old-man beer. Stroh’s or Pabst. I didn’t care.
As I sat alone, washing down the last bites of my tenderloin, the accordion chorus in “Streets of Bakersfield” coming from the corner jukebox waltzed my memory though restaurants in Munich, Los Angeles and back to Ohio.
The riddle from Prague was solved.
The oneness of beer, schnitzel and the waltzes was evident. Country & Western, PBR, tenderloin. Waltzes, pilsner, schnitzel. Norteno, cerveza, torta milanesa. Southern Ohio, LA and Prague. Like the holy trinity, there is oneness for those who care to seek it rather than division.