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Coast to Coast


This time last week I was watching the sun rise over Ft. Lauderdale and pelicans fishing along the intracoastal waterway in Florida.  This morning I woke to a steel gray fog clinging to the San Francisco Bay, but by nightfall I had the treat of watching a glorious sunset from a perch on the Santa Monica pier.

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Travel is an occupational hazard for college presidents, and while airports and airplanes have become grotesque (see earlier blog) I never tire of the opportunities to see new places or revisit favorite ones.   This is a busy travel season for many presidents and collegiate fund raisers, especially coming out of our snow caves and deep lethargy imposed by the recession.  We follow our alumnae and benefactors to warm, sunny places…

I drove down Highway 5 from San Francisco to LA today.   Along the way I marveled once again at the awesome California topography, beautiful fertile valleys bracketed by steep craggy mountains and soft rolling hills split in all directions by the movements of the earth through the millennia.

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As I crested the mountains outside of Los Angeles, surrounded by dense fog, I found myself wondering how many other college presidents were cruising on by, rehearsing their speeches to alums and benefactors while hoping that the spouse’s or childrens’ college presidents didn’t get there first.  We often criss-cross pathways on these visits — oh, Amherst was here yesterday and Duke is coming tomorrow and Princeton next week.   The competition is fierce.

My musings came to a screeching halt in the rush hour traffic on Highway 405, one of the great clogged arteries of LA  fame.   I had been planning to get to my hotel room by the airport, have a sandwich in the room and work through the evening on the big pile of stuff that’s always in my briefcase.   But the massive traffic jam clearly would go on for a few hours, so I got off the highway with a brief thought of stopping for dinner at a restaurant I once knew on Sunset Boulevard.  But something made my car keep going all the way to the beach.

No, no, I can’t go there, I said to myself.  It’s Monday!  I have work to do!  I argued with myself all the way into the parking lot at the Santa Monica pier.

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I saw reminders all over the place of the essence of “California Dreamin'”

Monday, 4:30 pm.  A school night!  Work to be done!

But there they were, people all over the beach — bikes, surboards, frisbees, dogs, kids, just hanging and playing.  In Florida, when you see people on the beach in early March, you think, “spring break” or “long weekend” or “visiting mom and dad, out for a break…”  In Southern California,  the beach scene is an integral part of life — not a break from life, but part of life.

Up on the pier, the bars were crowded, the vendors hawking beachware were busy.  I walked around marveling at this other whole form of civilization.

Washington wonks, take note!  Even as we toil away in our serious Brooks Brothers outfits, there are men in skirts strolling along the pier in Santa Monica!

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Ok, maybe he was getting ready for St. Patrick’s Day.  Maybe the bagpipes were in the car trunk.  Maybe nobody but me really cared…

People were shouting from the ferris wheel.   The roller coaster was full.

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Last night they had the Oscars.   Tonight, it’s Whack-A-Mole.

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They don’t call this the “Left Coast” for nothing.  Fun is serious business here!  Think of the television and film industries…

California is bankrupt!  Everyone is still having a good time!  The show must go on!

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I looked around half expecting to see Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and his motorcyle zoom by.  Maybe he did!  Or maybe he’s still at the Oscar parties….

By 7 pm I was at my hotel room working away.  Good thing for California we serious East Coast types keep our briefcases handy at all times.   Somebody has to get something done around here!

But I’m already planning a return visit to the Santa Monica pier.  I wonder how late the ferris wheel runs?

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One Response to Coast to Coast

  1. Dear Pat,
    What a great entry ~ I truly appreciate the travel vicariously. California is special to me as I was born in S.F.
    Glad to know about your Spring Break.
    Also, I don’t know how I missed your Post profile, but I did listen to your NPR interview thru our website. Hurray for our history and tradition in social justice. I’m always so happy with my work at the college. So many students want more of my classes so I hope we will offer one in Leadership next Fall. Best, Annetta

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Patricia A. McGuire, President, Trinity, 125 Michigan Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20017
Phone: 202.884.9050   Email: