Neighborhood Voices: My long-distance affair with LA | Neighborhood Voices

I may not live in Los Angeles but I’ve been in love with LA since my mother first took me over the Grapevine south on old Highway 99 to shop for a prom dress at downtown Bullock’s. Lunch was always a toss-up. Which one? Clifton’s Cafeteria Redwood or Clifton’s Pacific Seas with waterfalls and real rainstorms.

Yes, I live in Bakersfield but helped the 20,000 miles I drive each year are in and around Los Angeles: season tickets to the Pantages Theater musicals, taking adult grandchildren to operas at the Dorothy Chandler, younger grandchildren to sample escargots at Monsieur Marcel in Farmer’s Market, shopping for doll clothes at the American Girl Grove and just gawking at the Disney Concert Hall. In fact, my car glove box has a copy of “Pocket Guide to Los Angeles Architecture” that is dog-eared and should be replaced.

My husband of 32 years died after a battle with cancer, leaving me and my daughter with a local real estate office. “Hanging on by our fingernails” is the way we felt during that first year while learning to keep a small business afloat. During that time, my mom urged me to drive down for a few days of R & R. She was a world traveler, living in an El Segundo condo, chosen because it had a balcony view of LAX and she loved hearing those planes coming and going — yes, that’s true!

It was a clear spring day as I entered the I-5 on-ramp heading south out of Bakersfield. With a crisp view of the Tehachapi Mountains starting to turn green, a few patches of orange poppies dotting the foothills, the vast fields and orchards of Kern County stretching eastward and westward, heading up the Grapevine, a sigh of relaxation overcame me and I felt some of that inconsolable grief lift from my heart as I anticipated a weekend of pampering by Mom.

This became my routine over the next few years: driving to LA, attending business conferences and real estate training classes around LAX. My daughter, who had been single for several years, gave me tips on how to “work a room” and start a conversation with people I did not know — especially challenging for this 53-year-old widow/housewife/mother who had never had a job except during high school at our local department store, Brock’s. I took a Dale Carnegie course, pushing myself to overcome painful shyness tagging along behind my outgoing daughter. Her magnetic personality attracted and mesmerized those with whom she came in contact and I basked in the overflow, starting to relax and have fun. Driving home, after those motivating meetings, she would make notes and refine our business plan.

During those years of single life, online dating sites were getting popular but not something I would have considered for myself. I was meeting lots of new, interesting people just by being “out there,” taking every opportunity, here, at home, and in LA to get involved, being open and friendly, not afraid to talk to people, using skills I’d learned through my Dale Carnegie course and by watching my daughter in action. As a result I enjoyed a few casual/dating friendships, some longer lasting than others, with men I’d met while out and about in the vast southern California dating arena. I had several visitors anxious to check out the charms of Bakersfield. Really, we were burning up the pavement on the I-5!

One day, after an especially intense training class, driving home down the Grapevine, my daughter said, “Mom, let’s change the subject. I think it’s time for you to write down the character qualities you would like in a husband.” She started writing, handed the list to me, saying, “Carry it with you.”

After searching the nooks and crannies, kissing a lot of princes and frogs and surviving a few LA affairs, I would like to tell you that I met the love of my life in LA. Alas, it was not to be. My son found him right here in Bakersfield on a golf course and introduced us at a dinner party he had arranged.

What is one to do? Your daughter helps you make a list and your son picks him out!

After our first date, I found almost every quality on my list. But would he be able to pass one more test? He had never been to a ballet, so I invited him to take me to the Dorothy Chandler to see American Ballet Theatre’s “Don Quixote,” followed by dinner at The Water Grille. He fell in love with LA while falling in love with me. I had found my prince.

Merrily, this widow continues to burn up the pavement on the I-5 as her Love Affair with LA endures.

Nada Nuanez Byrum is an 86-year-old retired Bakersfield real estate broker.

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