California Dreamin’

My parents owned a string of Westfalia campers throughout my childhood, so when it came time to buy my first vehicle there was no question what it would be. Barely out of my teens I laid down cash for a 1975 VW and sputtered off on my first adventure. The classic VW van has a lot of heartwarming symbology in our culture. For 50 years it’s been closely tied with freedom, independence and adventure—and for good reason: it can give you all three (for the low price of an occasional roadside repair). The inside of a VW camper is efficient but not roomy. To me, it’s the perfect size because the first thing you want to do when you wake up in the morning is go outside, which is what camping is all about anyway, right?

During my college years in the Lower Mainland of BC, my friends and I would make outrageous plans for spring break trips in the VW. We only had a week off, but that didn’t stop us from cooking up wild ideas of surfing in Malibu or following Jack Kerouac’s trail over the Bigsby Canyon Bridge. Rarely did we get south of Westport, Washington, but the dreams were real. In the depths of the damp and grey Vancouver winter we’d sit around in coffee shops or dim basement suites and feed each other lies about what it would be to roll the sunny coastal highways of California—to feel warm wind and sunshine and smell the palm oil and hear the waves crashing on the beach.

We knew it wasn’t really going to happen. We were all poor students with loans and nothing much left after books and food, but we needed the feeling of having something to look forward to, even if all we could manage in the end was a damp weekend in Ukluelet. The point wasn’t to actually go, the point was to imagine the feeling and potential freedom of a simple, unencumbered experience that would give us the tenacity to hold on until the break. We took to calling it a California Moment—quickly shortened to CaliMo. Just when one of us was running out of steam in our schoolwork, a friend would pop by and remind us of our CaliMo to be.

Over time, a CaliMo became a symbol for anything that took us to that summery place—it could be a bike ride, whizzing down the road on a skateboard, warm wind through a car window, or just sitting on the back porch with a cold beer in hand. We’d turn our head to a pal, nod knowingly and mutter ‘CaliMo’ to each other. Those moments became like round, colourful pebbles picked up at important times, stored for future consumption. To have a CaliMo was to capture a fleeting glimpse into a simpler time—a parallel dimension where all that exists is the road, the smell of salty air, and a van full of friends.

This spring, as I peel the winter cover off of Truman, our trusty VW van, I still get excited in the same way I did back in college. There’s a ritual here: check the oil, adjust the valves, pump the gas and turn the key—the sound of the engine revving for the first time carries with it all those memory pebbles. As I turn out of the lane I can’t help thinking: what would happen if I just kept driving?

When I sit behind the wheel of Truman the bus it reminds me of simplicity and allows me to see the things I need to do to bring balance back into my life. This summer may not afford us the chance to actually go to California, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have a CaliMo or two. You see, as corny as it sounds, a CaliMo is about finding simple joy in the freedom of summer, the company of friends, and the hope of finding some warm sun near a cold lake. There are still a lot of question marks about the upcoming summer, but I love that we can count on the beauty of our area to provide us with some of these pleasures. Get out there—safely—and as the weather and the vaccines allow us to do some normal things again, may your summer be full of CaliMos.

Our lives right now are complicated: teenagers and summer jobs and mortgages and computers—all theoretically there to improve our lifestyles. All good things, but all complex. Add in COVID and closed borders and work and it starts to feel overwhelming.

Follow Truman’s summer adventures on Instagram