The Surreal Journey
As I rode the Metro Local Line 270 bus from Norwalk into Santa Fe Springs and then into much more familiar territory, I felt a confusing combination of emotions: nostalgia, dread and excitement. I lived in this place for four years as a student at Whittier College, and it was some of the funnest, most formative years of my life. The last time I visited Whittier was four-and-a-half years ago, so I really wanted to see it again. Yet, I also feared that I might get sad seeing the place in person, especially since my current summer experience in L.A. is nearing its end.
When I disembarked near the intersection of Painter & Philadelphia, I started walking around the perimeter of the school, and I realized that it actually did not feel strange to be there. I felt comforted because I was home - not where I currently live, but a place where a thousand very fond memories always will reside within me. I started remembering what it was like to be 20 years old, on my own for the first time, excited, determined and unafraid to take on the whole world; at my core, that is who I still am today, and it is nice to be reminded of that.
Where Is Whittier?
When I tell people that I used to live in Whittier, California and attended Whittier College, some people are not sure where it is, especially L.A. locals, surprisingly. The moment of recognition usually comes after they ask, "Isn't that where Richard Nixon went to school?" I reply that, yes, this is where our 37th U.S. President attended college. A friendly small town at heart, Whittier is located 12 miles from the huge city of Los Angeles. The town (and the college) was founded by a group of Quakers and named after poet John Greenleaf Whittier. Although Whittier is not known as a top-of-mind tourist attraction in L.A.., it is a neat place to visit, and it was a great place to live during college.
Walking Around Familiar Territory
During my current afternoon visit to Whittier, I had lunch at the California Grill, where I used to dine with family when they came to see me during college. Next, I walked a few blocks to Uptown Whittier, which is the "main street" center of the town. There are a couple banks and two well-known coffee chains along Greenleaf Ave, but mostly the road has a number of local restaurants and shops. Even while I was in college, some of the smaller shops would close after a few months or year, and others would take their place.
During my current visit, I was glad to see that a number of my favorite spots were still there. After lunch, I went to Mimo's, a coffeeshop/restaurant where some of my classes used to meet during college (which was always a fantastic idea). I got a cappuccino fudge shake and relaxed on the outside patio while reading a book and listening to the jazz music playing over the speakers. After my mandatory Mimo's break, I continued walking along Greenleaf Ave, where I saw the Golden Triangle (great Thai food), the Whittier Village Cinema (where I used to go to the movies with friends) and Rocky Cola Cafe (1950s diner), among other memorable favorites of mine. The more that I saw the town, I realized that, yes, Whittier is still here. Although a few things had changed, it mostly looked exactly as I remembered, which was comforting to see so much familiarity after all of the traveling to new places that I've done in the past couple months.
See You Next Time, Not Goodbye
I hate goodbyes, including saying farewell to places. At the moment of departure, I feel my chest tighten, and I worry that I will never visit there again. This time, I felt calm and at peace. I have no idea when I will visit Whittier the next time. A couple years? A couple decades? (Hopefully not the latter.) Regardless, after today, I now know that I will be fine and that I can always come back to visit my honorary "home town" in California.