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This photo was taken at the Top of the Rock (Rockefeller Center) in the heart of New York City on a hazy, late March morning. I was on the observation deck 70 floors up when I snapped this view of Central Park, flanked on either side by rows and rows of city structures.

I love New York City. I’ve been there four times, with this last stay — a full week — being my longest visit.

I could never live there.

After about five days, I begin to get severely claustrophobic. I feel as though those tall buildings are about to grow arms, reach out and put their hands around my neck, suffocating me. I get very tired of seeing so many people everywhere all the time and, more specifically, people with cameras around their necks who are dawdling on the sidewalk when I am attempting to purposefully walk down the street. I get tired of all the artificial light — after a few days, the gigantic billboards give me a distinct type of headache. I begin to feel disconnected from reality.

After a few days in New York City — or any other metropolitan area, for that matter — I feel the urge to see open spaces (Central Park does not qualify). I long to see fields with crops in them. I need to see orchards and, particularly, vineyards. I need to get on a freeway and be able to travel at 70 mph minimum. 80 mph is better. I have no more patience with sitting in traffic while people honk their horns and shake their fists at each other as if that will change the fact that they are not going to reach their destinations for quite some time.

I yearn for fresh air, a soft breeze, the rhythm of a neighbor’s sprinklers . . . the sounds of kids riding their bikes or roller blading past my house, causing my dogs to run to the open door and let out a couple of protective barks, are absolute heaven after a week in a hotel room in a large city.

Growing up here in “Livable, Lovable Lodi,” I had one goal: To get out. I thought this was the end of the world, the point at which Christopher Columbus fell off the edge of a square planet, never to be heard from again. I could not imagine living the rest of my life in “the little village of Lodi,” as the late Paul Zimmerman used to refer to it in his weekly columns in the Lodi News-Sentinel.

So when it came time to pick a college, I looked for one that was far away . . . not so far that I could never return for visits, but definitely far enough that 1) my parents would not drop in unannounced; 2) short, weekend trips were out of the question; and 3) I would not run into people with whom I went to high school or junior college.

Off I went to Orange County in the fall of 1977. It was the age of disco. And who greeted me my first night away from home? A woman with whom I went to elementary school, high school and junior college who had already spent one year at that college.

I spoke to her on the telephone yesterday. Yes, she also lives here in Lodi. In fact, like me, she lives in the house in which she grew up. So we had a conversation while situated in the precise same locations from which we used to call each other in junior high, high school and junior college.

And we talked about how so many of us have ended up back in Lodi. We have a couple of mutual friends who have managed to hold out so far, but are now talking about it and looking for jobs in this area.

Why is that?

From my perspective, Lodi is a great place to live because it is rather like the porridge Goldilocks was searching for: Middle of the road. Not too big, not too small. At a population of somewhere around 80,000 folks, Lodi is big enough that when I go out, I see plenty of people I don’t know, but always bump into a couple that I recognize. It’s large enough that we now have four Starbucks, but we also have the locally owned and operated Java Stop and House of Coffees where regular customers don’t have to place an order — it’s ready for you when you reach the register because the staff knows you.

Lodi is situated approximately two hours away from San Francisco to the West, Napa to the northwest or Lake Tahoe to the northeast. Three hours, give or take, puts you in Reno or Yosemite National Park. Sacramento is 35 miles to the north. My destination of choice for a brief get-away, Pismo Beach, is a five-hour drive from here.

This is a city where bike lanes are prominent — and used regularly. Evenings find lots of folks out for walks with their dogs. Some of the older folks still pop open their garage doors and sit out on their driveways enjoying the Delta breezes and watching people bicycle, walk or skate by. Lodi is known for its many parks, including the one that surrounds Lodi Lake where you can swim and kayak in the summer.

Why did I, like so many of my childhood friends, end up back here? After a number of years spent living primarily in Orange and Los Angeles Counties, I realized that I craved the familiarity and slower pace of life in the northern end of the San Joaquin Valley.

In many ways, those of us who live here relate to the Country Mouse who yearned for the safety of the farm where his diet of barley and grain was boring, but reliable. Life as a City Mouse is more exciting and varied, to be sure, but the city is not home so it is a wonderful place for a visit, but not to reside permanently.

“If you’ll excuse me,” the Country Mouse said, “I think I will go home. I’d rather have barley and grain to eat and eat it in peace and comfort, than have brown sugar and dried prunes and cheese,–and be frightened to death all the time!”

So the little Country Mouse went back to his home, and there he stayed all the rest of his life.

The End

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