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City Smart / How to thrive in the urban environment of Southern California. : MY PLACE : With This Pier, There’s No Pressure

TIMES STAFF WRITER

As a kid in rural Ohio, where the winters were long and cold and tipping cows was big sport, I had lots of time to daydream about California.

I used to while away the long hours in study hall with fantasies that ran heavily toward surf and sun--an endless summer where the girls were lithe and tan and blond, and some of them actually deigned to speak to me.

Once, a visitor from Los Angeles who actually had to spend time in Dayton--owing of course to some regrettable family connection--arrived in midwinter to fuel the fantasy even further. It was as if he was cosmopolitan royalty, and we children of the farms his awed subjects. Why, it was the middle of February, and he was tanned. That, he said, was because he was a surfer. He produced a picture of his girlfriend--a blonde.

These days, as I mosey about and around the Manhattan Beach Pier, the fantasy actually seems quite real.

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We live a mile from the pier, so we’re there a lot. My wife and I stroll there regularly with our 19-month-old daughter or the dog--or, when we’re feeling really energetic, both. After three years of hanging out at the pier, it amazes me still that regular people live here.

The reason it amazes me so is that the scene at the pier is truly something to behold. If only my cronies from high school could see it:

There’s surf. Big surf. In the winter, the waves are often huge, the gray-green water foaming and swirling and churning with riveting power. The waves break just south of the pier, driving the surfers toward the struts jutting out of the water. It takes real skill to drop into the wave, then know when to slide off to avoid being tossed headfirst into the concrete struts. I’ve learned how to surf since arriving in California, but I confess that I am simply not good enough to negotiate those waves. Nevertheless, it’s a thrill to watch the derring-do of those who do what I dare not--at least yet.

Of course, there’s sun. But, I concede, it’s really sunny only in the summer, when each weekend brings a different beach volleyball tournament. When the professionals come to town, the pier takes on the funky atmosphere of a small-town carnival.

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Truthfully, though, I prefer the local tournament later in the summer, the one that features teams of six on each side--many dressed in costume. It’s as if Gidget Goes Bourbon Street. As for the girls--well, if you’d like, I’d be glad to show off the pictures of my wife and my daughter taken at the pier.

Did I mention that they are both blond?


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