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One less pal here on cloud nine

You know what I hate? Sentiment of any sort. It’s so unproductive. If I am to wallow in anything, it’s to all the good things ahead.

But when my wife asks who I’d like to have over for Easter, I say “the Neils,” which is a little joke. Our good friends the Neils moved back to North Carolina a month

or so ago, probably never to be seen again. It was a major loss

for the Golden State, and the Neils’ departure after seven years still leaves me sad. No one leaves California; didn’t they read the rules?

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This place ain’t a pit stop. It’s a sun-kissed finish line. It’s the land of big ideas, epic dreams and a helluva place to start a studio or birth a sitcom.

No bargain, sure, but it’s the sort of stage where miracles happen. And how do you put a price on that? How do you ever leave?

Of course, it’s not exactly paradise. The weather is mild as baby’s breath most of the time, with occasional bursts of Old Testament. It’s as if God sends down the occasional thunderbolt, just to keep you guessing.

Drive up PCH at dusk, past the gauzy seas, but don’t get too comfortable. There are sharks in those waters, and even a few in the mountains (see studios, above). The whole thing might very well be a special effect.

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Dan and his wife, Tina, have left, that’s all I know for sure, headed back to North Carolina with their 2-year-old twin daughters, who used to flit around our backyard like hummingbirds on meth.

The Neils didn’t have family out this way, and neither did we. All orphans, we’d convene on Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day. City of Angels? No, City of Orphans.

The distance from family eventually caught up with them, so now they’re back in Raleigh. You could buy an entire hilltop there for what you’d pay for a three-bedroom ranch in Azusa. The governor’s manse probably cost less than my garage.

Now, Dan and Tina can raise those two beautiful daughters out of earshot of freeways, LAPD choppers and New Year’s Eve gunfire. They won’t have to worry about a SigAlert ever again, just hurricanes and in-laws.

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Fair trade? That depends on the hurricanes and in-laws.

“The movers say a lot of people are leaving California,” Tina says.

Hey, Tina, no one leaves California. Did the Joads move back to Oklahoma? Did John Wayne move back to Iowa? California has always been the American end point. Sell the snow shovel. Buy a blond.

Thing is, you never know how California might wend its way into your heart. We came to California 20 years ago with the intention of doing just as the Neils had, staying a while and moving on. Los Angeles was no place to raise a family — who could afford a house? We were going to plump up our resumes and move on.

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But two years turn into five and pretty soon you’re approaching 10. No one wants to move when the kids are in high school, so 10 turns into 20.

So, now we’re probably here for life. We miss the folks from back east, but California has paid us off with friends like you would not believe, the kind of friends you brag about.

California is also a living postcard, no revelation that. It’s skiing the cornice at Mammoth or chucking rocks at Moonstone Beach.

It’s long summer days near Newport and frosted winter hikes in Tahoe.

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Sometimes, it is like living on a cloud. On most days, you couldn’t get me indoors with a gun.

Then there is just the oddball whimsy of the place. Seriously, there’s a helicopter reporter for one of the local stations named Amelia Earhart. Only in Nebraska should you hire a helicopter reporter with a tendency to get lost at sea.

That’s not even the best of it. Our governor is a cyborg. Our weather girls are centerfolds.

Our mayor might be a Happy Meal toy.

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In blessed California, nothing happens the usual way. The grass turns brown in May, then green in November. Our backyard shrubbery seems made of razor wire. You can cut it, but only with a blow torch.

As if that’s not enough, the hot dogs here are terrible-awful; the pizza even worse.

Yet, amid this tomfoolery, we’ll stay a while longer — 20 or 30 years max. Bad schools and budget deficits be damned, California is a comedy-drama that still offers more than it demands — even if the gap between what it offers and what it takes is closing.

Meanwhile, to deaden the loss, we’ll keep in touch with the Neils, and try to work out a visit some summer.

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Catching up recently on the phone, I tell Dan whom I’d like to have over for Easter.

“The Neils,” I say.

“Lincoln and Shakespeare would also be good,” he says.

Trust me, they’ve moved on too.

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chris.erskine@latimes.com


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