On Leaving California

Damon Runyon

Wilkes-Barre Evening News/February 19, 1926

Of course it had to be one of those sun-splashed days as the Southern Pacific train rolled out of Los Angeles, just to increase the poignancy of one’s regret over leaving California.

If it had been raining, or dark and cloudy, or a little raw around the edges, it wouldn’t have been so bad. But the old sunshine was knee-deep even under the train shed, and Signor Luigi Montagni, rather better known as Mr. Bull Montana, who was a member of the committee on departure, was wearing a light seer-sucker suit, without a vest, and was mumbling something about it being a trifle warm.

So one might readily be excused for shedding a weeny-teeny sigh as the varnished caravan steamed away with the gun’l’s awash with sunshine, and with the soft breezes whispering the languorous language of the Springtime to the nodding orange trees.

Heigh-ho! What a day to be leaving California.

They are playing golf back there on a score of green courses, and the club house verandas are bright with the coloring of summery gowns of the girls.

They are playing baseball back there on a score of diamonds, and the shouts of the umpires carry far on the gentle warm winds that come down from the snowy mountains that ride the horizon off yonder, or up from the blue waters of Santa Monica, where all day long wise-looking old pelicans squat on the piers waiting for some friendly soul to toss them a fish.

They’re pitching horseshoes and playing dominoes in the shade of the trees at Long Beach. They are walking the street of Los Angeles with their coats thrown back, and their hats in their hands, while the sunshine sprays their hair.

They are sitting on the benches in the little park opposite the Biltmore, mid the palm trees, inhaling the gracious ozone that rests the tired nerves.

And down at Tia Juana the horses are running, and as the drum of their hoofs dies away in the rolling green hills, the lights flare up in the Casino, the music rises soft and soothing, and the high falsetto voice of Willie “Kid” Nelson once more shrills over the room:

“Kiss Me Once Again,

And ho—O—O—ld Me—

Mexicali Rose, good—by-y—y!”

What a day to be leaving California!

I am in the main free from envy, and I begrudge few men their lot. However, I cannot resist envying those Californians. Life is a mighty pleasant proposition to them out there. They live in the playground of the world, and they enjoy a democracy of sport that exists nowhere else in the world.

There is no caste in sport there. Other sections of the country have the same sport, or most of it, that you find in California, but not in every section is the sport democratic. The big football games of the East, just as an instance, are mainly designed for a special clientele; the polo games, the big boat races, and the golf and tennis tournaments are class affairs, so to speak.

In California, all sports events seem to belong to the general public. Everybody goes to them, and talks about them with an air of proprietorship and personal interest. And nearly everybody in California seems to take part in some form of sport.

Moreover, the Californians have most of their sport the year ’round. They can golf every day. There is a baseball January, and they have stadiums out here that put the game in easy reach of the general public, which therefore knows a lot more about football than the general public of the East.

They have horse racing, auto racing, dog racing, swimming, boating. They have boxing in the finest arenas in the land. There is not a single day passes in California, especially in the vicinity of Los Angeles, that there isn’t something going on worth seeing, and to which the public isn’t welcome.

They are playing ice hockey in Los Angeles right now in enclosed rinks just as they are in New York. When the Winter is in the hills, it is only a short ride to skiing, and sledding and other winter pastimes, if you care for that sort of thing.

The snow-capped hills stalk right down to the edge of the blue water out Santa Monica way, and you motor over roads as smooth as glass with them at your elbow, through a warm shining land that makes you feel that this must have been the very garden that old Adam was foolish enough to get chased out of.

The chances are he had to quit Eden on just such a day as I left California. I know exactly how he felt.

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