West Coastlines and Christmas Carols

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SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA (December 2016) – I remember the text message I received from my supervisor asking me to meet him for lunch one day in October. This couldn’t be good, I thought. Any time this happens, I’m usually bribed by my favorite sushi into a heavier work load. However, much to my surprise, as I was unsuccessfully attempting to stuff an Ahi Tower into my mouth with chopsticks at The Blue Fish, my supervisor explained that our employer was flying us to Los Angeles to attend our company’s Christmas party at the laboratory we work for located in Monrovia, CA.

Disbelief. Excitement. Skepticism. Panic. Awe.

I was granted an opportunity to travel, which I have always dreamed of since I was a young girl, and no amount of fear was going to stop me from an all-inclusive trip to The Golden State. At this moment, I decided to seize my 30’s as the decade of travel, chasing adventures and trying things I’ve never had the opportunity to experience.

Friday, Dec. 9, rolled around before I knew it. Bags were packed and my supervisor and I were boarding a plane headed to California for my first time as a 30-year-old. When we landed, we caught a bus to pick up our rental car. I remember staring out the large windows at several palm trees, foreign to a North Texan, and then gazing at everyone on the bus. Different races–Hispanic, Black, Asian–different languages, and a couple of hipsters arguing over a book series they were reading. We picked up our rental Tahoe and headed to lunch at Hermosa Beach. My supervisor examined me closely as he noticed my excitement building, but he didn’t know why.

I had never seen the ocean before.

We were both famished, but I persuaded him to walk out onto the pier to view the Pacific before grabbing a bite to eat. My eyes bulged and my heart raced as I caught my first glimpse of that massive, blue sea through the restaurants on the coast. My pace quickened. I’ll admit, I was excited as a child receiving a puppy on Christmas. My supervisor probably thought I was crazy. After all, he’s made this trip and viewed this ocean multiple times. He continued casually strolling along the worn down, cement pier as I couldn’t refrain from yakking about the smell of the salty breeze and the sting ray swimming in the clear, shallow water below us with the beautiful hills forming the backdrop.

The sun hid from me, so I wasn’t blinded. It was love at first sight.

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We dined at American Junkie and I drank my first Bloody Mary. After my initial sip, I learned I’m not a fan of Bloody Mary’s. I also met surf hero and legendary lifeguard, Tim Kelly, in statue form, obviously.

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My supervisor and I checked into each of our hotel rooms. I let the door slam behind me as I fell backward onto my bed gazing out the window at more palm trees as I soaked in my first experience visiting the Pacific coast. And then? Well, homesickness set in–hitting like a ton of bricks. The excitement had faded and I had become uneasy. Why? Looking back, I realized it was because I had felt I could make a life near the coast a reality. Maybe not at the time, but potentially in my future. It was exciting, but a little frightening. I decided to speak to a close friend back home and was reassured that I was going to enjoy myself and my time in Cali and guess what? After that, I embraced my trip and created more incredible memories.


I’ve been working my occupation as a laboratory service assistant (a.k.a. Toxicology Collector) for nearly six years, but I have been employed by this laboratory for three years. I’m stationed out of a clinic in Irving, TX, while my employer and the majority of its employees reside and work in Monrovia, CA, so I had never met any of my coworkers from the lab. I had only communicated with them via phone, email or fax. Within the next hour, this would change.

I toured my laboratory with the CEO of my company and finally placed a face to each coworker I had electronically communicated with for the past three years. We ate and drank outside our building celebrating the holidays in 62-degree weather, mid-December, dressed in our ugly Christmas sweaters singing along to Christmas carols. I table hopped the entire evening getting to know (and hugging) everyone I had only recognized through business emails. They were all wonderful.

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Later that night, a handful of medical reps and my supervisor allured me to a lounge located in the heart of downtown Monrovia–Sean on Myrtle. I don’t know if there’s a better way to get to know a bunch of strangers than sitting around a table drinking. They were a lively and laughable group. The most rewarding part of my evening? Watching my supervisor, dressed as an elf, chase a Ford Focus, who he believed to be our Uber driver, down the street while spewing expletives. Regrettably, I wasn’t quick enough to capture this on camera. But the memory remains clearly intact.

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The following day, everyone employed by our laboratory (and spouses) road-tripped from Monrovia to Santa Barbara. This is where I cringed witnessing the madness of L.A. traffic extending into the outskirts of the city–on a Saturday, people. As many times as my supervisor had visited the area, we still got lost, accessed a plethora of detours, but finally arrived at our new hotel on the coast of Santa Barbara. After checking in, we boarded buses to make an hour drive to Foley Estates Vineyard, where I experienced my first, official California winery tour and tasting. Sidenote–If I could live on a hill overlooking a vineyard, I would die a happy woman.

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Honestly, I couldn’t tell you which wines I enjoyed best. After about my third glass, both the red and white tasted similar. I account this to my buzz or the fact that I had been glaring at the delectable-looking dessert table from the moment I stepped foot into the winery.

Next came the moment I realized, or so I thought, was my purpose for visiting California. Out of all the staff who are stationed across the nation working the job I do, I was the first hired on by our company. Like I mentioned earlier, I already had three years prior experience so I’m a bit of an expert. *puffs out chest* Ahem. Actually, it’s an extremely humbling job, which I’ll leave for another story, in another blog post, for the future. I hadn’t realized my employers planned an award ceremony. To say the least, I was blindsided when they announced me as “Collector of the Year” after my boss gave a speech about my exceptional performance and contribution to the company. After six years of hard work, it paid off. It’s hard to put into words what I felt, so I’ll leave it at proud.

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Remember when I mentioned I figured my purpose for this trip was to collect an award? Well, maybe that was my employer’s purpose, but I’ve discovered my reason for visiting So-Cal that weekend was for my path to cross a stranger’s. Technically, two. Before our trip to the vineyard, one of my employers introduced me to a fellow employee who not only has worked my job the same amount of time, but is a writer and is also attending school. She’s my age. She’s driven, passionate, intelligent, into vintage record players and typewriters like yours truly and has a heart of gold. Introverted – check. Enjoys watching The Walking Dead – check. Cannot survive without music – check. OK, you’re just going to have to take my word for it, but the list goes on. I had never met someone with such a similar soul. The only difference is that I’m based out of Dallas while she’s in Las Vegas. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. I also met her supervisor, who I became close to as well. My two gems from Nevada. Over three months later and we’re still communicating on a daily to weekly basis.

Here’s us attending our company’s formal dinner that evening at The Lark in Santa Barbara.

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It’s miraculous how two strangers can become two of your closest friends in less than 24 hours. But they did. And I truly hope it’s a friendship that will last the rest of our lives.

Things got a little rowdy after dinner, being our last night in California before everyone would fly home or travel back to Monrovia. Apparently, what happens after 10 p.m. in Santa Barbara stays in Santa Barbara…


Sunday morning arrived before we knew it and our hotel’s breakfast offered the tastiest French toast I had ever eaten. (This is typically where I would insert my photograph of food, but that meal was in my stomach before I could reach for my phone.) I wished safe travels to my new friends. Then, my supervisor, who had promised to drive us back to Monrovia via the famous Pacific Coast Highway, and I put on our shades and experienced some of the most spectacular views of the Pacific.

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And it was exhilarating to acquire momentary celebrity-status while stopping in the cities of Malibu and Santa Monica. My souvenir shopping occurred at the end of Route 66 on the fun-filled Santa Monica Pier.

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I was honored to be invited to my boss’s house after returning to Monrovia where I was introduced to his family and offered dinner. Hashtag respect. My supervisor and I caught our plane shortly thereafter, returning to DFW.

There’s a bit of magic that swirls in the pit of my stomach when I think about California now. The traffic is constant, the cities are overcrowded and the cost of living is overpriced, but the views? Priceless. The atmosphere is energetic. Fun is found right around the corner. An expensive lifestyle, but one I was blessed to experience for three days. A trip and new friendships I will carry with me the rest of my life.

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-JL Smith

Photography credits: JL Smith and Fred Talactac at FitDesign

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