A boomer is a tourist in her own home town

BoomerCafé contributor Erin O’Brien is moving. Why? A fairly typical boomer story: her husband is retiring. They’re moving cross-country but for the time being, living in limbo. She has become a tourist in her old home town, and soon will be the same in her new one.

I’m in limbo, that in-between place, in-between the old house and the new house, otherwise known as escrow. It’s my long, last look, and my farewell to my hometown of Redondo Beach, California, a city abutting the blue Pacific where it’s common to see someone crossing the street with a surfboard or a fishing pole.

Erin O'Brien with her husband sailing off the coast of Redondo Beach, CA.

Erin O’Brien with her husband Chris sailing off the coast of Redondo Beach, CA.

My last hurrah is a room with a view: an apartment by the ocean, in walking distance to the boardwalk, fish market and pier where I spent countless summers. Now I’m a tourist in my own hometown.

The changing landscape in the window frame is captivating. Today a sunburned family with British accents is poolside at the hotel next door, as the father fumbles with a fold-out map in the breeze. The wind makes the palm fronds dance lightly, but makes for difficult map reading.


I wonder, what would I notice if I was seeing this place for the first time?

Beyond the seawall, the lifeguard boat creates a small wake as it returns to the marina, passing oncoming kayakers and paddle boarders, divers in their rubber Zodiac boat, a majestic yacht flying an American flag. A small school of sailing students, in tiny identical sailboats, drifts by while a crew team rows in perfect synchronization. In the distance a container ship cruises on the horizon. Today the scene is serene, but sometimes it’s riveting.

On the boardwalk at Redondo Beach.

On the boardwalk at Redondo Beach.

My favorite image is of the early morning moon, suspended in the still dark sky, illuminating a slender strip of the ocean. A lone fishing boat passing under the moonlight. I watched from the window as the sky turned from indigo to periwinkle, to the faintest, softest blue, as the bright moon rose higher.

Seals and sea lions sunbathe on their barge. A curious kayaker slowly approaches. Sometimes the seals slide off for a swim, popping up unexpectedly, far from where they were last seen. One sits like a statue on a round buoy, until it is dethroned by a fellow seal. At night they howl and bark, as if competing with the screeching, chattering gulls.

A paddle boarder floats by effortlessly, his canine first mate at his feet. Fishermen, still as statues, stand silhouetted on the rocks. The silence is shattered with the roar of the coast guard helicopter during a maritime drill. From my front-row seat of our window I watch the bright orange helicopter, trailed by the coast guard boat below, hovering over the ocean just outside the breakwater. The ocean ripples in a circle below the blades.

In a James Bond moment, a grey response boat and the harbor patrol boat maneuver beside one another. Uniformed men in helmets and body armor, weapons drawn (but presumably empty), board the coast guard vessel. Onboard, a woman in blue stands and observes. Is she their superior officer (or a diamond thief being arrested by her lover, who’s actually a secret agent)?


I’m soaking up the scenery: seagulls floating above me on a current, comical-looking pelicans skimming the water or dive-bombing for fish, herons sailing overhead with their long legs trailing behind them. Seals perch on buoys and lazily lounge on their wooden barge. I take in the morning fog and pastel sunsets, and on a clear day, there’s Catalina Island, “26 miles across the sea.”

These are are the sounds I’ve committed to memory: the clanging bell of the buoy, the roar of the coast guard helicopter overhead, seals yelping, the cries of the seabirds.

Last night my husband and I walked on the pier, where we went on our first date, and along the seawall where our wedding pictures were taken, many summers ago. A sunset wedding ceremony had just ended, as the lady and her maids teetered off to the hotel.


The ocean stretches far beyond our apartment window. When I was young I marveled as the tide came in and washed over my sandy feet, that I lived right on the very edge of the U.S. map in my geography book. I was infatuated with the seagulls, and if I was lucky, sometimes I was treated to three or four dolphins riding the waves.

Soon I’ll be on the other edge of the U.S. map, and the other ocean. The sun will rise where it has always set for me, over the water.

I’ll drink “coffee milk” or have a bowl of “chowdah” when it’s “wicked cold” outside in Rhode Island. I’ll become a tourist in my new town, too.


  1. Erin, I don’t want to rain on your parade (and I enjoy your writing on here) but I give you a year before you move back. There’s a reason the truck drivers refer to the East Coast as the “dirty side.” I’ve been back to Pennsylvania to visit (from Utah) but I’d never consider moving back home.

    1. Denver,
      A common response to “We’re moving to Rhode Island,” is “Why?”

      I’m third generation Los Angeles born, and didn’t go out of state for college. Culture shock awaits! I’ll keep you posted…!

    2. New England is not dirty like PA. Especially not the coast. The weather, however, is very different. Perhaps, like me, the writer will end up at a happy middle- Virginia.

  2. I would miss all that. We’re considering California for retirement, as the kids are all over the place.

    Can’t wait to get away from peaceful suburban NJ – and my wonderful perennial garden I can no longer maintain by myself. There has been a hummingbird at the feeder, and the black-eyed Susans are out in masses, while the crepe myrtle is still in bloom.

    I’ll miss it – but I no longer spend much time outside. I need a place where it’s not cold in the winter.

  3. Alicia,
    I can relate–I miss my English garden already!
    Perhaps the Redondo Beach Chamber of Commerce would hire me…I can certainly recommend it.

  4. Thanks Erin for a wonderfully written piece. It was very evocative. Best of luck with the move East. As someone who grew up in the Midwest, I advise dressing in layers when the weather gets cold, and put your best gear on your head, hands and feet.
    Then being in a Nor’easter can be a thrilling experience.

  5. Bitter Sweet life change I’m sure!! We never forget where we came from, our home town. It will always be in your heart, a part of you! I hope the journey brings you joy!! When you get there and settled we would like one your mailing address please!! Safe travels friend!

  6. Beautifully written, Erin. Hard to leave all you know and love, with the hopes of new dreams and adventures that await you. Best wishes to you and Chris.
    Love, Steve, Michelle, and Evan

  7. Ross,
    Thank you for the cold weather wardrobe tips. A winter storm sounds better than an earthquake, but I suppose you should check back with me in a few months!

  8. Love your blog…well written, great photos. You are adventurous ones who will find new beauty, new friends, and a new life. Good luck.
    Chloe Eichenlaub

  9. Having lived many years in Redondo Beach, I can vouch for those gorgeous photos and vivid descriptions. Sure, it’s a nice place. But what an adventure to pick up and move to a place so different. In some ways, you are like many native Californians. I have MANY friends who have left CA. The reasons were many — job, family, housing, escaping the crazy traffic (yes, that’s true). It makes me sad because I miss them all. But I understand the motivation and the excitement of doing something new. I’m sure you’ve done your homework, and I wish you and your husband all the best. I look forward to reading about your adventures from a faraway land!

  10. Goodbye dear friend Erin! I wish you adventures galore, happiness, the beauty of seasons, winter, spring and fall and the joy of the newness, experiences of wonder, and new friends and places to love and enjoy! Come back soon for tea and talk and to renew memories new and old! ? Joan

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