Great Western Cities ‘On-the-Air’ tour: Long Beach, California

The fifth in this series.

Home to the permanently docked RMS Queen Mary and the Long Beach Grand Prix in April, Long Beach, California in Orange County, sits to the south of Los Angeles in Los Angeles County.

320px-Los_Angeles_Basin_JPLLandsat[1]So, why profile Long Beach for this “Great Western Cities ‘On-the-Air’ tour” series and not the bigger and more famous and more air-pollution infamous Los Angeles? Well, I don’t think I’ve ever spent 24 solid hours in L.A., the major southern California metropolis that it is. Close – I’ve spent nearly that much time there but it wasn’t quite 24 hours, which, happens to be the criteria I selected for being included in this series. But, this wasn’t the only reason why I picked the Orange County community.

From 1987 to 1988, I resided in both Long Beach and its neighbor Seal Beach. I landed a part-time teaching position at the university – California State University, Long Beach as an adjunct instructor in the Engineering and Industrial Technology Department. I must admit, it was hands down the best teaching assignment I’ve ever had, even if only lasting a year. I taught classes in Direct Current principles and practices (laboratory experience), Alternating Current principles and practices and Digital principles and practices. I would be totally remiss if I failed to mention I had, by far, the best students of all academic teaching assignments I have ever had. So, you see, how could I have a “Great Western Cities ‘On-the-air’ tour” entry (post) and not include Long Beach? It’d be like having cereal without milk, bread minus the butter or sans icing on a cake.

For those of you familiar, you are already aware Long Beach has a harbor; a huge harbor – part of the sprawling Port of Long Beach and Port of Los Angeles ports complex. The area has plenty of industry – much of it heavy, freight rail traffic, lots of freeways and a section of the famed Pacific Coast Highway otherwise known as PCH or California Highway 1, Long Beach Airport, and an alternative to vehicle travel in the form of a light rail line (the Blue Line) which terminates there, it opening its doors to the public in 1990. And, as I already mentioned, there is the university, Signal Hill replete with oil derricks, and unfortunately, smog. With the traffic, port-related activity and an oil refinery located nearby, it is completely understandable.

Working at Cal State Long Beach and living partly in the South Land community and partly in Fresno in California’s San Joaquin Valley and commuting between the two week in and week out, the four-and-a-half-hour to five-hour drive to and from was laborious. If I did not time it just right, it was traffic city. The 405 freeway was a virtual parking lot, from the 405/101 interchange all the way to right about where the airport in Long Beach was located. That four-and-a-half to five-hour trip when freeways weren’t jammed packed with traffic could easily turn into a six-to-seven-hour commute when it was. Remember, this was in the late ‘80s. I can’t imagine it being much different today.

To get away from the “hustle and bustle” of city life, I once boarded a ferryboat to Santa Catalina Island; about a 25-mile trip west off the mainland. When I arrived there, you could tell the atmosphere was way more relaxed and there wasn’t the smog I had grown used to onshore. Another day trip took me to Cajon Pass situated between San Bernardino and Victorville, probably about a 50-mile trip on Interstate 15/215. The time that I went, the region was enveloped in smog until ascending the pass where the polluted skies opened up to clear ones which made for a welcome sight. It was like a breath of fresh air. What am I talking about?! It was a breath of fresh air – in fact, many breaths! What does one do in Cajon Pass? Watch trains, of course! Those who know the area know exactly what I’m talking about. These side trips made for nice breaks from what would otherwise be considered routine.

Oh, and one more point regarding one of the approximately 250-mile drives I made in traveling between the Central Valley and South Coast regions: Snow on the Grapevine (Interstate 5) forced a lengthy detour once: I took Highway 41 and 41/46 between Fresno and Paso Robles (El Paso De Robles, to be more precise), four-wheeling it down Highway 101 where it connected with the 405 and on into Long Beach that way. Yes, it was out of the way and took an extra two hours. Even though I made it to one of my classes late, a fellow employee and good friend was there to administer the test I had prepared ahead of time.

This 828-word narrative, if not exactly the “long and short” of Long Beach air and the Great Western City of 462,257 people strong (as of 2010) this city is, it’s close.

Image above: NASA

– Alan Kandel