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Letters Home : Some Prominent Californians in Self-Exile Drop Us a Line From the Big Apple

December 29, 1985|MICHELE WILLENS | Michele Willens is a New York-based writer whose heart remains in her native California.

They are Californians at heart but trying to get themselves into a New York state of mind. They moved East for a variety of reasons, some professional, some personal. Overall, they are absorbing what the Big Apple offers. But that may be easier to do under the assumption, which several of them share, that California is the place to which they'll return.

Like other locals-turned-New Yorkers, they try hard to maintain ties to the West Coast. Some get back as often as possible for a needed blast of sun, space, quiet, and renewed relationships with family and friends.

Herewith, letters home to Los Angeles from a handful of well-known expatriates who are trying life on the other side of the country.

Kathleen Brown

The daughter of Edmund G. (Pat) Brown and the sister of Jerry Brown, Kathleen Brown became a public figure in her own right when she was elected to the Los Angeles school board. But her life has changed in the past five years, since moving East with her husband, CBS News President Van Gordon Sauter. She moved from a massive house in Hancock Park to an apartment (albeit a large one) on Park Avenue, settled her children in school and completed law school. She has just started work at the New York office of O'Melveny & Myers, a Los Angeles law firm.

"Dear Los Angeles:

"I saw much of the initial adjustment through my children's eyes. They were immediately forced to interact with grown-ups. It's part of living on the 12th floor and being dependent on an elevator and a doorman. My children had to be reintroduced to civilized behavior, since they had spent most of their time in California hanging out of trees.

"I started missing California my first April away, when the weather in New York turned nice. We knew we needed a retreat, so we found a home in Connecticut. Of course we added a hot tub. Here, we get in a car knowing that we'll be in another state--and a most extraordinary rural environment--an hour later.

"Moving here was an opportunity for me to take my life in a new direction. Had I stayed in Los Angeles, I probably would have left the school board and sought higher public office. Running for office in California is like designer jeans--just find a style that has media appeal.

"Most of my friends here are not from New York. They're immigrants who have come here, as I have, because of marriage or changed circumstances. I find it difficult to build friendships based on who you are, and that's part of the scene here. People here don't have time for newcomers, so they make fast connections based on who you are, whom you're married to, whom you know. In California, there's more openness to new people and new ideas. It's funny. Many New Yorkers who have moved West think they've died and gone to heaven. Some Californians who have moved to New York just feel as though they've died.

"What do I miss? Streets that don't have potholes. The sunset over the Pacific. Of course, I miss my parents and brother. And I miss the colors of life that are the cutting edge of culture, of thought, of entertainment. The New York style is more sophisticated, more traditional. You don't see the joie de vivre you see just walking Melrose Avenue. There's such a purpose here. In California, aimlessness has its own purpose."

Peter and Ginny Ueberroth

Two days after the Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles, Peter, who had served as president of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee, and Ginny Ueberroth packed their bags and moved to New York, where Ueberroth began his new job as commissioner of baseball. The couple live in a high-rise apartment not far from Ueberroth's office on Park Avenue. But they maintain close ties to Los Angeles, traveling back often. "Dear Los Angeles:

Ginny: "For me, this experience has represented a kind of freedom. It's the first time we've had no children living with us. I like being in an apartment. I like walking out, locking up and having nothing to worry about. It gives me a sense of freedom I never had before. We have no car and walk everywhere, and I love that."

Peter: "There must be, within a short, 10-block walk of our apartment, 500 restaurants or takeout places, 300-400 of which are very good."

Ginny: "Our social life has really adjusted. In California, things happened on the weekends; here, everyone leaves on the weekends. We don't, so that leaves us alone."

Peter: "I really miss the people of Los Angeles. Southern California has an exceptional quality in its people. Our friends were a real melting pot. We're getting to know people in New York slowly; the pace here is so much faster and less tolerant. For me, it's markedly lonelier."

Ginny: "I like it that you can get lost in this city. After all the notoriety of the Olympics, I like it that we can roam the streets here. In Los Angeles we still can't do it. We would have had to rearrange our lives there because of it, so this move did the rearranging for us."

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