Everyone needs a place to escape to now and then. In the two-episode story “The Bionic Woman,” written by Kenneth Johnson, Ojai became Steve Austin’s place. Of course, Ojai was also his hometown: it was where he grew up, and where his mother and stepfather lived. But there’s much more to Ojai than just the town. In many ways, the best part of Ojai lies above town. And it is this area of Upper Ojai in which Steve Austin decides to buy a ranch, set up house, and reside, when he can, between missions.
On the surface, Ojai seems an odd choice. As a small town in California, it’s a long way away from Washington D. C., where Oscar Goldman, and therefore his life, is centered. But the astronauts who rode in those fragile capsules called Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo were always crisscrossing the country during their training. Most of them belonged to the military, as Steve did, and therefore had access to small jets that could transport them vast distances in relatively short spans of time. They had reasons to do so, as they might be working at Kennedy Space Center (or Cape Canaveral) in Florida, or at the Johnson Space Center in Texas, or interfacing with the people who built their capsules in California. Also, as pilots, they needed to log a certain amount of flight time each year. So I can understand Steve’s reasoning in setting up his retreat in Ojai: his little place of calm, away from the frantic storm that constituted the normality of his life.
Of course, the problem with having an escape, especially one a long way away from where you live, is that when the storm of life grows too frenzied, you may not have the time to retreat there. If you rush off there anyway, you may not be able to truly relax. Another problem with a home-away-from-home is that we tend to forge connections wherever we go. Steve no sooner buys his retreat, fixes it up, and renews his ties with his mother and stepfather, than he learns that Jaime Sommers, a woman he grew up with, is visiting Ojai. So he pursues her. Doing so will bring a deeper personal investment in Ojai, and therefore attract the busyness and commitments that constitute normality to his retreat. But he pursues her nonetheless.
Sadly, by the end of the story, Steve realizes that Ojai can no longer serve as an escape for him. By renewing his ties with Jaime (and all that followed), he has dragged to Ojai much of the personal baggage that he had hoped to leave behind. Humans are social creatures. We cannot help but make connections with others wherever we go. Yes, everyone needs an escape now and then. But perhaps such an escape should be closer to home. Instead of seeking to escape the storm, a better choice might be to find the place of calm at its center. A room in your house, or even a closet, or a patch of grass under a favorite tree in the back yard: anywhere can serve as a place of renewal. Or perhaps it’s not a place you need, so much as a sport, hobby, or some other activity that will quiet your mind and renew your spirit. Finding that place or activity may prove difficult. Sometimes it may seem that you are too busy to even search for such a place or activity. But the rewards of doing so will make the search worthwhile.
Ojai is too far away from San Diego to serve as my retreat. It grows too hot in the summer for my tastes. But I can understand why those who seek a moment of respite from the busyness of Los Angeles escape here. For, as Jaime enthuses in "The Return of the Bionic Woman," (also written by Kenneth Johnson), it does seem peaceful here. Where do you escape to when the storm of life blows too hard, tossing you in directions beyond your control? In what place, or activity, do you find renewal?
If you live in Los Angeles, Ojai might be just the place you need.