Arriving in Los Angeles, California was a monumentous step for the four young men. Although they had all been to New Zealand and had also for two, lived in the USA, this was really the first time ever coming to California.
California has a certain appeal to the rest of the world. There is Hollywood, the entertainment capital of the world and the California vibe that seems to symbolize coolness 24/7. For the boys excitement was hard to contain throughout the flight. Thoughts went back and forth between anticipation and missing those they had left behind. But one thing was sure, California was the place to be.
The jet flew into California early in the morning. Looking out the window they could see the immensity of the city of Los Angeles as it stretched out for miles from the Ocean to the mountains and beyond. This was the largest city they had ever seen. The safety belt signal went on and they sat down looking out the window as the buildings got larger and the ground seemed to rush up to meet them. There was a slight bump and screech as the planes tire's met the asphalt afterwhich they all breathed a sigh of relief knowing they had safely landed.
The mood was serious yet upbeat as they stood up grabbing whatever backpacks and clothing they had brought with them. Everyone wanted to step out of that plane and breath the warm California air. Richard Brown had made arrangements with relatives who would meet them at the airport. They disembarked and went through immigration without any problem. Two of the boys, Paulo and Perry had American passports. Zach and Lance had New Zealand passports. The visas they landed in America with were for visiting, which later on they would find out were not adequate for attending college. But for now the mood was definitely one of excitement. Emerging from the plane into the warm California sunshine made them feel like stars about to walk through Hollywood.
Liz Talili was there at the gate after they grabbed their luggage to transport them to her home in Orange County. "The OC", as it is affectionately known in LA, is south of the main city of Los Angeles. The county of Orange is mostly a white community with growing pockets of Hispanics, Asians and a few Pacific Islanders thrown in the mix. This was Richard Brown's "home". He had grown up here with his family and he had deep roots in this community.
For the boys they were just soaking up the warmth of California as they drove from LAX to the OC. The city seemed to go on forever. Driving down a freeway in Los Angeles is an experience in and of itself. The 405 South to the 22 East, these were all new experiences for them as they marveled at the unending stream of cars driving down 5 lanes of traffic. It was amazing to see how many people lived here. Samoa felt so far away and small as they looked everywhere and saw more humanity, buildings and cars. They were definitely in California.
They spent their first day in Cali enjoying the hospitality of Liz and her family. The food was delicious, the company even more interesting. The next morning they were on the road again as they headed south to San Diego which was another 2 hours driving from the OC. But before they left Richard took them to a few spots in Orange County to see.
One of these spots was a store where Richard Brown's NFL Jersey was hanging in full view. This was confirmation for them of how legitimate their time spent with him had been. All of the stories and experiences he had shared on football and life in the USA were not merely hyperbole, they were indeed fact. This made the previous 2 years that much more valuable for them as they realized that in this world Coach was no small fish. He had swum with the big fishes and he was recognized for his accomplishments in football. In Samoa he was a voice crying out in the wilderness, and they had no frame of reference as to who he was. But now they understood. Richard Brown was the real McCoy.
One of the most interesting things they saw and enjoyed were the number of fast food restaurants in Southern California. Every kind of food was available from the easily recognizable McDonalds to Popeye's Chicken. There were so many Burger places, Burger King, Jack in The Box, Carls Jr., Wendys, In and Out Burgers and more. Then the chicken places, KFC, El Pollo Loco, Churches. Then there was Mexican food. It was so amazing to see the many different kinds of restaurants available. So many Fast food joints so little time. This was fast food heaven for them.
They were excited to see the College where they would be playing football for the next year or two. The drive to San Diego was a more scenic route than their drive to the OC. They saw the beaches and lifestyle of California. Surfers dotted the waves while sun bathers lay out on the sand. Cute girls in revealing bathing suits were everywhere. This was a far cry from the conservative Samoan landscape where the people wore clothing that covered everything. If anything that awoke them to the reality that they were no longer in Apia. They were in California.
Southwestern College is located in Chula Vista, a suburb of San Diego. It is a beautiful campus with a beautiful football stadium and brand new training facility. Coach Pete was their contact there and he on behalf of the Football Coach was ready to accept these students into the family of Southwestern.
They drove into San Diego taking the 805 Fwy where they intersected with Mission Valley and drove east on the 8 Fwy to see Charger Stadium otherwise known as Qualcomm Stadium. From the freeway the large concrete structure dwarfed anything they had seen in Samoa.
They met with the coaching staff of Southwestern as soon as they got there and became familiar with Coach Pete who is a Samoan coach on the Southwestern staff. He was the one who recommended that the boys come to school there. Southwestern College had already been successful with Samoan players and were excited about receiving more. They began the process of enrolling in school and getting the proper papers so they could stay in California and play ball while attending Southwestern College, a beautiful school in Chula Vista, a suburb o San Diego.
The boys were excited just to be going to the campus each day, practicing with the team and trying the different foods and restaurants. Southwestern was excited at the chance to solidify their position as the destination for many Samoan Junior college recruits who were looking to play football. They had great success since the school began recruiting Samoan football players. But there was one problem, they were not familiar with handling students from independent Samoa. This turned out to be a stumbling block for the boys.
It soon became apparent after a week of meeting the Southwestern College coaching staff, that Southwestern was not going to be able to provide the support needed for the boys from New Zealand and Samoa to stay and attend school. It was a depressing moment that was clearly the turning point if they were to remain in California. The boys and Richard had to find another player who could accommodate the boys immigration requirements.
How would they overcome this barrier? Tune in for the next episode.