The Western Gate
How the SoCal Byte Got Its Name


I’ve lived in Southern California all of my life.  It’s an extraordinary, contradictory and inspirational place to live.  If you don’t think so, please leave.  There are plenty of other places where you might find what you’re looking for.

Here, in SoCal (excuse the abbreviation) we live, as Carey McWilliams said, on an “island on the land” — bordered by mountains, sea and desert.  These geographic borders frame and almost isolate us.  As a result, our region’s psycho-eco system performs like a cultural Galapagos.   Some human traits that exist here, exist nowhere else in the world.

There is also another distinct, remarkable and totally cool geographic feature about Southern California.  It’s our bight.  Let me explain.

Imagine yourself at Point Conception, north of L.A, above Santa Barbara, at the tip of the headland between Gaviota and Lompoc where, offshore, the Santa Barbara Channel forms an ocean valley between the coast and San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz and Anacapa Islands. There you stand on Southern California’s natural boundary — a corner of land jutting into the Pacific where the north-south trending portion of coast to the north and the east-west trending part of the coast to the South meet.

Point Conception is why Vandenberg Airforce base exists.  It reaches, like a sentry post, into the Pacific.  From the north, arctic storms swirl down.  From the south, tropical storms swirl up and angle out.  Standing on the point — where these currents collide — is to be Moses lifting the sea — lighthouse behind you.  The swells meet, rising against each other. The waves twist confused against the rocks.   It is best to visit the point when a storm is approaching.  You will see god.  I promise.

From Point Conception to the Mexican border, the coast shears in. Named after the Mission of the Immaculate Conception of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, the Point’s early residents — the Chumash — thought of their home as the "Western Gate," where the souls of the dead found passage to paradise.  We live south of paradise below the Cape of California in the bight.

The bight, spelled B.I.G.H.T, is the recess of the coast — the curved section, the slack part, the loop in the nautical rope.  But byte has more than one meaning.  B.I.T.E. —means to seize, to pierce, to take hold of.  That is a goal of mine.  But I don’t spell byte B.I.G.H.T. or B. I. T. E.  I spell it B.Y.T.E.  — the number of bits used to encode a single character of text in a computer, which is where these audio essays reside before I read them.  This, in turn, creates more bytes online and on the bandwidth, like bits from the bight.  The SoCal Byte was named to reflect — from below a cache of information that I hope takes hold and from above, a crescent in the ocean, the western gate this side of paradise.  From Point Conception to the Mexican border this is the SoCal Byte.

— Nathan Callahan

First Broadcast January 20, 2012

© / Nathan Callahan / all rights reserved


Broadcasting Fridays at 8:50 am from KUCI 88.9 fm Orange County, California