Come and wander.
We sat around the table at a deli in a strip mall that looked like every other strip in Southern California. There wasn’t a Starbucks. The Starbucks was across the street. But there were sandwiches and Mexican Coke, which is as much a marker of the place as the strip malls and the stucco.
The talk was of surf trips, about all the places we’ve been. There’s always an element of posturing to these conversations. I already knew that I couldn’t win.
The talk eddied around me and I slid into a daydream. Island reefs, Infinite points. Always backlit. Always off-shore. I sent my friend live updates. Well, I guess I’ve been to Rincon once or twice, I tell her. Yeah, travel is expensive, she says. We pay rent in an expensive town in coastal California. Who has money left for tropical islands. Not us, not really.
Our lives follow the rhythm of the seasons. We track the tides and the swell angles and we stalk that one sandbar as it’s pushed down the coast by the ocean’s whim. We carry snapshot memories and an infinite supply of inside jokes.
One day you watch amazed as the sun gleam through the back of perfect waves like a cat’s glowing eye. There’s early morning donut runs. There’s the local who slides down the line, looking the same every time, completely emotionless. We call him Bernie. And sometimes you get skunked and lie in the sand, laughing at nothing at all.
It’s not that I don’t like travel and adventure. I’m a fan of both of these things. In fact, I’d actually been on a surf trip a few weeks previously.
I’d been drawn by a destination that looked improbable, but intriguing. More importantly, I’d sold a story, the get out of jail free card of freelance life. I packed a puffy jacket, my thickest neoprene — not very thick, actually — and a beanie. I assembled my instant journalist kit of digital recorder, Moleskine, and pencil. I felt totally ready for anything. Good luck, California.
I flew up the map, arriving in Seattle on the kind of bright day that isn’t supposed to happen there, but actually does. The water glinted, the sky was perfect blue. I wasn’t fooled. Those trees didn’t grow tall and green without rain. I spent the afternoon putting my reporter kit to work and ate dinner in the misguided hope that traffic would end. It didn’t, but I didn’t know that yet. Delusions are comfortable and the dessert was delicious.
I began driving westward as the setting sun turned the cityscape golden, momentarily distracting me from the sea of brakelights ahead. I got in line. It inchwormed along, past the city center, and the old brewery, and the baseball stadium, lit up for a night game. Mount Rainier blushed and went dark. The traffic pushed like the tide. I waded patiently.
You’ll be wondering about the surfing part. By this point, so was I. There was a coast out there somewhere. I wondered if I would ever get to it. I stopped at a gas station for snacks, my beanie pulled down low and my hair tucked under my jacket. Anything to go unnoticed.
The road split, north and west. I squinted helplessly at the unlit road signs. It was as though someone had spray-painted locals only across them. You can surf here, if you can find it.
I couldn’t see shit. I turned west, chasing a pendant moon that swung toward the horizon. The trees, black against a blacker sky, mocked me like they were in on the joke. Good luck, California.
At length, I made it to Inverness and missed my turn. Lost, again. Dark store windows stared me down. I worked to decipher the roads in my phone’s glowing square. There was no one to ask for directions, even if I’d dared. I wasn’t about to admit that I was lost out here. I picked a road and hoped for the best. It arced gently westward, which felt reassuring.
I smelled a hint of salt air. Maybe it was my imagination, but I chose to believe I was finally getting somewhere. The road narrowed and turned. The moon inched closer to the horizon, ready to give up on my chances. Mailboxes peaked out of the trees at random, a rare sign of life.
An oncoming car passed and disappeared. I turned the music louder to fill the empty space it left behind. You have no control/You are not in command. I pulled my beanie lower and drove faster. Good luck, California.