Riptide

My stamina is starting to run low after three months of non-stop work.

It’s that point in the transaction I’m working on where our personal lives creep out to the forefront, and everyone’s flying in snacks from all over the world; where those Chinese prawn peanuts I love magically appeared; where someone coming in from France may or may not be bringing in the dragees about which I frequently wax poetic. (The dragees never materialized btw.)

I am still driving a Ford Fusion.

My world has been reduced to microcosmic proportions, I’ve realized. JFK; LaGuardia; SFO; DCA; occasionally, Dulles or McCarran–for a change of pace. The New York office; the DC office; the client sites.

“You’re not really even visiting California,” someone recently remarked.

I’m not really “in” California, you know. Even as a non-native daughter, I know that.

In August of last year, staying with my college roommate in Pacific Heights, I walked in San Francisco from Fort Mason to the baseball stadium. Commencing the trek on foot, I stood in the park at the Fort, looking out over the Golden Gate, seeing it all with the eyes of a foreigner. Of someone who had seen it dozens–if not hundreds–of times before, but to whom the landscape would never register as “normal.” As “home.”

I walked. I walked almost the entire city, end to end, to meet an ex boyfriend for dinner. He was the same, and I was the same–but he was mostly the same as when I’d left him, and I was more of myself than I’d ever let myself be with him. He was just as much a Californian as ever, and I was less and less of the girl trying to fit in.

Now, I travel to San Francisco almost weekly, and I fly over the Bay like I’m from another country, still. The runways bump and skid beneath United Flight 5 like they do for all the other people on the plane who are mostly headed off to Asia or Australia; back to British Columbia. Occasionally, it’s a late flight into the city where I can’t see anything and the Bay lurks like the Atlantic or the Sound or the Potomac or any other body of water I fly over–frequently–to land.

It’s all the same. It’s all foreign. It’s all different. Terminals, towncars, rental car counters. Camaros with their growly, sexy V8s better suited for the Garden State Parkway; Ford Fusions perfectly, sensibly suited for the trek down 101, but that look out of place next to the SUVs and the Benzes and the Priuses.

The funny thing though–the thing I’ve realized–is that I don’t have much to talk about except the trains, and planes and automobiles. The travel. That I don’t have much of a personal life.

Yesterday, we all (i.e., the group I’ve been traveling with these past few months; the people I’ve been bumping paths with and sharing my life since August) got in the car and drove Highway 1 from Carmel down towards Big Sur. It was a drive I hadn’t made since I was nineteen. Freezing, cerulean sea; waves crashing on rim-of-fire rocks; igneous boulders leading up into sandstone topped by chaparral and then evergreen.

One of my companions and I got out of the car and walked along the beach. The rest of the party stayed up along the cliffs.

“How could anyone come here and not get out a bit?” he asked, rhetorically. I said I didn’t know. We dipped our toes in the water; the strong currents sucking the rough sand out from beneath our feet.

I realized, though, that’s what this time has been. Strong seas, sucking sands; losing my footing sometimes. But the current ebbed again and went back out and we continued our walk along the beach, steadier now.

At the end of the stretch of sand, there was a nude sunbather–sixty years old, maybe–his golden buns like two halves of hamburger brioches glistening brownly in the afternoon glare.

We turned around to head back down the beach and decided to go wine tasting instead.

My travels in California are so classically Californian: watching the VW surf vans ahead on Highway 1 as we speed down the coast; walking barefoot on the sand on sunny Sunday afternoons; winetasting. But I marvel that I used to live in this place; that these things were always within my reach; that I could have done them any time, and now they feel so delightful and vacationy and strange.

I’m worn out, but these moments–they are a nice break from the quotidian of going, doing, being.

1 Comment

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  1. More of that goddamn BRILLIANT California writing that you toss off so effortlessly!!!!!! Simply must publish!!!

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