Sunday, September 5, 2010

Road trippin' pt. 14: made it.

We've gotten a corner booth at Louis' and it looks like this:


The rice paper-thin windows let the waves crash audibly, the sound of their shoreside arrival combating with the farting noises made by the cheap vinyl upholstery upon which we're sitting. It smells like coffee and bacon and mornings and the overhead speakers are dripping Aretha Franklin into our ears. You sip at your second Diet Coke and stare at the cliffs.

"Do you think anyone's ever jumped off of those?" you ask, without putting your eyes back to mine. I wonder if you're asking me or if you're asking the restaurant as a whole

"Like, to kill themselves?"

"Yeah," you say. "Do you think people are more or less likely to do that in a place this beautiful?"

"I don't know," I say, coffee hitting my tongue with a crackle. "I'd think that they'd be less likely, but maybe the whole thing is so beautiful that they can't handle it, you know?"

You sigh. Your eyes seem to have waves of their own. "I guess so. That just sounds so strange to me. If it's this easy to get to someplace that looks like this," you say, waving a dismissive hand to the only twelve hours or so it took to get here, "why would this be someone's last stand?"

"Couldn't say." I nibble at the last three squares of my Belgian waffle, none of which can manage to hold my interest with you across the booth and the gulls across the water. "Why do you ask?"

"Just sorta occurred to me." You wrap two hands around your quickly-emptying glass and dip your lips to the straw rising just above the tip of the extra ice our waitress so graciously gave. "How's your waffle?"

"It's good," I say, reducing the three count of squares to merely one, sinking a syrupy fork into it and holding it aloft like an animal sacrifice to a pagan god. "Want the last bite?" I ask between chomps.

"No thanks, babe." You brush your foot against mine beneath the table and drop goosebumps all along my calf. "So what is it?"

"What?"

"About this place, I mean. Isn't this sorta the destination, after all?" You raise an eyebrow and a question. "Wasn't this the place that made you believe in God?"

I nod quietly, affixing tired eyes to a linoleum table. "It's hard to explain."

You bypass your straw and lift your glass directly to your lips, sliding ice to your tongue. "Try," you say.

-------------------

I had lost my faith. This may sound like an exaggeration, considering how it--if not religious orthodoxy, per se--informs more or less everything else I do, but it was certainly the case. I lost a girlfriend to a coward, I lost my job to a market downturn, I lost my apartment to rising cost-of-living, and I lost my dog to an inattentive 17-year-old girl. It felt like everything had been taken away, so I hopped in my car, filled up my tank, bought a bag of honey roasted peanuts, and hit the goddamn road.

I didn't know where I was going, but that felt appropriate. I just drove. I went west. Didn't know why--still don't, really--but I think it something to do with all of those pioneer stories I heard growing up. These flocks of people left behind everything that they had managed to build, threw whatever they could in a handcart, and headed the way of Manifest Destiny. They went west to build something new and they did so on faith and four wheels. They had oxen pulling them, sure, but my Honda's engine only has about two horsepower anyway, so I figure it's an appropriate metaphor.

Anyway, I found myself here, pummeling the same pavement you and I did, taking the same exits, paying the same tolls, everything. I got a bottle of water and allergy medicine at the Safeway--I'm seriously allergic to everything but sawdust--and took a walk along the beach. I started directly in front of the Safeway, then made my way up the hill, ignoring man-made infrastructure and following the sand. I drew lines in it with my toes and wrote out words and names: my ex, my former boss, my address, and my dog (for whom I poured out a bit of water in honor of the deceased).

The hill curved around and I was looking for metaphor in every step I took. Foot met tide and I wondered if I had a shaky foundation or if I was truly in the desert and just pretending otherwise or if wanted to be a man of the sea or if the sky had opened up to deliver something to me or if everything was just a cosmic coincidence or if a Prime Mover was guiding with a benevolent hand or if shit just happened because shit just happened and all of this wondering made me so hungry that I decided I needed something to eat before an emboldened seagull confused my withering frame for a pre-game snack.

The first place in which I stopped was some swanky bistro whose prices were so exorbitant I figured they were part of some elaborate performance art. I saw entrées like "soy ravioli with rabbit sauce and creamed bacon" and "escargot quiche and asparagus butter" and burst into fitful laughter until the turtleneck-clad hipsters that were really digging and vibing and lots of other verbs I don't really understand started looking at me with the type of "ironic" eyes that come only from pseudocultural condescension. I slowly placed my menu back on the table like it was a plastic explosive and walked to the door backwards, feeling the eyes of an entire cultural movement on my plaid shirt peeking out from a solid-colored sweater that actually fit me.

The second place was some national chain with all of that tacky "middle-America" shit on the wall; pictures of burnt-out musicians, old guitars hung from rafters, and self-consciously retro menu items with clever names: "Sock Hop Salad," "Jukebox Potatoes," "Rock and Roll Pot Roast," etc. I assumed that every one of the menu's offerings came with a side of french fries and indigestion, and the fat faces of the tourists all looked like they had followed me here from home and I went back outside and felt like I could finally breathe now that I was out of earshot of the wait staff's clinking pieces of flair and heavy steps of career disappointment.

The third was Louis'. I got a booth--this same booth at which we're now sitting, in fact--and ordered a Dr. Pepper, a Denver omelet, and two strips of bacon. The soda was as bubbly as the Homecoming Queen, the omelet as colorful as a box of markers, and the bacon thick enough to construct a seaworthy raft. I stared out that window, gnawing and washing down breakfast with double-fisted aplomb, and saw the water give a mirror image of the sky. The aquatic ebb and flow folded over itself in waves and was the exact same color as the mid-day sky and it was almost impossible to find the line of the horizon where the blue of the heavens became the blue of the water, where the border between Zeus' kingdom and Poseidon's drew its barrier.

And my eyes opened wide, took in a wide-angle shot of the whole scene, this elemental composition and I thought, "This is God, and nothing but God can destroy it."

I had another glass of Dr. Pepper, a slice of cherry pie, and sat watching for long enough that I figured the waves would've all evaporated, but it was all still there.

And now, two years later (almost to the day), I look out over your shoulder, through this window, out to that same water and under those same clouds, and I think that these are the only things I don't ever really want to change.

--------------------

"Thank you for bringing me here," you say, sliding warm hands onto mine. "But can we go home now?"

"Of course," I say, rising to tired feet. "Sorry, did this place disappoint you? Did I build it up too high?"

"No, not at all." You dig through your pockets to leave a tip for our waitress. "I just want to go restart our life back home." No complaints here. We start driving and the sky gets a little more blue with each passing mile.

I wonder what's gonna be waiting for us back home.

1 comment:

Meg said...

I can't say anything other than, this place is real, and I've been there too.