Friday, June 29, 2007

A Month of Sundays

I took a lot of time off in June. It was like one long, eventful weekend, you might say.

Twice in less than a week the Cadillac and I slipped through the Mojave at midnight like blood through a vein. It was 95 degrees in Las Vegas, and it had been a very long time since I followed I-15 south to where the palm trees grow.

I had to do it in a hurry. Alone. Like ripping off a Band-Aid. Every third moment reminded me of Dad
most notably his boyish enthusiasm for sharing California with us and on Father's Day I departed San Diego in the evening, winding through the glowing, bougainvillea-draped canyons below Balboa Park on his favorite stretch of asphalt, Hwy 163, in his last car, the sleek and glossy '91 DeVille. Three years ago he proposed we go to San Diego together as soon as he "got his legs back." He never did.

So, south alone to Imperial Beach, my beloved, adopted hometown on the utmost fringe of California, crouched and slouching at the edge of the Pacific like a bit of unraveled hem, recently discovered but still a little forgotten, a bit dismissed. The pier still straggles out into the emerald water; the seagulls and terns, pigeons and sandpipers dash among the sandaled feet of elderly Filipino men and the discarded fish guts on the salty, ragged boards.

I.B. is still a sort of slow-motion carnival, still a warm, dreamy place dressed in pastel stucco and fanned by cool ocean breezes and crackling palm fronds. It still offers rainbow bursts of hibiscus and a vast array of colorful characters.
It's changed a lot but not at all in the six years I've been gone, various cosmetic improvements failing to hide its quirky, sloppy, utterly stoned surf village heart. They're filming John from Cincinnati, an HBO drama, at what used to be the kooky El Camino Motel right off the Strand. They faked some extra seediness (as I recall it had loads on its own) and renamed it the Snug Harbor Motel, and all the activity and equipment around the location occasionally made it hard for me to get to my favorite taco shop, Don Panchos. It didn't prevent me from getting a total of four delectable carne asada burritos during my stay, however. I'd get a Styrofoam cup of strong cinnamon-rice horchata or sweet-and-sour tamarindo and head for the rock jetty at the end of Palm Avenue where I could delight in the crashing of surf and the squealing of tourists while guacamole dripped onto my bare knees.

It took a whole 24 hours to adjust, but once I did it was bliss. I went quickly to my favorite places, including Balboa Park, the kelp forest tank at the Stephen Birch Aquarium at Scripps, the beautiful Coronado library and ferry landing, the Hotel Del Coronado. I sat in on the rehearsal of my old community concert band, directed by my middle school band director, Fred Lee.

It seems astounding that I met Fred fifteen years ago this fall. As an awkward, chubby twelve-year-old I slunk in and sat down in his 8th grade band class on the fourth day of school at Mar Vista; it was also the day I met Kym and Hope and Tonetta. Mr. Lee walked over to me after the first warm-up scale and shook my hand, declaring, "You are a great trombone player." He seemed so glad to see me two weeks ago, having recognized me instantly, that he got a bit choked up. He looks less like Bob Saget now and more like Rowan Atkinson, but he's still magic with a baton, still makes you want to play until you collapse if it will make him happy. It was great to see Tom and Phil and Hans and Mr. Sorry again, too. If I never live in San Diego again, I'll miss playing with the Coronado Community Band for the rest of my life.

So, I've weathered a lot of major occasions already this June. Five days with Brent turned out to be the easiest five days of my life, but the day he left to return to Kansas City turned out to be the most miserable I've ever been (despite telling myself it's only temporary and I should be happy we've at least found each other, which I've since settled into with the help of Bluetooth and webcams), and I've been pretty darned miserable before.

I've also survived some weird moments in my life, but my ten-year high school reunion Saturday the 16th of June had to be the weirdest yet. When we got in the car after it was all over, Tonetta, Kym and I sat in silence for a whole minute before Kym finally remarked, "Wow. That was weird."

And it was. Only 18 of 260 class members attended (with about 8 trailing spouses), and they really hadn't changed at all. We made the most of it like we always do, and catching up with Kym and Toni was the highlight for me anyway. Kym is just as stunning and talented and sweet as she ever was despite the challenges in her life; Tonetta is just as wildly, smartly off-the-wall despite battling M.S. and enduring a high-stress job as a 911 operator. Sitting cross-legged on Kym's living room floor until 3am in our party dresses, reminiscing and covering all the taboo subjects we now seem to feel mature enough to discuss, I suddenly remembered why I loved them, and just how much. I hadn't seen either of them in at least six years and I promised myself that morning it won't ever be that long again.

I didn't catch up with all the people I wanted to, but it was a quick trip and I promised everybody I'll be back soon. I owe Mom and Angie and M all roadtrips to San Diego — care to go together, girls? — plus I'm looking at water treatment jobs in the area. ($59,340 to start. Hm. Is that going to make paying $1,000 rent for a studio apartment in the barrio more palatable?)

The Cadillac performed admirably, reluctantly flashing her Check Engine Light only twice (at the summit of long climbs like Holloran Springs) and getting almost 30 mpg down and slightly less coming back, which is remarkable for the big V8. I ran that car hard, 13 hours at a time with only three brief stops for gas each way and some laborious stop-and-go through ubiquitous freeway construction and metropolitan traffic. I think she felt as strongly about the trip as I did, inasmuch as Cadillacs have emotions. Mine does.

Something about sweltering desert darkness rolling in the window distills the unmistakable scent of a Cadillac, age-softened seat leather and a sweet, smoky, oily perfume no other car can quite imitate. I never ran the air conditioner just so I could wrap that smell around me like a blanket. I could all but see the tight explosions in the cylinders under the hood before me, the pistons slamming in their chambers, all the moving metal parts perfectly rhythmic and controlled; I could feel the steely, coiled power and efficiency even an old GM engine with 170k miles and a rumbling, holey muffler can offer. And I found myself thinking that no new car could ever live up to that Cadillac feeling- not even a new Cadillac.

It was important to me to take this trip in that car. It was most likely our last blast together, since I'm planning on buying myself a new car for Christmas, even though I promised Dad I'd never finance a vehicle. I have my reasons, and despite knowing the drawbacks and risks, and, really, the not-so-smartness of it, I deserve something new and shiny (thanks, cupcake), and this may be the only time in my life I'm in a position to buy the car I really want configured exactly the way I want it. So one day soon you may pop over here to The Marvelous A and find a big, juicy, Sunburst Orange Metallic surprise that's anything but cute.

But I got off track. June ends tomorrow, and it has been without a doubt one of the most important months of my life. I met the love of my life. I met a few challenges. I've come to a lot of conclusions and rearranged some thinking; I've set some goals and made some plans. My future is clearer and brighter than it has ever been, which is really saying something, and it has a bit to do with revisiting my past. I'm out of my comfort zone, and I love it. There was a time I could hop in any car and go anywhere, no matter what time, no matter how far. For some reason, after a few years of being safe and securely ensconced here in my basement cocoon, I got complacent, and it became difficult to even imagine going anywhere farther than Salt Lake or Ogden. Tuesday the 12th at 2:30 pm I broke that glass wall just by taking the on-ramp to I-80 West, and I'll never be boxed in again.

I'm ready for anything now.


Anonymous dehydrated mermaid said...

Which is why I thought a trip EAST would be lovely also, but alas, there may be too many people to see in too short a time, AND I seem to be hearing the call of WATER...though I can't quite tell from where...course with me, that could me anywhere! Darn that we are mermaids by nature, and that we live in a water deprived town! (Just meaning a decent pool, not that we are literally deprived of water). Oh well, we'll think of something for July (so sorry, B., I tried to bring her your way)! I believe that there may be too many choices with a limited amount of time and that's why it's hard to decide...what a problem to have though, no?!

July 1, 2007 at 1:45 AM  

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