In My California Time

I heard: “Big Sur is calling to me” and here’s what happened to me.

I immediately felt the grey, El Nino winter that that I spent in California, in 1999.

I was working in a restaurant in Kansas City at the time a place that was renovating. All the staff was given 6 weeks vacation, unpaid.

So I planned for it, saved up money the way that single people can do– just enough– and bought a one-way Amtrak ticket to San Francisco. I had a cousin to stay with. And a college friend. And my first-ever laptop.

In the weeks, I hung out in Berkeley, writing things that got saved in the hard drive of a laptop I don’t own anymore. Also on floppy disk. Once I  printed onto dot matrix at some point too. My feet froze in the Starbucks as I wrote.

It was a psychological break from work for me that I hadn’t ever taken before. I was free to wander around… in my writing and in the day.

Unfortunately, most days were drenching cold rain.

On the weekends, I found my way to be with my friends Mallie and Adrian. We drove north and stayed in cheap hotels. Walked barren beaches and watched dogs chase men in wetsuits into the surf. We argued and ate. She dropped me back in Berkeley again for the weekdays, to come and find me again on the weekend.

More writing at the library table, and wandering around San Francisco alone. Then the weekend again and roadtrip.

We meandered south, where we found the sun. We stopped in Santa Cruz and walked along a funny boardwalk and up onto the cliffs, watching the wild surfers below us.  We went on for miles on two-lane roads through old Western towns that are hidden like real fossils. Stopping at bar that was rough hewn and soaked in beer and pops up in my memory like a movie scene.

We kept going, by the artists’ caves packed into the trees along Highway 1, and the little surprise restaurants in the middle of nowhere, overflowing with people and paperbacks and coffee stains.

We found our way to Hearst Castle Road, and timed it so we could take the tour. Stared at the abandoned and gleaming bowling alleys like they they were diamond rings sitting on a can of tuna in the supermarket. The castle on top of the hill that people wanted to be haunted with fame and glory was just draped in fog and stony silence.

Read Here Now Sign Inside City Lights Bookstore, San Francisco, CAWe wound our way back up the first highway. Stopped in Carmel for lunch and felt cheated by the  diamond choker vibe. A strangeness of glamour tarred the wildnerness.

Another weekend we went north again. Into the redwoods, walking without anyone else. Only the rain and dead leaf carpets. Trying to adjust our sense of proportion. And our sense of alone.

In between the weekends, to solidify the strangeness, my cousin introduced me to a red-headed boy. And the boy took me on a date. To dinner in North Beach, San Francisco. And then to that wonderful, narrow bookstore where the Beats lived.

The boy took me out again, and then surprised me by finding me beautiful.

In weak moments, the sun winced its way out from the clouds.

Otherwise, the rain poured down. We had to kiss in a doorway to stay dry.

After another week, I stared at Bridal Veil Falls at Yosemite, my nose frozen, but far enough from the coast to be in the sun. Wishing to be back in Berkeley, the way girls in love do.

Then the train and the goodbyes and the wishes to stay and promises to come. And photographs — traded — all before the cell phone era. And I don’t remember the train home, even though I took it there.

 

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Elizabeth Howard

Elizabeth writes literary non-fiction, haiku, cultural rants, and Demand Poetry in order to forward the cause of beautiful writing. She teaches and speaks about the rhetorical impact of beautiful writing. A recent transplant to Connecticut, she calls London, Kansas City, and Iowa home. 

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