Monday, April 16, 2007

Aunty Christ and the (only sometimes) bad trip, or All of California and Everyone Who Lives There Stinks

This past weekend found Rich Bachelor and I on a kind of aimless tour of all that is good and bad about mid-coast California. The good primarily consisted of what was too far away from our hotel to be of much use to us: The drive from Pacific Grove south along Highway 1 was gorgeous, and our day devoted to that endeavor turned out to be mostly clear over the ocean, the hills to the east of the highway misted over, the ocean far below the highway still grey from that morning’s storm. Would that we could do it over again, I would do the whole trip differently—staying somewhere between Pacific Grove and Big Sur, bringing more clothes for hiking and a trail map, if such a thing exists, to find a path to the beach from the cliffs. Maybe we will do it again, in fact. It was fun, or at least funnish, though the point of the trip, I think, for me, was to do One Last Something before re-entering the hateful, imprisoning world of the office. At least I sort of hope I re-enter that world one of these days, before I forget how to work. Rich was talking about other trips to take this summer—one to eastern Saskatchewan, to see parts of his family and show me where he grew up, and one to rural New York, to see a friend of his who may but who we hope does not move back there—and I added to that a trip I’d like to take, back to Rural Mountain Village, to see the not-yet-born baby of a friend of mine (who will, of course, be born by imagined trip date), and another one, to Chicago suburban hell, to see Granny Christ. And then, once you start thinking, there’s no end to the trips one could take, are there? I’ve been wanting to go to Tokyo for years now, to see a friend who lives there, and going back to Hawaii this year would be fun. And what of Guyana, Portugal, Malaysia, Kenya, Wales, the Czech Republic …? Oh, the job can wait, my heart says. Just give me six more months.

But, if nothing else, last weekend’s trip, though brief, was an instructive look at why staying at home is a good thing also.

1. The people

The surfeit of humanity in California, in a not very creative choice of words, sucks. I am sure not all of them/you do, really. For example, there was the stoned used-record store owner, who I liked quite a lot, and several bartenderesses who were very nice. So that brings the total to three or four, anyway, and when you extrapolate that to include the whole state, there could be literally hundreds of Californians who are not complete assholes, probably.

No, no, the people who offended, really—other than our fellow drivers, I mean—were our fellow diners. Like, check this: We’re having dinner at this really lovely restaurant with an ocean view. The restaurant is tucked away into some kind of apartment complex or another, away from the blatant tourism of Cannery Row or the Fisherman’s Wharf, and, you know, it’s not the most elegant place in all the world, but it’s pretty schmancy. For instance, I’m wearing jeans and I feel out of place. In California, the place where shoes-without-socks went to die but ended up not dying and instead have grown into a thriving, unsexy man-fungus. An older couple is seated behind us, the man bald and compact, his wife a staring, rigid, unfun caricature of emptynestedness. The man’s cell phone rings. He takes it out and stares at it. Stares. Stares. A good minute of this. Not fumbling because he had forgotten how to turn it off, not answering it because it was very important. Just staring. And everyone in the restaurant stares at him. He is being annoying!, we say. What gives him the right? At some point in the ringing and the staring at the phone and the staring at the man, Rich (correctly, I now realize, although I was skeptical at first) points out that, although at first the guy was the asshole for not turning off his phone in the first place, not immediately shutting the thing off as it started ringing, etc., now we are the assholes, for staring at him and expecting an outcome that is clearly not going to happen. (This entire conversation takes place after the phone has rung at least eight times and before the phone stops ringing.) I’ve thought about this a few times since, and I have to say that I have no idea what made this situation so incredibly annoying to me. Perhaps it’s that if everyone was to let their phones ring all through dinner, that truly would be an annoyance, and that, to prevent that from happening, everyone else was considerate enough to set their phones to vibrate, or else they left them in the car or turned them off. And maybe it was that breach of social contract that was truly annoying, and not the ring itself. Though, to be honest, the ring itself was annoying as fuck.

Now, we picked both that restaurant and the next night’s by looking in a menu guide provided by one of the local hotels and choosing the places that looked creative, tasty, and exorbitantly priced, my feelings on the subject being that people with squirming larvae to feed are obligated under social contract to bring said larvae to Bennigan’s or Olive Garden, and leave big-kid restaurants to us big kids. Not that I don’t love listening to the high-pitched screams of an innocent child. Really, no, I love that so much. And really, if you were planning on hating me because I would rather spend my time not surrounded by little squalling creatures, let me assure you that (1) there are many more important reasons to hate me, and (2) I have already been smited for my insolence. The restaurants we actually went to (other than the one we ended up in the first night, called the Tiki Hut or something similarly horrid, which squirmed with teenagers and their babies) were attended by something far worse than babies: Mid-level entertainment industry workers, up from L.A. for the weekend. Or, we can only surmise. But yes, yes, I think they were. The next night, we were seated next to a lady (whose glasses were smarter than her™—Rich Bachelor) and her mother/mentor/lover. The younger lady started off the evening regaling her dinner partner with a fine tale of how her friend had given her chocolates. They were salted chocolates! There were two of each kind! There were four different kinds! So there were eight chocolates! And her friend, Gavin (or whatever), he only ate one of these very special chocolates every once in a while! He wouldn’t eat them all at once! They were for special! And she had eight! From him!

Oh, and her voice was like nails on a chalkboard, like Kevin Covais from American Idol Season 5. I assume you’ve all read Shouts & Murmurs from the March 26, 2007 issue of The New Yorker, “The Wisdom of Children”? This lady probably did not actually say “Hey guess what? My voice is pretty loud!” but she probably has, and will again in the near future. “My voice is the loudest! My voice is the loudest! I have eight chocolates! I have a friend!”

2. The weirdness

I will make this short. The people provided so much fodder, and the landscape only so much.

I will note only that, while this is not in and of itself a reason not to travel, and may be actually a reason to travel—to see things like this, I mean—the sight of a hand-made sign in the second-story window of what one supposes to be an after-school acting classroom, which reads, “BEA MOVIE STAR! SUMMER MOVIE ACTING CAMP FOR KIDS AGES 7-14” will haunt your dreams, inspiring you to BEA child advocate for children who have not yet heard that child movie stardom is a sure path to lifelong unhappiness.

There was also a dance/comedy club, which, for those of you who have not seen me dance, might be the perfect setting for my skillz, but is really, when you think about it, a little weird.

3. The airports

No one likes airports. You’re not supposed to, I guess. It’s all part of The Plan. But really. Between leaving enough time for the taxi to be late, for the actual taxi ride, for standing in line at the check in, for standing in line to be X-rayed, for waiting two hours in the airport and trying to remain sober (“I won’t be fooled by your delicious airport margaritas! I’ve seen Airline!” Three vodka crans later … ), and then getting off the plane to find the baggage claim, wait for your bag, find the shuttle to the rental car office, ride the shuttle to the rental car office, wait in line for forever to get the rental car, battle with traffic out of the airport—well, it’s a wonder any of us can even get out of bed in the morning, ya’ know? And I have to tie my shoes!

But all of this, quite honestly, was as I expected, and—also quite honestly—I was half-expecting far worse. No long delays sitting on the tarmac—no delays of any kind. No lost luggage. No mechanical problems. The worst thing, in fact, was landing in Saskatoon and trying to get a taxi to take us home. In Saskatoon, the airport taxi line is sacred, not to be broken. I stepped up to the first taxi in line. “Are you available?” I said. No response. “Are you available?” Taxi Driver grunted. I walked up to the cherry-cheeked high school girl wearing an official-looking red jacket. “Is he, you know? He hasn’t opened his trunk or anything?” (That I was practically nonverbal by this point in the evening did not help any.) “Oh, no, he’ll take you,” she assured me. “Can I take a different cab?” I asked. “Are you available?” The next cab driver in line seemed shocked. “No, no, he take you. Him. No.” T.D. grumbled something as he got out of the cab and opened the trunk. “He wants to know which address?” says the teacher’s pet. I kind of start to give him the address, but his eyes are already glazing over, he has lost interest.

Oh, never mind, never mind, I think. This is sure to get better. I’m sure it will.

Five minutes later, Rich and I are humping our bags sweatily back to the taxi stand, where we find T.D. speaking Russian with a 19-year-old boy, his translator. He is mad—T.D. is, and the translator is. They both are, and Teacher’s Pet is kind of understanding maybe, but not very. “So, what happened?” says she. “Lookit—he can’t even communicate what his bitch is without a fucking translator!” we say—except we don’t, really. This is what I’m thinking, anyway, though what we say is actually something like, There’s a communication problem, He can’t take us where we’re going, We’re so sorry. We grab another cab, whose driver speaks better English, and gets us home in no time.

So. No more traveling for me, I think. Not for a while, anyway. And not without my car. And not to California.

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