"We are quieted by the flux of nostalgia, excess, and exhaust."
SANTA BARBARA, CA: We are here to eat tacos and marvel at palm trees. We are old friends. I copyedited a novel, something I rarely do, to buy the tickets from Boston to Los Angeles. We are both Midwestern girls, ones who didn't talk always of someday leaving, but who have, as it turns out, somehow left. We meet at LAX. She is waiting at my terminal when my flight deboards. We run to hug, like in the movies.
The last time, and the first time, I came to California, was when I was 17. My dad, a steward in his union, decided to attend the National Association of Letter Carriers' annual conference that year, in Anaheim. We decided to come with him. One afternoon, while my dad was out at workshops and rallies, my mom called for a rental car to drive the two of us down the coast to Laguna Beach. We took a bus to the rental car place, where the clerks grinned and pointed us toward a red convertible. My mom had only asked for a two-door sedan. She panicked, shaking her head. It was too much! Take the car! They laughed.
"Well, we are not putting this roof down!" my mom ordered, still flustered. "Oh, yes we are!" I cried, disregarding her and immediately finding the controls to do. My mother protested, but could not stop me from behind the wheel. She steered us nervously around Anaheim until we hit Highway 1: Pacific Coast Highway. Then we saw the ocean, gasped, and laughed the whole way down.
Now I am picking up my own rental in Los Angeles and hearing another clerk tell me to pick any car in the row assigned "COMPACT." My friend and I grin at each other and run toward a red car, the same kind her mother used to drive, like when she drove us to IKEA in college. Now I am sliding behind the wheel and feeling some of my mother's nervousness from all those years ago. Is it really too much?
I drive us slowly as we merge lanes, switch highways, coast past Calabasas ("I HAVE NEVER BEEN CLOSER TO KOURTNEY KARDASHIAN THAN I AM RIGHT NOW!"), past Pico Rivera, where my great grandmother lived and worked sewing for the LA fashion houses, past Costa Mesa, where my friend's stepmother grew up, before meeting her father. We are quieted by the flux of nostalgia, excess, and exhaust.
Then we hit the ocean, and the lush, fog-drenched green hills rolling along the other side of the highway. They seem primordial, like alien planets in the movies, like a dream of how the earth may have looked before us. It is an odd, soothing balm, to be somewhere very big or very still, or both.
And it doesn't last, but it stays with us.