Sunday I wake up near the beach with the sound of cars passing by the windows. My host lives in a commercially zoned studio on the PCH. It’s a great location but feels in a way like we are living in the back room of an office, hiding from the landlord or the zoning committee. The previous tenant was a glass artist cum mechanic and he covered the living room floor with creatively arranged busted windshields. The effect is that of walking on broken glass, but I am assured I’m safe to be barefoot. I wear shoes anyways. Where the glass has come up my host has covered it over with packing tape. He keeps meaning to fix it properly but there’s never any time. There is never any time. Ever. He is the busiest person I know. I was able to see him by staying at his place because he is busy the other 18 hours a day.
This time it is my fault but there is no time for breakfast. He’s sweet to get up when I do. He cuts me slices of peaches and puts them in a washed out yogurt container. The greek kind- with the clear lid. I pull on my last clean shirt, pin back my dirty hair and rub lotion onto my face without looking in the mirror. He turns and looks at me holding the little container in his massive hand. This is morning here in LA. This is him, standing in the kitchen on the clay tile floor, his tall, muscular body looking as if he could have been a model for Rodin. Me with sleepy eyes, dirty clothes and a need to get on the road. He looks up at me and I smile, slipping my bag over my forearm. Ready? He asks. Ya.
He puts on shoes and walks me to the car. See you next time, see you next time, here is your breakfast, thank you, you’re welcome. Sigh. Thank you for having me, of course- always a treat to see you, likewise, drive safe, ok, you know how to get there? yeah. I close the door and he directs me safely onto the road. I see him disappear in the mirror and then look ahead to the ocean meeting the mountains and the thin ribbon of road I’m on that separates the two.
I grew up in the mountains north of here in a place called Big Sur. It’s a wild coast line and it was a wild childhood. Dirt roads, drum circles, friends with names like Sunshine and Jezariah. My dad used to collect water from a natural spring that poured out of the mountain side. He’d use a bamboo flute to funnel it into a big glass jar. When I was still small enough, and maybe for a bit longer he would carry me in his metal frame backpack on day long hikes into the back country. I remember waking up in that canvas bag and listening to the rhythm of his footsteps. My mom used to hose me off when I came home from school each day. Literally, with a hose. She would spray us down before we were allowed in the house. It was the best. We were children of the wildest place.
I’ve spent a hundred days of my life driving up and down that coast line. I know the way it twists and turns. I made friends with the moon one night when she followed us home from a night in town.
I’m on that that road today. In LA they call it the Pacific Coast Highway, it extends all the way up California and up north we call it Highway 1. I always thought it was named that because it was the first. The best. Because I didn’t know any other highways.
I’m just going a short ways, past Malibu and into Ventura. Day trip. I’ll be there in time for breakfast. My instinct is to just keep going, to drive all day the way I used to, put on This American Life and head north. I know where all the places to stop for food are. My craving for iced tea and a grilled cheese from In-n-out is intense. Pavlovian.
I leave Santa Monica and the storefront apartment. I go past the beaches, the Palisades, up into Malibu and all the houses that cling to the west side of the highway as if by force of will alone. On past Pepperdine and Zuma beach, past the real Malibu where the locals live and on to that perfect part of coast that is empty. Just mountains ending in the ocean. It reminds me of the road up past Davenport before San Francisco and another lifetime when I lived there.
I keep driving, up further and inland a bit where the mountains move east and the land is flat; past farm land and rows and rows of green vines and veggie fields. The whole morning covered in a gentle blanket of dew; it’s Sunday, and the world is still sleeping. Just a little further now, past the military part of the road, past shooting ranges and obstacle courses, past statues of jets and signs declaring our pride in our troops. Then Ventura appears and before I know it I’m at the beach house, pulling up and hugging my dear friend.
We spend the day talking about her wedding, the details, the images she wants. We talk about her fears and excitement. I make one large list as she makes little ones all over the place. We have different brains and we love one another. It’s going to be a beautiful wedding. 14 people in Big Sur. White and gold and beautiful touches. Carrot cake and magical champagne. As much as I want to engage in the pretty planning we have run out of time, now is time for the plan, to think of the day and see it happening before it happens, see the problems before they occur. Her fiance moves around us- taking the dog out for a walk, pouring me drinks, making brunch and dinner. The day passes in a whirl of lists and feather boas and what song to walk down the aisle to. When I look up I realize I’m running out of time.
When I lived in LA I stored some things at a friend’s house while I was working out of town. I forgot about those boxes for 3 years and on this visit she reminded me so I picked them up. They are full of old clothes I loved once, in high school or even before, plus Burning Man costumes and pieces I’d found in odd places. All this I spill on to Amy’s living room to sort because I can’t take it all back with me. I’m merciless. I throw out 90 percent of it, saving the nice things here and there but shunning sentimentality. I think about my New York life. If it didn’t fit in that life then it went. I repack my suitcases in her driveway in the dark and just as the clock hits 7:30 I throw bags in the car, hug the soon to be married and depart the sweet house on the coast.
I have just enough time to make my flight if I drive exactly the speed limit and there is no traffic, I’m stressed but refusing to ruin my chance to be in that open wildness again. I hit that part in the road as night falls thick over California. The moon is almost full and reflects it’s beams on the black rolling water. I get 13 minutes of this drive. They are the most peaceful moments of my trip. Warm car, music on the radio, golden moonlight bouncing off the ocean. For 13 minutes the world feels empty and deliciously lonely and the moon is following me home again.
Drop off the rental, catch the shuttle, miss the terminal, walk two blocks with two loaded down suitcases, check in, drop bags, through security in five minutes and arrive at the terminal where of course my flight is delayed. I buy a magazine and gum and sit down with my phone. I call the friends I missed seeing while I was in town. I call my host to thank him again. I get a decaf soy latte and a piece of cake at Starbucks in case it’s the last chance to eat for a while. One time on this airline they took us up in the air and then circled for 6 hours before bringing us back to the same airport. Problems with landing at the destination they said. It was 6 of the most wretched hours of my life. In case that happens again I’ll at least have my latte to comfort me.
Luckily this time the flight leaves only 40 minutes late and we fly all night to Charlotte where I’ve missed my connecting flight. Now it’s Monday. I get breakfast at some awful airport restaurant and wonder about the lives of the people who work here. I wonder if I’ll ever find good hash browns again, are they really SO hard to make? I’m loopy because sleeping on a plane isn’t really sleeping. It’s denying certain death by shutting down my conscious brain. My sub-conscience is alert the whole time. I’m exhausted and is it too much to ask to have decent breakfast potatoes?
On the next flight and off the plane at JFK where fall has come to New York. Taxi home, where the subletter has kept a nicer apartment than I do. Everything is perfect and I fall into bed for a much needed nap. I open my computer to check email and it’s a rabbit hole. I finally close the screen and try and sleep. I think I’m out for 15 minutes when the phone rings, my former step mom from Paris. The rule is, I always answer the calls from Paris. We talk for a minute and then she hands the phone to my brother. He’s 13 so conversation is slow. I feel like I need a class in how to talk to 13 year old boys. It didn’t really come natural when I was 13 and it’s not coming easily now. I need to go to Paris soon to visit. Before he is 14 and then 20 and then getting married or something and I’ve missed it all. There are ropes that hold my heart 3 thousand miles in every direction.
So no nap and up again. Shower. Sweet shower, with my shampoo and my soap and the things that smell like me. Base, foundation, eye shadow, fake lashes, blush, mascara, hair, black pants, black shirt, something sheer on top and an explosion of my suitcase. Boots on, bag over shoulder, out the door.
Subway to subway to Chelsea Market. Jamie calls to ask me to get cardamom and sugar. $60 later I’m in a cab to 27th and walking into the McKittrick. Jamie comes just after and we make 8 buckets of cocktails out of 10 cases of booze, 15 quarts of citrus juice and gallons of simple syrup. I pour the drinks from one bucket to the next to mix them and make jokes about mixology. I think of a time not so very long ago when I’d never heard of batching. Now this is about the closest I get to bartending; pouring 50 drinks from one food safe lexan to the next. It’s not a complaint, it’s just a different gig.
Jamie brings espresso chocolate. It makes everything better and my brain is able to figure out multiplying these specs by 300, able to figure out how many ounces are in a gallon, and how many quarts of lime juice to add. We finish up in time to go get dinner- labeling all the buckets and then donning our masks. We follow Keith, the bar manager, through a dark door and into the McKittrick where the show is in full swing. People move about the room like ghosts and we pass them unnoticed in our masks, down a hallway, past old photos, through a side door and out on to the street. Like it never happened. Like that was just a dream.
Dinner is delicious and quiet. Jamie and Rachel and I checking our phones and chatting. Part work, part hang out, part meal. We cross the street and go upstairs to the roof of the McKittrick where the party is about to start and the staff will be serving all those drinks I made this evening. It’s a great party. Before I know it I’m sitting in a replica of an old pullman car, drinking punch with David Wondrich and looking out at the vastness of the city so pretty some nights I think it’s all made of candy. My best friend is across the table, new friends nearby and everyone is laughing. I’ve been gone from New York for nearly 3 weeks and this as good a welcome back party as I could have imagined.
They kick us out at 2am and we wander on to the street. I catch a cab and fly home in the coldness and lateness of the night. I can’t pull the energy to do anything so I just fall into my bed. No sheets, no pillow cases and I don’t care. I’m still in my fake eyelashes and foundation. I can’t move. I’m tipsy on absinthe and haven’t really slept in two days. I fall asleep in this soft cloud and don’t wake up until 10 the next day.
I wake up Tuesday and fall back asleep and then wake up for real. There still aren’t sheets on the bed, I didn’t just imagine that. I still have the eyelashes on and my hair is all over the place. The tiniest hint of a hangover is present but I deny it and throw on clothes, tie my shoes and force myself to, if not run, then walk quickly for a mile- down the street, around the Pratt campus and over to the store. I buy kale and eggs and hot sauce and go home and cook them. I answer emails, will I sponsor this, can I help with that, do I know someone who can do this, what’s the plan for that. I eat eggs and do expense reports. An odd element of this position is that not everyone I work with goes out 5 nights a week as part of their job. They are up and emailing at 9am like the rest of the working world but I was expected to be out last night until 2. Add to that that my other office is in Paris and I find myself answering emails at the strangest times of day and night.
My co-worker shows up and we go about the main activity of the day. Jello shots. 300 of them. For a low brow art party her gallery friend is throwing. I decide on making a passion fruit, rum and absinthe shot. It’s delicious and I think we get a little buzzed just from tasting the mixture. Since this is the first time either of us has done this it takes longer than expected and we finally finish at dinner time with 325 jello shots chilling in my fridge. She tastes one and deems it perfect. I don’t eat gelatin so I pass but admit that they look amazing.
After a massive clean up effort she heads out and I eat dinner and watch some drama on TV. That’s when I realize I have more to do tonight and it’s getting late. I clean up best I can and head out to grab a zip car. I need to pick up some Lillet for a punch I’m making tomorrow, drop off some product at an account that is doing a charity thing and then grab a punch bowl from an account I’d loaned it to so that I have some way of serving the Lillet punch. I get in the car and I’m instantly happy. The night is cold and wet, the car is warm and dry. The radio is set to the Columbia University station and they are playing honkey tonk music. Even though I get lost on the dark Brooklyn streets I’d have been happy driving all night. Just me, the lonely catchy country music and this shining Brooklyn night.
I finish my errands after midnight and reluctantly leave the car at the lot. I make the bed, turn down the sheets, brush my teeth and finally feel home. It’s nice. It’s nice to be home after 3 weeks on the road. After weddings and parties and performances. After flying for hours and hours, and driving miles and miles. After reunions and first dates and heart breaks and cleaning out the garage. After climbing mountains, giving toasts, and serving punch. After photo shoots and meals in the car, drinks with friends and a perfectly timed haircut. After dense cities and wide open fields, basement bars, rooftops lounges and wild cliffs at the edge of the world. After San Francisco, San Jose, Sacramento, Arroyo Seco, Santa Cruz, Davenport, Monterey, Carmel, Los Angeles, Malibu, Ventura and the San Fernando Valley. After all that it is nice to be home in my warm place in Brooklyn where my life lives for now.
I fall asleep by 2am. I have to be up at 8am the next day to head to Boston.
To be continued.