Friday, August 13, 2010

Intolerant Voyager: Notes from the Pacific Surfliner

There’s nothing like travel on a crowded train full of Dodger’s fans to force you to turn your vision inward and think profound thoughts. Such as:

I just invented desperation meditation. I do this in a hurry when the little wired man in the train seat in front of me bounces in his chair. As a consequence, his seatback pummels my laptop lid as if it were a basketball. Mr. Bouncy goes at it for six hours. (Oh, pity the girlfriend.) I don’t need to be told this, but he announces on the 5.45-hour phone call he’s conducting — in such a way as to include all of us in the scintillating conversation — that he quit his psyche meds. And he feels much better now. Phew. That’s a relief.

Messages on Facebook and on my blog site from friends who’ve taken the time to read my blog or book are better than Christmas presents. Materially I have everything I need and want. What writers need is a two-way conversation between their work and their readers. Thank you. And, yes, it’s possible to read bouncy text between cleansing breaths.

It pays to travel business class on Amtrak when you’re in sardine mode. You get free wine, something fun wrapped in a big cellophane bag called snack packs that have great nuts and fruits and a smiling conductor who walks by and says, “Help yourself to the coffee in the urn in the front of the car.” Hey, Amtrak makes delicious coffee! Hide it from Mr. Bouncy.

We pass San Juan Capistrano. There’s a restaurant dug into the cliff and hundreds of people crammed together in similar sardine fashion, though their chairs appear to be plastic and mine is quite comfy. They await the sunset, at which time they will rise up, cheer and clap. I see they are geared up and ready because they wave and holler as our train of travelers zips past.

Why would anyone cram into a plastic chair amid hundreds of plastic chairs to watch a sunset when there are hundreds of miles of empty coastline from which to view the recurring miracle?

We love our fellow man. We crave proximity. Why didn’t we build the extended family into our lifestyle? Why are we so all alone?

Alone? Look around. Who’s alone?

Nevermind. Look at that gorgeous ocean. Good lord. That unique turquoise-blue water. That soft warm sand that firms as you near the surf. Look at all those runners and walkers and cyclists, hundreds of them, exercising their bodies on a hard, dusty path on the other side of the road. Does this make sense?

When did moving the body get put into a 45-minute slot between dental hygienist and paying bills?

For the record, you go numb from the feet up when you are wedged into a seat for six hours, no matter how comfy the seat. It takes about two hours for the paralysis to reach your brain. No prob. I keep my lips going with regular sips of free California Cabernet. This is good stuff.

There are too many people. Jim says it too. I see thousands upon thousands of coastal homes of all sorts (mobile and otherwise), from LA to San Diego. And on the decks and porches and front yards of these homes I see people in bathing suits. Lots of bikinis. One possible naked person. The people recline, for the most part, on chaise lounges. They have suntans and a week to decompress before revving up again. Did we mean for this to happen to us?

And now, encamped, finally, in the spacious Sunset Suite, at the home of my best friend of 35 years. Wow. Amazing. I arrive with a radical haircut I hate and didn’t ask for, much like the asymmetrical Sassoon cut I had the day we first bumped into each other at UNH with babies and fulltime college course loads. What’s really amazing is that she loves me because of my stupid haircuts, slew of crises and all the eccentricities. I love her for her brains and beauty and hard work and her drive to give back the best she has to offer, which is a lot.

Yes. Made it. Safe now. In the arms of loved ones. Where we all long to be.


  1. I remember that assymetrical Sassoon cut. I was there when you got it. It was in Boston, and I was standing on one side, while someoone else was standing on your other side. Looked ok from where I was, but we were each seeing completely different haircuts. I'm enjoying reading about your trip. My sister and I took a trip to St. Louis last year where we checked out our old house. Some things were so familiar, and others looked so different than what we remembered. Now we were seeing everything through the eyes of an adult.

  2. Great essay again, Rae. That area definitely has TOO MANY PEOPLE. It freaks me out when I land at LAX and drive the rental car north to Ventura. "Where are all these people going and what are they doing here?" Six lanes in each direction and they are always full. After living in Massachusetts for 30 years, it amazes me almost to the point of panic.

    And yes, that magical ocean. Enjoy some for me!


  3. That haircut! As horrible as it was to wear, it was a good story! Barbara, do you remember how I complained (and refused to leave)? The hairdresser and I had a long stand-off till, finally, he took me into a private room to "fix" it and all he did was shorten it. I am pretty sure I made you join the sit-in with me -- there on Newbury Street!

    You have to have a certain girding of the psyche to go home again. It's not all fun and games. We were able to take the Pacific Coast Highway north from LA because we made the trip on a weekday. Traffic wasn't as bad but generally speaking all I can say about Santa Barbara's population expansion is that it really "filled out," for lack of a better word. the city looks fatter, flusher, well fed, quite well indulged. It was just "regular" when I was growing up there.

  4. I remember that horrific, traffic swell going from you sister's in B hills up to my brother's in thousand oaks. took us hours, it seemed. this was in what, '86? can't imagine it now.

    also remember an odd, symmetrical haircut in the '70's as well.

    love this post, rae. you really bring the whole california scenario to life! ...and going home is never what you think it will be.