15 May 2007

I wanna live there too!

Thank goodness that it is Tuesday, I don't feel guilty then about writing personal posts instead of politicking on Tuesdays!

I have so much to tell about my trip to California that I'm not sure that it will all fit in one post. I'm also not very sure where to start. The flights out there were uneventful, which was wonderful. Eventful flights tend to be frightening. We arrived in Los Angeles on Thursday, and LAX? Jesu! What a mess. The traffic. The cars. The crowds. The incredible insanity.

The first thing that I noticed as we came out of the terminal was the mingled scents of gardenia and exhaust. No, I didn't see any celebrities at the airport, bummer. There were hedges of gardenia everywhere. Once upon a time, I wore a gardenia perfume, and as scent is the strongest thing to evoke memory, I was reminded of that time strongly. Anyway. The smog! The traffic! As we left the airport, we were driving on the 405 freeway, and I was looking around at the heavy traffic. Every other car, I swear, was a Mercedes. Or a BMW. Very, very few old junkers. And every single driver was on the phone. Hang up and drive, people! I couldn't help but think of a Buffet song from his last album, "Everybody's on the phone," where he says,

Everybody's on the phone
so connected and all alone
from the pizza boy to socialites

because everyone was all by themselves in the car and yet yakking to heaven only knows who.

The haze obscured the hills that I know surround the city, thick, yellowish. And no wonder, considering the number of cars. My cardiovascular system is working great, so I had no trouble breathing there, but my mum sure did. We were in an airport shuttle, and the driver dropped people off in several parts of the city. What I was astonished by was the amount of trash that was everywhere I looked. Didn't matter if we were in a wealthy neighborhood or a poor one. Tossed everywhere were fast food bags, plastic grocery bags, soda bottles.

Our hotel was right on the water in San Pedro. We had to spend one night there and take the ferry the next day, so we were in a little place that at first glance was lovely, but the longer we were there (about 20 hours, all told) the more we noticed little things. Like the hallway where our room was, which smelled so strongly of tar that you could taste it at the back of your throat. Our room was fine, even had a small fridge for my myriad bottles of water, which thrilled me. But the elevator smelled so much of tar that we kept trying to find other ways to get in and out of the place, even resorting to taking the emergency exit stairwells to escape the chocking sensation you get from breathing that stuff in.

I didn't take sunscreen with me because I knew I wouldn't be able to get a big bottle of the stuff through airport security, and so once we checked in to the hotel, sunscreen and water were the high priorities. We walked around the port for about two hours, and didn't find any sunscreen at all. Which means that I got sunburned. My skin is so fair that about 20 minutes in full sun is all I need to be very sorry later. I got two really bad burns in my teens, and since 19 have worn SPF 30 or higher to keep from being burned again. Both sisters, brats that they are, are just ever so slightly darker skinned than I am, and don't burn. They tan. Not me! They got more of the eastern European genes and I got the Scandinavian and English ones. When they harass me about being so pale, I tell them that when I'm 55 and they're 50 and 46 respectively, and people have to ask who is the oldest, I'll have the last laugh.

That afternoon, when we checked voice mail messages, mum had one from Gran, down in Florida, which said, "The news says that there's a fire on Catalina. You might want to rethink your visit to (babysis). " We clicked on the telly, and the news was reporting about fires in Florida and Georgia, but nothing had hit the airwaves about a fire on Catalina. We called Gran back and told her, no big deal, we're already in LA, and heading over tomorrow. Should be just fine.

After dinner, however, it was a big deal. The local LA stations all had nothing but "Catalina Fire!!!" coverage, breaking into prime-time stuff to show shots from helicopters of fire burning ever closer to the island's main city, Avalon. I kept switching back and forth between KTLA and CNN, watching in disbelief as they showed power lines burning, and people queuing to get on the ferries to get off the island.

Incidentally, KTLA is the CW affiliate out there, so yep, I got to watch part one of All Hell Breaks Loose on Thursday night. Woooooo! I have some fangirl gushing to do, but as usual, that will be over on MySpace instead of here.

When we got up the next morning, the news wasn't good. The fire was still burning, and the ferry companies were evacuating people by the horde. What seemed like hundreds of telephone calls to both ferry companies told us that one was running people over to the island and the other one, which we had tickets on, was happy to bring people back to the mainland FROM the island, but unless you were fire or news crew, you were staying on the mainland. We talked to babysis, her boss, the ferry folks, the taxi companies....and it looked for a while like we had successfully made it to Los Angeles, only 26 miles from babysis, but we weren't going to be able to see her unless she evacuated with the residents of Avalon. And at that, no guarantees that she'd be able to get back over there for work on Monday.

Her camp is more than twenty miles from Avalon, and over the island's dirt one lane roads, more than a two hour journey. We kept insisting to the ferry folks that there wasn't a problem on her part of the island, but they just weren't willing to budge. Finally, a rumor of a potential boat, leaving from Marina Del Rey at 1.45 pm, reached us. AHA! A new ferry company. Phone calls to them said, yes, they'd be happy to take us over and drop us off in Emerald Bay, just one cove over from CIC. We just needed Emerald Bay's permission to get off the boat in their cove, and assurances from CIC that they were, in fact, expecting us. Rockin'! Now the only problem was that we hadn't rented a car and needed to find a way up the coast to MDR. Fast. If we got there quickly, we could get tickets and wait and see if they'd take us over. A $75 cab ride later we found ourselves at a pretty little place with about 3 hours to kill. So we left our bags at the ship's offices and walked to a shopping plaza about a half mile away, where I finally, FINALLY, found some sunscreen.

Wonder of wonders, when the time came, they let us board the boat. Myself, my mother, and one other passenger on a ferry that normally carries about 400. We didn't call the camp to let them know that we were on the way until the boat left the harbor and we were sure they weren't going to turn around and boot us off. It had been that kind of day up until that point, so better safe than sorry.

The boat's huge engines rumbled under our feet, and when they left the harbor, powering up even further, they got lots louder. "What kind of engines does this thing have?" I asked, wondering if the bartender (yep, a bartender. For 3 people.) knew anything about the ship.

"Caterpillars." He responded, handing me a very welcome rum and diet.

I didn't need to ask anything further. Caterpillar engines power bulldozers and heavy machinery, earth moving equipment. Which kind of makes sense, after a fashion, that a boat could use the same engines to power through the water.

We're told that 70% of the earth's surface is covered with water. I grew up on lakes and rivers, but the sea is something even more awe inspiring than the Great Lakes or the smaller bodies of water that I'm used to. I was reminded of more Buffet, "Stars On The Water" and an Incubus song that I can't remember the name of where Brandon Boyd sings about "The ocean looks like a thousand diamonds strewn across a blue plain." The sun beats down, relentless, but it isn't warm. I stepped out on the stern's platform and was beaten by the winds so forcefully that I held on with both hands. I'm rarely cold, but I went back inside when my teeth were chattering to grab a pullover to get warm with. I climbed up the stairs to the top deck, again holding on with both hands, and I'd estimate the temperature with the winds at around 40 F. Brr. Sunny and warm Cali, my ass.

I get seasick sometimes, but the motion of the ship is instead reminding me of dune buggy rides of my childhood. We'll be cruising along smoothly, and then BOOM, a sudden drop of a few feet. Or we'll climb a ridge of water and at the top, there won't be anything under it, so you drop again, rolling up the next wave. The seas are pretty calm, actually, I'd estimate the waves at no more than 4-5 feet. Considering that I've seen 30 foot waves on the Pacific in Hawai'i, 5 foot rollers don't seem so bad.

The skies are crystalline blue, clear, perfect. Before we got on the boat, the temperatures were moderate, but in that weird range that if you're working in the sun it is hot, seated in the shade it is cool. California, warm? Tell it to someone who's buying, cause I ain't.

Suddenly, when I look up from scribbling impressions thus far, we're surrounded on all sides by water, not a bit of land in sight. An unending expanse of blue flecked by the occasional whitecap is all that I can see, for what seems like hundreds of miles around. The noise of the engines start to bother me, even with the Gorillaz blasting on the iPod I can still hear and feel them.

As the boat approaches the dock on the island side, I can pick my sister out of the crowd by her hair, long and dyed black, tied up in a messy bun and the fact that she has on a t-shirt of DH's that he gave her, from his old fire department. Impatiently, we wait for the crew to finish their docking procedures so that we can run down the gangplank to throw ourselves at her and shriek. She looks fantastic, tanned and healthy except for the bruises she's sporting from a recent bout with a rip current. (For the record, she won, since she lived. Guess it was bad. Understand why she downplayed it on the phone.)

We load our gear into a battered and dirty maroon Montero, for what she assures us is a very short car ride to her home camp.

Once we get there, introductions to her co-workers begin, too fast and too many to follow. She lives in a state of perpetual college; without the bother of tests and study. Dorm-style accommodations, people around all the time to kayak or dive with, shared bathrooms. It sounds a bit like I'm disparaging the lifestyle, and maybe I am, a little. It isn't for me. It suits her, though, she is so happy here, thriving. Her quarters consist of 4 bunk beds, in a room that measures perhaps 10 by 17. Each bed has a nightstand near it, for the person on the bottom bunk. Dunno what the top bunks do, but of the 8 available beds, only 4 are in use, so I guess there's one night stand for each person. Four dressers of wildly different styles and sizes are scattered about the room, and a bookshelf rests near the "front" door. The back door is the closest to the communal restrooms. Spoiled as I am, that is probably the sole reason that I could not live and work here. At home, DH and I don't even share a bathroom; I moved my stuff out of the house's main bath and into another when he bitched about "all this stuff" in the shower. The shared bathroom and the fact that the bathrooms are at least 300 yards away from her quarters, a walk over a volleyball court that is awfully long in the dead of night probably preclude me from ever working there.

I scored a top bunk, her roommates having mostly left for the weekend on Thursday night. We left our baggage in her room and toured the rest of the camp. It is unbelievably beautiful here, and I want to call it an untamed beauty, but that wouldn't be completely accurate. The hills surrounding the camp seem wild, but the pathways cut through them are clear signs of human interference. We give my sister the gifts we brought her, blank CDs for her to steal music from her co-workers, episodes 1-19 of SN, (she was a fan before she left, this isn't me trying to convert her, I promise) a case of beer. After an amazing dinner, we take a hike up into the aforementioned hills, and she shows me how fennel and coastal sage grow wild. Thickets, forests of fennel, all 'tinder dry' as the TV news kept saying.

We break off a stalk of fennel, and suddenly a gentle anise scent fills the air. I'm not a fan of black licorice, or anything anise flavored, but the smell isn't unpleasant.

Its good, good, GOOD to see my sister. My mother repeatedly grabs her and hugs her tight, but I restrain myself from typical sibling displays of poking, tickling, other annoyances. I know how much that bothers her, so I don't.

The camp is completely without any power that first night, and we rely on flashlights and candles. When no one is speaking, there is no sound except for the ocean and the wind.

We sit around the obligatory campfire, huddled close to the flames for warmth after dark. Warm and sunny California, MY ASS. I'd been warned, repeatedly, that the nights are cool, but it is astonishing how cold it is after the sun goes down. Walking away from the campfire in search of a bathroom, I am chilled enough to rattle my teeth nearly out of my head.

I could have sat around the campfire and listened to stories and songs (two guitar players and numerous enthusiastic singers were there) all night, but we wandered to bed around 10.30 west coast time, which is after all 1.30 am east coast time. Very surprisingly, I slept for about 4 hours uninterrupted. When I woke with the urgent need to visit the little girl's room, I stepped out of my sister's cabin into the very dark night and listened, for a minute, to the total silence that enveloped the camp like a heavy cloak. I could hear the waves, thunderously loud, but the ocean's edge is nearly 1000 yards from that spot. As I walked, I pushed the button on my watch that makes the face light up, curious about what time it might be, because it was still really, really dark. 05.40, the watch informed me. Huh. Had I really slept for 7 hours? And why wasn't it lighter outside? I puzzled over that on my way back to the cabin, but it wasn't until I climbed back up the ladder into bed that I realized that I'd never reset my watch to Pacific time, and it was only 02.40. Duh!

I think that's a good place to stop for now, I have more than 10 pages handwritten of more notes, but I'll write more about it for the rest of this week until I'm finished.


Dawna said...

Um, wow. You and your notes!! LOL I swear, unless I'm near a computer and physically blogging everything as it happens- consider all info either fuzzy or gone.


Lucy Arin said...

Details, details, details! I notice them all. The notes are actually more scribbled reminders, like

"2nd floor hallway @ hotel, TAR."


"fennel, coastal sage, grow wild."

Y'see why I start to feel a bit....blocked....when I'm not near a 'puter? The urge to write, write, write is almost overwhelming.

In the days before blogging, I wrote letters, longhand, to a handful of friends. I miss that sometimes.

On another note,
OMFG, poor Jensen @ Asylum! I'm just now catching up over at JRAU. And jealous!!!!!!!!!!