MIRANDA - REDWOOD STATE AND NATIONAL PARK - CRESCENT CITY
We drove along the Avenue of the Giants, craning our necks, as we tried to see the tops of the giant California Redwoods.
“Katie, watch out!”
I swerved back into our lane. “I’m watching.”
We came across one of a handful of giant trees on private property. The trunks of the trees had been hollowed out and converted into a tunnel. For a nominal fee--$6 I think it was--one could drive their car through the tree, risking damage to both side view mirrors. We felt this somehow cheapened the experience, taking a beautiful and majestic piece of nature and reducing it to tacky carnival sideshow. So we opted out of that and headed north to the Redwood National and State Parks.
Here, we stopped driving amongst the trees, and started to walk the trail through the forest. The car, the road--all of it--creates a kind of barrier that prevents true immersion: you’re in the car; you’re not in the forest.
But hiking along the trails, surrounded by trees 350 feet high and over 900 years old, one can’t help but venerate the nature of the area. It’s this profound, yet inarticulable, feeling that anything that has lived that long and grown that huge should be respected. It was another sense of awe, that I could only describe is seeing God looking back at me. We didn’t speak to each other much, and when we did, it was in a whisper. We tiptoed lightly. In essence, we acted like we did in church.
And then it happened...the landscape was so beautiful, so magnificent, and so holy, I had to stop and have a good cry. I felt like the kid in American Beauty watching the bag blowing in the wind, so overcome with emotion from the beauty, that he just sits and cries. For me, this is just another day. I’ll cry from cough medicine commercials, music videos, greeting cards, and the sight of a puppy. Everything gets to me.
Brianna is not like that at all. In fact, she goes out of her way to hide her emotions. On the anniversary of her mother’s death, for example, she got blackout drunk and passed out as insurance against having to shed tears in front of me. But even she was crying. So we sat and held each other and cried while looking at these breathtakingly beautiful trees. In some ways, it was our most intimate moment together.
We hiked down to the deserted beach as a morning fog swirled around the trees. Having since composed ourselves, I of course wanted to see the beach. It was another stretch of rocky deserted shoreline. The warning signs we’d seen about bears in the forest continued on the beach. It never occured to me that a bear would walk out of the trees and down onto the beach, but the thought of it made me smile. I like going to the beach. Why wouldn’t a bear?
We got back in the car and resumed our journey northward, the swath of California behind us already dwarfing that which was left for us to discover. In fact, we’d almost traveled the length of the state, and while we were still enjoying ourselves, we were getting a little road weary.
We stopped for gas somewhere. I don’t know where it was. It was a gas station slash country store slash bigfoot...museum, I guess. But I didn’t see much of anything else that denoted the nearby existence of human habitation and civilization. I’m not sure it was an actual town. But the inside was fun--Bigfoot feet casts, maps where sightings had been recorded, and a host of sasquatch-related paraphernalia. I don’t know how I feel about the existence of Bigfoot. Truthfully, never gave it much thought. I don’t know if I believe or not. But it didn’t matter. It was fun.
We arrived at the inexplicably misnamed Crescent City--a town of roughly 7,000 people about 20 miles from the Oregon border. It was well after lunchtime, and I was hungry, but there was another aquarium, and at this one, you could pet the sharks! Lunch was going to have to wait! Unfortunately, that particular attraction was closed down that particular day for maintenance and cleaning of the shark tank. To say I was absolutely crushed was an understatement.
That’s okay, because I gave my usual stamp of approval of Crescent City: “This place is beautiful; we should live here.” Then I actually took a resume to the Northcoast Marine Mammal Center, you know, in the off chance we did want to move up here. Brianna wasn’t having any of it, but she humored me regardless. They said I could volunteer to help rehabilitate sick and wounded marine mammals--in other words, clean up seal poo--but they were not hiring, and if they were, they would not hire someone with only four-year degree in marine science that hadn’t been used in a decade. Ouch!
We stopped off for happy hour at Port O’Pints Brewing Company. We’d taken our time through wine country and did plenty of wine tasting back in Lompoc, but we’d yet to stop at a local brewery. We got one of those samplers and tried a few beers, but their nachos were what did it for us: A platter of tortilla chips covered in beer cheese sauce, sauerkraut, and corned beef. This was a new kind of nachos for us, and totally worth it.
This was pretty much it for our trip though. We went north to Cannon Beach the next day to see Haystack Rock for no other reason than we grew up watching The Goonies, and hooked inland to meetup with some old friends outside of Portland for a Labor Day barbecue. As I write this, I’m sitting at my mom’s in Washington, where we’ll remain for a couple of days before the 5 freeway and doing the reverse journey that in we did in ten days in two.
SAN FRANCISCO - KING RANGE CONSERVATION AREA - MIRANDA
We left San Francisco behind fairly early as we had a long drive ahead of us. I’ve always had this weird...issue with bridges and rooftops and the like. I guess it might be vertigo. I don’t know. As I type this, I realize it never occured to me to mention it to my neurologist; it could be related to MS for all I know. Anyway, my spatial awareness and equilibrium get thrown off. It’s not that I’m afraid of heights exactly, but I’m just not able to cope with them. I once had a fourth-story apartment and sometimes just looking out the window made me feel loopy, and a trip to the balcony meant grabbing onto the railing and gripping it for dear life.
So I handed the keys over to my beloved; there was no way in hell I was going to drive across the Golden Gate Bridge. After relinquishing command of the car, I admired the bridge from the road as we approached it, but upon actually driving on the bridge I had to hang my head and close my eyes for fear of vomiting. I could never live in a place like New York or Pittsburgh. Truthfully, I don’t even like elevators, and avoid them when I can. The sensation I get from riding in elevators or traveling across a bridge is the same as some people get from riding an amusement park attraction. As a result, I never feel truly safe behind the wheel. I can barely survive freeway interchanges.
As the bridge vanished and we were once again on terra firma, I exhaled and opened my eyes and the squirrels in my stomach finally stopped doing their summersaults. Brianna didn’t say a word; she didn’t chuckle. She didn’t even ask, “you okay?” and just waited for me to orient myself and pick the conversation back up. She didn’t ask if I was okay, not because she didn’t care, but because she’s seen this many times over the years and knows the routine by now. We used to travel the Zakim Bridge in Boston often enough. And that one’s not even that high. And Coronado Bridge in San Diego is the thing nightmares are made from. So while she found it odd, and at times, amusing, Brianna doesn’t react much anymore. It’s just one of those quirks and make me me that she has long since accepted without question.
We had quite a hike that day--literally. After four hours cramped in the car, we found ourselves at the beginning of a trailhead in the most beautiful stretch of coastline I’d ever seen this side of Arcadia National Park in Maine. This was the King Range Conservation Area of California’s “Lost Coast.”
It’s called the Lost Coast simply because it’s too rugged to really develop. There’s little in the way of roads or towns in the area. Highway 101 (as it’s known in NorCal) simply bypasses the entire area. We hiked down to the beach and had a picnic, such as it was--apples, cheese, jerky, and water, spent a couple hours down there, and didn’t see a single other person the whole time. This was some true wilderness, and as I stood with my hands on my hips and watched the waves, I wondered if this stretch of beach had ever been surfed before. How cool would that be? To surf places no one had ever thought to surf before?
We took a snake-like country road, that wound through the countryside and back to Highway 101--which this far north, was known as the Redwood Highway. I was driving this time.
We headed to our cabin in Miranda--a tiny town nestled among some gargantuan trees. It was the most charming, and cutest little place I’d ever seen. A dozen or so cabins were nudged into the woods, the area dotted with gazebos, a communal campfire pit, a pool, and, much to Brianna’s delight, a basketball court.
We got settled into our cabin and decided to benefit from the full kitchen provided, and cooked dinner. We’d probably both put on 10 pounds since we left home after so many meals at restaurants. Besides, we missed eating alone. We had a nice, quiet dinner, before Brianna paid me back for every surf excursion by abandoning me for the basketball hoop. I opened a couple of bottles of wine to breathe, and went outside to join her.
Our relationship with the great sport of basketball is a complicated one. I guess it’s the same difference between a movie buff and a filmmaker. Brianna is incredibly gifted athletically, and played basketball through high school and college, and has been on one recreational team or another ever since. She’s the true jock, also playing softball and volleyball. But as a sports fan, her only real interest is football. I, on the other hand, have absolutely no talent when it comes to playing basketball. I might shoot baskets here and there with Bri, or even try to mimic a Paul Pierce spin move or a Kyrie Irving crossover just for the hell of it, but I lack all athletic coordination to truly play the game. As a fan, however, I’m absolutely obsessed and have been since I was about 12 or 13. In high school, as a cheerleader, I did my duty during pep rallies and football games: stunts, cartwheels, pumping up the crowd. But during basketball games, I’d get downright rowdy, especially when Brianna was playing. I would talk trash to the other school’s players, argue with referees, and taunt the opposing coach. One time they threatened to hit our team with a technical foul if I didn’t pipe down.
So, yeah...I love the game, can’t play worth a damn, and have no interest in doing so. I just drink in the stands, or yell at the TV.
Brianna gave herself a little workout while I hung around and provided the commentary of her workout in my best Mike Gorman (“Brianna...spins to the hoop...gets two; Brianna...crusin’”) and Tommy Heinsohn (“Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me!!! This is absolutely ridiculous! I’ve gotta tell ya, this kid Brianna has gone up and down the flooah all night, and hasn’t gotten to the line once! NOT ONCE!! This is ridiculous…”) impressions.
I don’t know if any of you will get any of these references with the possible exception of @hotwater
After that, we joined some people around the communal camp fire: three middle aged guys on a fishing trip and an elderly couple enjoying their retirement. I don’t know if it was the wine, the warmth of the fire, or the exhaustion from galavanting all over the place, but I just fell asleep sitting there. Brianna nudged me awake and I, recalcitrant and taciturn, shuffled to our cabin while Brianna, having taken it upon herself to say goodnight on our behalf, followed a few paces behind. When we awoke the next morning, it was cold and crisp like a fall morning in New England. The temperature was climbing, slowly, but steadily, from its overnight low of 49 degrees. In my best Jon Snow voice, I warned Brianna that winter was coming.
But winter had to wait. Giant redwoods, seals, and our first stop to a brew pub--including the best nachos in the history of nachos awaited us.
Apparently fried pizza is a thing. They take a pizza and bake it in the traditional method and then take it from the oven and fry it. When I heard of the concept of fried pizza, I was imagining a stromboli type situation. Something dropped in a deep fryer. But no, they bake it until the crust and toppings are cooked, and the cheese is sufficiently gooey, and then put it on an oversized skillet. The bottom of the crust has the crispy consistency of a thin-crust pizza, but the rest of it is fluffy and doughy like a regular crust. The idea behind it, was that it was the best of both worlds. It was an interesting novelty, the Taco Bell double-decker taco of the pizza world: crunchy and soft simultaneously.
Salads and wines were paired with their proper pizzas through the menu. The cooks and management had long since gotten together and decided which wines went with which pizzas. So you didn’t go in and order your pizza, your salad, and your drink. You basically ordered the equivalent to a fast-food value meal--but instead of a burger, fries, and a shake, it was a mushroom and truffle oil pizza, with a pine nut and arugula salad, and a sauvignon blanc, or a hearty sicilian sausage pizza, with a bermuda salad and a malbec. The food wasn’t bad, but the whole thing did seem a little snobby.
Santa Cruz had been exciting but we were still feeling energetic and we weren’t ready to go back to our hotel yet--though, checking into the hotel had been a hilarious adventure.
When I travel, I never leave my board strapped to the roof of my car. Never. People have their boards stolen all the time. So far on our trip, we’d stayed in traditional travel-style motels. That is to say, the front doors opened into the parking lot. I’d take my board off the car, walk it right into our room, and--done, son. But now we were in a big city hotel with elevators and a lobby, and in a room whose front door opened, not into the parking lot, but to a corridor on the 6th floor.
At first we tried to put it in the elevator at a diagonal angle, and even then, it didn’t fit. We ended up holding up the elevator for a few minutes as we tried every which way to get the board in without dinging it. Needless to say, we were not very popular that night.
The people at the front desk said I could stash it in the back and retrieve it upon checkout. I did a reflexive scan of every conceivable disaster that could result from that scenario and immediately decided the risk wasn’t worth the reward. So in the end, it took the two of us, “steering” the board like a giant hook-and-ladder through the streets of New York, to walk it up six flights of winding stairs in a cramped stairwell. The looks on the faces of people in the hallway when we burst out of the stairwell were priceless. A woman stepped out of a doorway holding two small children by the hands. She stopped when she saw us, and flattened her and her children up against the wall as we swung past.
I grinned sheepishly and looked away when I said, “Excuse us.”
We got to our room without incident and stood the board up in the corner. I was pretty sure Brianna was ready to kill me. All she said was, “We’re going to have to do that again the day after tomorrow.”
So after our pizza and wine dinner, we headed out for a night on the town. You see, gay bars are virtually everywhere these days. In fact, we’d crashed one back in Lompoc. But, we didn’t really fit in. The problem is, most gay bars are dedicated almost exclusively to the gay male demographic. They don’t go out of their way to actively discriminate against lesbians, but they don’t really have much to offer us either. They all cater to either bearish leather daddies or boyish twinks.
For reasons unknown, lesbian bars are vanishing all across the country. Back home there’s Girlbar at the Chapel--which is supposed to be the lesbian version of the Abbey--but it really isn’t. Lesbian events are still fewer and farther between. A friend of ours runs an all-inclusive bar--that is, it’s not a gay or lesbian bar, nor is not those things either; just a general bar--and she has designated Thursday nights as “Gay Ladies’ Nite,” but a true lesbian bar doesn’t exist even in L.A.
But we found one in San Francisco--Wildside something-or-other-- and we thought it was going to be great. Oh. My. God!! It was a horrific experience. We walk in, and go up to the bar to order drinks and the bartender starts flirting with Brianna right in front of me. Even after I explained we were married and on our honeymoon! I was irate! But Brianna brushed it off and told me not to let it ruin our night.
But then the bartender rings a bell. No shit. There was a little dinner bell hanging above the bar. She actually rang it and yelled out “fresh meat!” What was this? Prison?
Next thing we knew, a gaggle of gay girls descended upon us asking all sorts of questions, and when we said we were on our honeymoon and just passing through, some of them were offended.
“Oh, so you’re just slumming it in the big bad city so you can go back to your little town and say you were a real lesbian once?”
I explained we were not from some little town, but rather from the gayest neighborhood Los Angeles had to offer. They treated us like we were poseurs or “newbies” or bi girls playing lesbian for the night. I don’t know. They were very clannish and did not like outsiders. I’d never encountered anything like it before.
We finished our drinks and got the hell out of there.
We awoke the next morning in the bright sunshine. It was our first glimpse of San Francisco in daylight. San Francisco is very different from L.A. While Los Angeles has spread out across a massive basin, and adopted a suburban feel, San Francisco is much more dense and urban, squeezed into a narrow peninsula between the Bay and the Pacific Ocean. Outside of downtown L.A., the city becomes low rise buildings and residential neighborhoods filled with small houses with lawns and trees. In San Francisco, the tall buildings seem to rise like mountain ranges all around you, making the city streets feel like canyons. Towers of glass and steel block out the sunlight. San Francisco feels more like an East Coast city to me--Boston, or New York.
Our first stop was Golden Gate Park and the California Academy of Sciences--specifically Steinhart Aquarium. But this was our third aquarium on this trip, and even I was a little burnt out. Plus, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is a tough act to follow. We spent a few hours between the different museums and and the Japanese tea garden, and then headed back downtown to the waterfront to see what the “embarcadero” had to offer.
We had initially wanted to do Alcatraz, but apparently you need to book months in advance. I wanted to plan the trip down to its minute details and run it with military precision; Brianna thought it would be fun to just “wing it.” I fought the urge to say I told you so.
The Embarcadero had a lot of stuff to offer, even in the middle of a work week: bars, gift shops, museums, restaurants, great views of the bay and Oakland across the way. We just kind of walked around eating ice cream--which I shouldn’t have done--and checking things out until it was time for dinner. We ate seafood right on the water--literally; we were on a pier--while seabirds swooped around us and harbor seals splashed and barked happily from below.
We went back to our hotel, and found a movie to watch. And, because of course this is how life works, it was Lords of Dogtown. I had accepted the fact that Santa Cruz was probably my last surf spot on the trip. Because, everything I knew was going to happen, happened: Brianna insisted I bring my board. So I did. She encouraged me to use it. So I did. Then she got annoyed every time I wanted to get in the water.
Bitches. Am I right?
But after seeing Lords of Dogtown, I was all keyed up and was up at 5:00am ready to hit Ocean Beach, or--perhaps the choicest surf spot in the Bay Area--Fort Point where the waves break right beneath the Golden Gate Bridge. How epic would that have been? But, I was already pushing it and I knew it.
So we loaded up the car and pushed on, Brianna behind the wheel this time, for a trip across the Golden Gate Bridge and all the way to Redwood country!
Interesting to note, San Francisco was the one place we visited where I didn't say, "this place is beautiful; I want to live here."
SANTA CRUZ - SAN FRANCISCO
The microcosm of the rivalry between Northern and Southern California had been played out by two small coastal cities, both of which hovered around the peripherals of major urban areas. In Southern California, outside of Los Angeles, sits the coastal Orange County city of Huntington Beach. Southeast of San Jose, was our current location: Santa Cruz. Why were these towns a microcosm of the instate rivalry? Because both places considered themselves to be--and were dubbed--”Surf City, USA.”
Most surfing purests recognize that Santa Cruz had the legitimate claim if for no other reason that it had been called Surf City since the 1920s when surfers from Hawaii first introduced the sport to the state of California. Huntington Beach has been known as Surf City since only 1991; at the time of Santa Cruz’s Christening as Surf City, Huntington beach was little more than a train station, a pier, and vegetable fields. However, Huntington Beach trademarked the term and is, thus, technically--legally--the true Surf City, but Santa Cruz is, actually--culturally--the real Surf City.
A biased side note here. While Huntington Beach hosts the U.S. Open of Surfing and boasts decent waves year round, everyone knows surfing developed its style--it’s flair, if you will--in Malibu. To me, Malibu has a much more legitimate claim to the Surf City title than Huntington Beach, who wrung the purity from the sport as one wrings out wet laundry, and turned it into aggressive events engaged in, and attended by, surly faced “frat bros,” who wouldn’t be caught dead on a longboard and who had no idea who Miki Dora was. Huntington Beach took something pure and fun, holy even, and turned it into a competition to be profited from. It was all about money, fame, sponsorships, and chasing Kelly Slater into big wave oblivion; it’s where ESPN trained their cameras. If I may be so bold, fuck Huntington Beach. But that’s not what this entry is about.
After a late breakfast downtown, we checked out the famous Santa Cruz boardwalk. If we had arrived a week later, all the attractions would have been closed down during the week. As it was, some rides were closed, but it was still fun to walk around the carnival atmosphere and just enjoy being somewhere different--just enjoy being. But it didn’t take long for the novelty to wear off and we were suddenly done with the boardwalk and on our way to a place we knew in name only: The Mystery Spot. We had no idea what it was, nor any expectations, but we’d heard it was fun, and embraced by locals and tourists alike.
The Mystery Spot is one of those hidden gems of the world. For $5 you get an hour-long activity and a mind-bending puzzle. The downside, you get a free bumper sticker. The Mystery Spot is supposed to be one of those geographical anomalies like the Bermuda Triangle where gravity goes haywire, up is down, down is up, balls roll uphill, and you can tower over someone who is normally taller than you. It’s all an optical illusion, of course, but we didn’t want to overthink it and ruin the fun. However, the place was panic-attack inducing. Illusion or not, my spatial awareness and equilibrium were affected physically, and that was no illusion. I felt a mild sensation of motion sickness. I guess it’s the equivalent of a funhouse. But it was fun and silly, and we had a great time.
The dead surfer’s memorial was surprisingly comforting. While I was expecting something like the memorial to fishermen lost at sea in Gloucester, Massachusetts, the dead surfer’s memorial wasn’t to honor those who died surfing--though some had--but to celebrate the departed surfers who had loved life and waves. It reminded me that I belonged to a distinct subculture and it was one outsiders didn’t understand--they didn’t understand our desire, connection, jargon, or lifestyle, nor the hardwork and dedication it took to become proficient in our chosen endeavor. Sure, we might get a holler of, “Sweet ride!” from a non-surfer, but no one ever said, “your drop knee turns and cutbacks are flawless!”
We reached the end of a point where a surfing museum stood, but it was Tuesday, and the museum was closed, because of course it was. Neoprene-clad surfers--mostly young men--ran past us to the end of rocky point and jumped down into the water. The point separated two drastically different stretches of beach. To the west, our right as we stood facing the water, was Lighthouse Field State Beach, a strip of sand with a small point about a hundred yards or so down the beach that caused the southerly swells to break diagonal to the beach in small rolling waves perfect for longboards and long rides.
Due to the shape of the shoreline, a surfer could paddle out off Lighthouse Field Beach, catch a wave, ride it into the shallows and walk right back to the beach, while surfers on the other side of the point were catching big waves, surfing them until they broke, ending their ride, and still be hundreds of yards offshore, surrounded by cliffs with no easy access to the shore. This is the world famous Steamer Lane, arguably the best surf break in the country.
After pulling my wetsuit on in the parking lot and running back to the point with my board, I stood at a literal oceanic crossroads. To the right, Malibu-esque longboard waves I’ve already since mastered; to the left, swells too big for my "In the Pink" board that would surely cause me to wipeout in breakers big enough to pound me into pudding. The fact that I was hesitating on what to do alarmed Brianna. She give me “the look.”
“I know, I know. I wasn’t really contemplating it,” I lied.
Down on the beach I noticed two fellas surfing offshore. They were good too, real, true longboarders who could walk the deck, ride the nose, and I suppose hang five or ten toes, bros.
They were trimming and stalling, squatting in the curl, walking up and down the length of their massive 10-0 boards on waves clouded and corrupted with impurities and kelp, the dark shape of which stood out against the translucent face of the wave.
I paddled out to join them (I swore one of them was “Wingnut” Weaver based on his style, and was utterly crushed when I got close enough to see that it was, in fact, not Wingnut afterall), caught a couple of decent rides, and packed it in for the day.
We were back on the road and headed north for pizza and wine in San Francisco’s Mission District, and a trip to what turned out to be a not-so-friendly lesbian bar.
PISMO BEACH - BIG SUR - MONTEREY - SANTA CRUZ
The fantasy had been to wake at dawn, slither myself back into my wetsuit, grab my board, jog down to the beach, the theme from The Endless Summer playing in my head, as I enjoyed surfing with the seals as the predawn darkness gave way to the hues of orange, pink, and purple that denoted the impending sunrise. The reality was waking up to the sounds of people around us breaking down their campsites, motorcycles roaring on the nearby roadway, and a blinding bright yellow sun. The ebbing tide provided virtually zero waves.
Feeling well rested and spry after being “done” the night before, I was much more helpful in breaking down our campsite than I had been in setting it up. And it was a good thing too. We had a lot of driving to do today. After a breakfast of eggs and coffee, we got back on the road, taking the 101 back to SLO to pick up the PCH and continue northward along the coast through Cambria and San Simeon, where we vetoed a trip to the Hearst Castle: We’d spent too much time in places like Lompoc and Pismo Beach. We had to make up some time. Besides, today’s docket included the stop I was most excited about: The Monterey Bay Aquarium. And to get there, we had to take one of the most beautiful and scenic drives in the entire country.
To say that Big Sur is breathtaking is an understatement. Spectacular, beautiful, amazing, awesome, stunning, astounding, incredible, humbling, magnificent--none of these adjectives do it justice. This is the rugged California coastline The Beach Boys never wrote songs about. It’s a region of frigid swirling eddies and whirlpools, massive waves slamming into jagged rocks, the place where the mountains truly reach the sea. Bright green vegetation dotted slick, black, salty rocks and cliffs that stood--and were constantly battered--by the raging Pacific. This wasn’t a beach in the classic sense--manicured sand, as soft as talc; a boardwalk; beach access; rows and rows of people on towels, absorbing the sun’s rays. This was a wilderness in every sense of the word, the land of elephant seals, humpback whales, great white sharks, and God-only-knew-what walking down from the hills. My reaction to Big Sur had been similar to that of the church back at Mission Santa Barbara. This was religion; this was God.
Sadly though, it was also a sad reminder of the fragility of life on Earth, as we noticed huge swaths of burned forest up in the hills, ugly black scars in the green-brown earth to the east. Yup, still California, the state that routinely attempts to burn to the ground.
We’d heard horror stories about the traffic on summer weekends as it was a huge tourist destination. But, it was a Monday, and while still technically and seasonally summer, it was pretty much fall. Kids were back in school and families weren’t as likely to be out and about taking selfies at McWay Falls and clogging up the roads. For the most part, we had the road to ourselves. The exceptions were a few RVs containing, I assumed, retired couples with no particular place to go.
We opted for beauty and experience (you know, an enjoy-the-journey-not-the-destination kind of thing) over efficiency, and it took us four hours to reach Monterey.
The first thing we did was check out the Aquarium. The visit was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster for me. I got my undergraduate degree in marine biology. I was going to save the whales, swim with dolphins, and dispel the negative myths associated with sharks. But, of course, that’s not realistic, and while twiddling my thumbs and being unable to find work in my field while Brianna was at medical school, I figured I might as well make myself useful and get my master’s degree in writing, the assumption being I’d be at least qualified to teach entry-level English classes at a state university somewhere. I also loved creative writing, had written numerous short stories at that point, and harbored the notion--however unlikely--that I would one day write a novel.
A couple of years later, while Brianna was interning at BMC, I got an amazing job at the Great Bay Estuary Reserve in New Hampshire, observing and cataloguing the different bird, fish, and marine mammal species in the area. It was truly my dream job, and I’d never been happier. However, my position was funded by a grant--a grant we only received because a certain state senator saw merit in what we were doing. That particular senator passed away, and without him to champion us, we lost our funding and my position was cut at the end of the fiscal year. I was devastated and fell into a deep depression that soured me.
Brianna was working for peanuts at the time (what most people don’t know is that doctors, often times saddled with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of student loan debt, don’t make much money initially) and I was unemployed. I needed something, anything, and I needed it fast. Because of my experience in writing, a friend of mine who worked in public relations and marketing said she could get me a job as a copywriter. The pay was fair, but not great, but I was able to liven up otherwise dull copy with enough snappy prose for my colleagues to take notice. I graduated to head copywriter, then an editor. Soon I was being wooed by larger firms in Boston. I had a Back Bay apartment and a six-figure income. Sure, I still surfed and bummed around the beaches of Cape Cod on my free time, but I was also a woman in pinstripe pant suits, who worked long hours, wined and dined potential clients on the company credit card, drank dirty martinis, and, much to my horror when I stepped back to examine myself, enjoyed poaching multi-million dollar accounts from our competitors.
I made the jump to L.A. a few years ago. While I was in Boston, Brianna was already here. She’d accepted a position at a sports medicine clinic in the hopes we would move out here together. Due to family issues, I stayed behind initially. We had also been fighting a lot lately, and we thought the time apart would do us good. With nothing to fill the void in my life now...I just worked. A lot. It came to define me as a person. When I got out to my new hometown and reconnected with the love of my life, I realized I didn’t want to be that person anymore. I had always been this punk rock surfer girl who assumed--through familial or societal influence, perhaps--that I could not be a punk rock surfer woman. Well, why the hell not? Being a suit--a corporate Sally? That wasn’t me. Not anymore. In fact, it never really was. It was a costume I thought I had to wear to be a “proper” adult.
As I sat on the deck outside the aquarium, overlooking the almost postcard-perfectly picturesque Monterey Bay, the sounds of barking sea lions coming from somewhere beneath us, I leaned my head on Brianna’s shoulder and before I could speak, she said, “I know, I know...it’s the most beautiful place you’ve ever seen and you want to live here.”
The Monterey Bay Aquarium was built into a converted old sardine canning factory, the smokestacks still part of the current structure. It overlooked the bay and, unlike most aquariums, really blurred the line between artificial habitat and true wilderness. The swirling baitfish and kelp forests--a literal nightmare if you ask me; I can’t fathom (see what I did there?) the fear of being lost among 25-foot plants on the ocean floor--require thousands of gallons of seawater to be pumped through the place in order to survive. There were windows that faced, not tanks, but the actual open ocean. Up on the deck, one could spot seals and sealions in the wild and, if one were lucky, whales in the distance. It was an ocean geek’s dream. I stomped through the place with all the grace of an excited nine-year-old, tugging Brianna from exhibit to exhibit, calling out the names of all the species of fishes we saw, long before getting close enough to read the placards: Groupers, dolphin fish, silky and dusky sharks, mackerel, bluefin and yellowfin tuna, sting rays, California barracuda, and, of course, the scalloped hammerhead shark.
We saw sea otters and baby leopard sharks. I watched with envy as a woman--employed by the aquarium and simply doing what she was paid to do--fed the baby bat rays. We picked up some knick-knacks and t-shirts from the gift shop and took a trolley back to our car. Though I couldn’t quite articulate it, I felt something profound and significant were happening to me. I felt that I was, for lack of better term, growing up finally after 38 years.
It was after dark by the time we arrived in the next town I’d want to live in: Santa Cruz. We checked into our hotel, ordered some room service, and opened one of the many bottles of wine we’d acquired on our journey. We ate, watched some TV, and went to bed. I wanted my rest. Tomorrow should be an epic day. I was very interested in checking out the town known as “Surf City, USA.”
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