Southern California

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En route to the coast, with Derek (not his real name) on his way to Tacoma next to me, young guy with Vibram 5-toes, and Sam (or hers) and Mary (or hers either) having a great conversation behind us, Sam a college student at SPU with big hippie dreadlocks, an aspiring psychopharmacologist with a deep and abiding love of Portland and all its various sister cities and Mary, older, a former hippie perhaps who now lives in Vancouver, bipolar, two women from opposite sides of the generational gap carrying on as natural as can be.

Southern California reminds me of DeLillo, Mary even talking about the bomb and the test sites in Nevada and which way the wind was blowing, linking it to autism rates in Orange County, and breakfast this morning was a brisket scramble at Nick’s Cafe in the shadow of Dodger Stadium, reading Underworld of course, with the pillow stacked on top of my Timbuk2 clearly marking me as a transient and 3 cops, regulars judging by their banter with the waitress, having breakfast at the end of the counter to my right:

  • An overweight trainspotter standing at the end of the Amtrak platform recording us on a small point & shoot as we pull out of Union Station.
  • The drainage (irrigation?) canals that run through the city, one with permanent water and trees growing in it and then suddenly the next one’s a road, filled with cars instead of water or lack thereof.
  • A huge, sprawling parking lot full of cars in various stages of injury and destruction.
  • Acres and acres of greens and trees and hoop-tented shade structures stretched out like barracks in neat little rows, the fruit and vegetable basket of America.
  • Passing north of the Hollywood hills and all of their amazing driving roads, permanently haunted by certain past and future versions of myself.
  • A big Community billboard in downtown L.A. and the attendant realization that this is the part of the world where movie stars live, like local gods of the land, drawn by the sunshine and the water and the legacy of past generations who were also drawn here by the sun and the sea, feeling hot already in your long-sleeved plaid shirt from REI that you put on in Albuquerque yesterday afternoon and looking forward to the Pacific, wanting to see it from the window of a train.
  • Roughly 30 minutes now, pulling into Oxnard, and a polite young man walks through the lounge car with a neon sign that says “Free Hugs,” smiling just awkwardly enough to be endearing.
  • The cute girls with the bicycles from the platform sitting across a table from each other chatting, late 20s or early 30s, like a scene from a Tarantino movie, and the one facing you glances up, smiles at you as you walk by, unpretentious with long black hair.
  • Following 1 up 101 now, the little inland juke between Malibu and Santa Barbara, a stretch of road that’s part of your world, familiar on some level.
  • And now you’re here, staring the Pacific Ocean straight in the face, or at least as much of it as fits between here and the horizon, with Catalina Island and a handful of cargo ships silhouetted against the boundary between the sea and the sky, or perhaps they’re oil rigs, it’s hard to tell, and it’s all yours until San Luis Obispo.
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