It's amazing to come back to this blog and reread the posts, finding that I've already forgotten so much that has happened. Even though I wasn't able to make full posts, I have drafts and outlines of all the events and thoughts that I don't want to forget, that I want to write out and remember with all the depth of memory. I would like to keep each moment, like a marble in my pocket to take out and admire whenever I feel nostalgic. To see and smell and feel, feeling tangibly and emotionally those places, those people, those breezes and sun beams, the dust and the wind and the rain. Feeling the myriad of emotions ranging from utter exultation and wonder to fear and sorrow.
A year ago today I was on the highway leaving the red sandy monuments and canyons of Utah, traveling west into Los Angeles. On this day I drove passed Vegas to witness a thunderstorm traveling around that desert valley. "Witness a thunderstorm" does not seem adequate to describe what the experience truly was. Traveling south on I15 there is a vast, flat desert that comes to an abrupt stop in the distance at the foot of a great protruding mountain. It was as if a single cloud held the thunderstorm, like in a child's drawing, and I could watch it travel across the expanse of the land and sky. I could see clusters of rain like sheer curtains, more opaque in the places where the material folds. It seem that the lightening favored to strike along the heavier areas of rain, the electricity naturally favoring the conductivity of the closely huddled and rapidly descending raindrops.
The nastiest gas station I had ever been in was off that highway. I was particularly tired that day, determined for whatever reason to get to California sooner rather than later. I had experienced some car trouble in Utah, and was feeling most disenchanted with my travel companion, particularly after that last week in Colorado. I pulled up at the pump in that gas station somewhere not far from Los Vegas to find a pick up truck with Colorado plates, piled high with furniture and the general contents of a life and household. As I was pumping gas I inadvertently studied the family. There was a mother and three daughters of some kind of Latin American or even Native American origin. The mother seemed tired yet hopeful, the young pre-teen to teen girls chattering giddily among themselves, perhaps distantly aware of whatever their mother's worries and woes, just better equipped to deal with or bury the fear under what remained of their childhood innocence and hope. I wondered if we had traveled together across that barren and beautiful country, through southern Colorado, Utah, and Arizona into Nevada, unwittingly rendering each other travel partners.
Returning the nozzle to it's holster I entered the gas station to use the restroom. Upon entering I noticed an argument of what subject I do not recall between one of the customers and cashier, a line slowly growing longer behind the insolent patron. Each of the bathrooms was occupied, so I stood quietly behind the three young women from outside who gladly continued their whispering and giggly chatter. I gazed about, absorbing the assortment of knick knacks on the display nearby, an array of glittering dice and aliens on shot glasses and key chains. I searched outside the large windows for that traveling storm, just barely able to detect the grey that would mark the edge of the storm. The disagreement up front did not seem to escalate but rather drone on incessantly as the line grew, the face of the cashier flat and emotionless, revealing that this was not the first incident, that she dealt with this kind of thing often. Finally whoever occupied the women's room left, and I watched desperately as only one of the girls entered the commode, and closed and locked the door. A man left the gentleman's room, and I quickly took advantage. What I found was no gentleman's room. Everything seemed to be covered in a thick layer of grime and bad graffiti. The vulgar inscriptions may have been an improvement to the residue stained acrid green tiles. The light was old and industrial, twitching decrepit blinking yellow light onto the unsavory surfaces. On the far wall was a bio hazardous waste receptacle to accommodate the syringes of what I could only imagine to be droves of disease addled junkies, wondering in for their fix on their way back out to the desert from the seedy underbelly that I imagined Vegas, in it's entirety to be.
I walked outside and found the wind to be kicking up, the culprit, the mover of the storm swirling all around my face and arms. I surveyed that great valley with squinted eyes, sensing the deepest darkness I had yet to encounter on the entirety of my journey west. It would not be the last time, nor the most insidious energy I would encounter. I got back in the car, and continued down the highway hat headed straight for that mountain, for that great rocky triangle triumphantly marked the edge of the desert. I stared a long time at that storm as we both moved through that valley. The whole feeling of this place and the encounters made here held a sense of omen, but the beauty and wonder of that storm restored my heart with a sense of wonder and hope. That cloud was like a shower head passing over the city, rinsing it clean, rinsing it clean, rinsing it clean.
Now that I think about it, I realize how truly full this day was, and how vivid it all is even a year later. I traveled through that mountain pass and on that long, congested highway into Los Angeles. I had my sights set on Venice beach where I had been enchanted the year before while in LA for the Jack O'Lantern show. Having flown in for work, I enjoyed watching the steady transition of the terrain from flat desolate dark and rocky desert, to mountain, to California country, trailers with yards and palm trees and then the suburbs, the city, and at last, the Pacific Ocean. I actually got into a car accident, distracted by some kind of directions and frazzled by navigating the unfamiliar highway system. I 'bumped' some kind of expensive rental, an audi or mercedes or something of the like in the middle lane of bumper to bumper traffic. The vehicle slowly made its way over to get off the next exit, and I followed in agony. I was weary from a long day on the road paired with unfamiliar highway and heavy traffic I hadn't experienced the likes of since leaving long island almost two months previously. The sun had already set, it was dark, I was tired, and now in a state that I could only describe as agony in anticipation of whatever consequences waited for me. I was having a difficult time making my way over when I realized, watching the expensive rental exit off the highway, that I could just keep going and quickly be swallowed by the crowded highway. So I did, with little remorse for the minimal damage inflicted on the vehicle. It was, after all, a rental. So I continued, victorious and grateful that I was able to escape.
I parked in the first spot I could find relatively close to the ocean. Walking a few blocks west I spied Los Angelinos walking their small dogs and chatting away on cell phones amidst dusty lawns and palm trees. The thick, warm sea air wafted up and kept me pushing west, west, west. My travel partner and I walked down the pier, surveying the fishermen and teens and families in throngs along the ocean hovering path. Music played, people smiled, newspaper with various guts and goo from fish and bait littered the perimeter of the walk. The large hush and mumble of the ocean pervaded everything, a humming bass line to the thriving and pulsating voice of people on that early September night. I reached the end of the pier and looked over, the pulsating and breathing slice of ocean surface murkily illuminated by streetlamps. We somehow came into conversation with two rowdy and smiling Latin fishermen, welcoming us and suggesting places to go. We meandered through the canals, marveling at the beauty of the small walkways and bridges, observing the wealth of vacant well decorated and constructed homes, fit for magazines.
It didn't start until we hit the boardwalk. The relentless thumping culture of California youth, skateboarding and rollerskating and carrying on in throngs of locals and tourists alike. I drank it all in. I breathed the ocean breathe, I sipped the smiles and sounds of plastic wheels on pavement. While I was excited to be reunited with the Pacific Ocean, with Venice Beach which is it's own world in the midst of Los Angeles, I was focused on figuring out where to lay my head that night and get some rest. So like a wild animal surveying the land for a suitable den, I watched, I listened, I studied. Nearing the end of the boardwalk my travel partner and I leaned up against a beachfront parking lot wall, unsure of where to go next, with no leads. As if materialized from thin air a very nonthreatening, rather meek and humble yet knowledgeable young man approached us. "You're new here", he said simply, and proceeded to give us the run down of how life works for vagabonds on Venice Beach. He told us where to sleep, when the cops left the boardwalk and when they came back again, where to park. With that information he bid us adieu and seemed to vanish into that Venice night as quickly and easily as he appeared.
I retrieved my car, and explored until 1 AM came around. I pitched my tent on the sand between two palm trees behind some kind of industrial structure bordered by chain link fence where I fancied any early rising well to do people would not be bothered by my presence. I slept well to the sound of the ocean at my feet. This was only the beginning of what could only be described as the most magical week of my journey.
It's amazing to think of how truly full, practically overflowing so many of those days of travel were. Sure, there were days of waiting, of slow and lazy meandering. To think of millions of people sitting in office chairs, glancing at the clock every fifteen minutes waiting for five o'clock, waiting for the day to end only to start another the same, and end it the same, rocks my soul on a deep profound level. It amazed me also, how quickly the memories come flooding back, how I can relive those days in my mind and my heart forever.