It was the day after the election and I went down to Rincon. We were all a bunch of zombies stumbling around on Mars, but the surf was firing. In California we build freeways next to beaches, which is a weird sort of habit, but so are a lot of things. On the wall beneath the freeway, someone had voted with a spraycan. They wanted Tom Curren, local legend and three-time world champion to be president, instead of the guy who’d won the election. Pot smoke hung languid on the breeze, unthinkably beautiful waves rushed down the point, a luminous orange sun slid down the sky. And in that moment, it felt like nothing had changed at all.
I did a little road trip up the coast last week. I had a work thing to do in Napa, but I decided to take the round-about way to get there. I drove to Santa Cruz, then up highway 1 to Pacifica. If you need a place to stay within reach of San Francisco, but not in San Francisco, Pacifica is pretty great. It’s stupid scenic. Stupid.
Also, the Holiday Inn Express is super clean and overlooks the ocean. The lovely man at the front desk gave me a room upgrade which is pretty much the best thing ever. I got a sandwich at Dinosaur’s with tofu and other things on it and some spring rolls and it ruled the world. The only thing missing in Pacifica is solid espresso, but really, you can’t have everything in life.
So yeah, drive from Santa Cruz to Pacifica sometime. You can see the weird old bunker at Devil’s Slide and a whole bunch of ocean. Very cold, windy ocean. Which is alright, really. You’re not actually going to go in it, you’re just going to look at it. And it’s scenic as fuck.
After the scenic, windy, freezing ocean part, I drove through San Francisco, where I cruised the Great Highway and saw more freezing, windy ocean parts. Also, I guess some sharks live there, but I didn’t see any.
The winter storms scraped the sand off the beaches. I float on the water and watch the rocks speed beneath my feet. There’s round boulders and sharp pebbles and perfectly rounded river rock all sifted and spun. And in the sand, sea glass glimmers, buried treasure just waiting to be discovered. The colors soften and the shifting sands rub smooth the rough spots, an inexorable perfecting.
I usually don’t take anything from the beach, except whatever trash I happen to find. I like to leave the shells and the rocks to tumble in the sand and create more beach, or however that actually works. I’m a little uncertain of the mechanics of the thing. But it does seem like the rocks belong on the beach. Surely, they are there for a reason.
The dog walking ladies and the local hippies and the local zillionaires and I, well, we pick up the trash on our out-of-the-way beach, that’s almost hidden, but not quite. If we don’t, no one else will. So we do.
There’s an etiquette among surf photographers, at least in theory, to avoid naming a spot. You crop out the landmarks and pretend that no one could possibly find the secret spot you uncovered. Maybe you don’t even post a picture until days or weeks later. Of course, in practice, this rarely works especially when instagram needs feeding on the regular or it gets cranky. We all get cranky when we’re hungry amiright? Invariably fights break out online over this spot or that spot and why did you post that, bro. It’s futile, if amusing.
Last weekend was different. There was no real good reason to hide the landmarks, no need to pretend to have found some new secret wave, a long way off the grid. A combination of new sandbars formed by the rains and an unusual swell angle meant waves somewhere we just don’t see waves very often. You could check this place every day for a year, or five years even, and never see it look like this. Despite the forecasts and the models, the world is still full of surprises, sometimes. Which is nice.
I have to confess, though, I’m a little tired of looking at muddy waters. It’s so very brown. I like brown if it means chocolate and peanut butter, and ideally, both together. But brown oceans mean, well, nothing super good. Maybe it could be blue again soon.
I’d like to dive into the blue ocean.
If impressionists used cameras it might look something like this. But why would they bother when they had paint which looks way more fun, really.
I’ve been deep-in my research job this week. I’ve been reading through nearly 300 pages of notes to compile a set of main ideas and angles for the book project that isn’t mine, or is maybe tangentially mine. That is, I intersect with it at certain points, but we are not coincident.
My research notes are not alwys especially reverent and I have few qualms about telling off authors in the privacy of my own documents. It’s all fun and games until I have to read it back and try to make distill it down into something useful for a writer who isn’t me.
We were sitting in a van with not especially functional air conditioning in an especially hot part of the planet talking about not much of anything. The landscape blurred. The air conditioning labored.
We got to joking about the weird things we carry. My bag and its collection of odd ball contents had already become a running joke among us. Hungry? I got you. Bleeding? Well, I can fix that, too. At least temporarily.
I promised my friends I’d make a list in the spirit of Glamour’s recurring feature. It pretty much goes without saying that Glamour’s bags are way more, well, glamourous than mine. But I’m pretty sure I have more snacks — and snacks always win.
So here goes!
so there we stood alongside the trail, our toes inched up to the edge of the mountainside, right up to the line where the earth gives way to sky.
from a distance we could hear our friends’ voices, just one more, that looked good, can you hit it higher, as they tried to capture that perfect slice in time, that one-two thousandth of a second of energy in motion.
and we stood and we watched. and as we watched the sun drifted inexorably downward. and we began to toss words back and forth in a game of catch, telling the story we were living the way writers inevitably do. it’s as if it isn’t real until we assign words to it, as if we aren’t really alive unless we write it down.
and then it became a game of one-upmanship, adjectives piling on adjectives, a tall tale fueled by the beer we passed between us. the sun became a flaming orb, setting fire to the sky, the seas shone a clear crystalline blue and washed ashore on vanilla white sands, the ground up bones of millions of crustaceans, their lives long over. and we laughed like idiots at our creation, geniuses in our own minds. the sky turned red.
soon our friends came up to meet us, their search for perfection suspended by the light’s fading. and we stood there together transfixed under the darkening sky. we watched the shadows sink deeper into the mountain’s lineaments and the sea follow the sky into darkness.
and we stood, the four of us bound together by ritual, by the magic moment of the day’s end and the alluring dream of tomorrow’s new beginning.
after a while the heat begins to feel like a tangible thing, like a burden we carry on our shoulders as we go about our days.
or maybe it’s an oozing amoeboid mass, the spawn of some alien being who visited from a faraway planet just long enough to leave it behind. it rises out of the pavement and emanates from the blinding stucco walls, entangling us in its sticky embrace. maybe that’s what it is.
the power goes out, the stoplights stare sightlessly. the apocalypse feels near like maybe we’ve trespassed against something far larger than we are. the traffic snarls and stalls, the sun beats down, impassive.
the sun sets, the heat stays. sirens whine in the distance and their cries linger in the dry air. a hot wind blows down from the hills. the leaves scrape and whisper, brown and dry like the pages of a newspaper left too long in the sun.
the heat hangs suspended in the darkness. we pace through the restless nights as the wind tells of fire. we turn to the sea hopeful, as though somewhere in it depths hides the antidote to our troubles. the infinite blue taunts, but offers no promises.
and so we wait.
I was sitting at the coffee shop, wearing my history doctor hat, burning through a fatty bio of JFK. Scribbling in the margins, turning pages, you know, the thing you do when you have to read a long thing and quickly. This bro across the table from me is like, looking at me funny and I’m like, brah, wut. Then he says, man, I don’t know how you can even read a book on paper. It’s like, so much better on an ipad. I mean, I like the feel of paper, but ipads are so great. And I’m like, brah, I give zero fucks about your ipad. I have 50 pages to go before I can get up and do something more fun, so maybe shutup? Also, I like books because I can spill on them and drop them and it doesn’t end up being a $2000 problem, like the part where I almost dropped a camera lens off the pier today. Into the ocean. Which would have been bad. But anyway. The bro. So then he says, the best part about reading on an ipad is that you can like highlight the words you don’t know and look them up. Right there! It’s so easy! Uh, bro, some of us don’t have to look up the words? Because we already know them? I promise, I did not laugh at him. But it was really really hard.