the leaving (again) and the (almost) returning

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Sunday – on the importance of breakfast

I make a beautiful American breakfast for the family: eggs and potatoes scrambled all up together with onions and peppers and avocado, which makes it a Californian breakfast as well, and a Humboldt one when I slather it in Island Style or maybe it was Mango-Habanero, hard to remember as that was 13 days ago and much has happened since. If I’d eked out time to write as I went, I’d have so much less to type today.

But the important thing is I made breakfast before leaving. A fluffy, spicy scramble might not compensate for all my domestic failures, but it’s something. We all sit down and eat together, the house light despite the gray skies. I am grateful for the large windows, the great room, this moment of togetherness. My husband and I walk to the beach after, share our worries. We have many – the price of parenthood. The sand sticks to my feet. The conversation sticks to my heart. We return as the sky opens. I finish packing and depart in the rain.

The drive to San Francisco consists of the following podcasts: Slate’s Culture Gabfest, Note to Self (the Kink edition), This American Life (Invisible Made Visible). I remember now, as I write, that I meant to send a link to the David Sedaris chunk of the last one to a couple friends. He’s funny and a bit mean in this story, and I adore it. I shall send that link.

Rain dumps the entire 276 miles. It does not relent. I arrive in the Outer Sunset hungry, tired, tense from five hours of watching the road through windshield wipers. I fling my things in my room, say a quick hello and stride back out, across the street to the pizza joint. The slice I order has pesto and potato chips, caramelized onions and roasted red peppers. It’s beautiful.

Monday – the benefits of yoga and not fucking around

My computer enslaves me. Emails and Skype and editing Word docs. I break away, do some yoga – and by “do some yoga,” I mean cat to cow to upward dog to cat to something I recall as threading the needle and then I stand up and stretch forward on one foot, then switch to a sideways pose I believe may be called a swaying palm or some such thing and finish with my one leg wrapped around the other, ankle hooked behind my calf if I can manage it, and that’s it, the same routine I’ve been doing for 10 years, a combination of a former yoga-happy friend’s advice and something I read in a chick surfer magazine.

It took me longer to type all that out than the routine takes.

My notes remind me that “It’s amazing what you can get done when you don’t arse around,” an adopted and accurate mantra from a New Zealand friend.

I can’t get cell coverage in my San Francisco room, so I take my calls on the go, earphones in, Strava running as I walk the blocks in circles: down 46th to Moraga, up to 42nd, over to Noriega, out to the Great Highway, where the ocean beckons and where I’ve twice seen a burrowing owl, the only diurnal owl I have since learned. Adorable and tolerant of his fans, the owl perches on the cement wall dividing walkway from beach. I’m told he’s a seasonal resident.

I, too, am about to depart.

But not before curry fries at Papa Mak’s.

Tuesday – my boots won’t fit so I leave them behind

The itinerary is fly from SFO to LAX, rent a car and drive to Santa Monica, where I’m staying at a Travelodge; return to LAX and fly to SLO/SBP, where I’ll be picked up and taken to Camp Ocean Pines in Cambria; carpool to Santa Cruz and spend the night at a friend’s place; carpool to Sacramento, where we’re staying at the Sheraton Grand because my colleague has some extra travel funds; fly from SMF to John Wayne, where I’ll pick up a rental car and drive to a beach house in Dana Point; I’ll depart out of San Diego two days later, back to SFO. Twelve days, five locations, four events: Coastal Commission meeting, Surfrider chapter conference, advocacy day at the Capitol, Surfrider all-staff retreat. The first three involve a great many responsibilities and therefore opportunities to prove myself or completely fail.

Tired of hauling luggage, I am determined to take only what fits in my backpack.

When the Uber arrives, I climb in front because the back seat is taken. Except it’s not – the tinted windows and headrests only made it look so. Is this awkward, I wonder, to sit in the front? To compensate for my country mouse ways, I chat with the driver. He’s from Mexico, heading down to meet his cousin in Cancun next week, where they have a van transportation business together. He likes driving for Uber, does it in the mornings after he drops his son and daughter off at school and then in the evenings, too. With his landscaping business, the money’s not bad.

My flight attendant looks like a miniature Mark Wahlberg and later, at the Travelodge, I will scald my foot testing the hot water when filling the jacuzzi tub. I marvel at the carelessness of a hotel ignoring the danger (and potential lawsuit) of allowing the hot water to be so hot. I have a lot of time to think about this because apparently a family of elephants has booked the room above mine and will be practicing marching formations throughout the night.

Wednesday – drama at the dais

The Coastal Commission meeting serves up theatrics both outside and in. A contingent from Venice holds forth with accusatory signs. Social justice and enviro luminaries stage a press conference. At the dais, Chair Kinsey can’t get Commissioner Mitchell to stop talking out of order. The display of contempt for the public staggers the room. I see a glimpse of the ocean when crossing the street to the happy hour debrief and wonder if I’ll have time to visit.

Thursday – me and Mark Watney 

Following more hours at the Coastal Commission hearing that include a win for public access – residents of Rancho Palos Verdes tried to eliminate public parking in their beach-adjacent neighborhood – I detour to the beach. A roller coaster, carousel and other carnival attractions festoon Santa Monica’s pier. I stand at water’s edge, let the ocean wash around my ankles, try to remember coming here as a kid. My memory’s shot. I picture my life like it’s a story I heard and create imagery around it. The present and future have always demanded so much that thinking about the past rarely occurs to me. I worry I’ve failed my children with my lack of reminiscing and resolve to go through old photos when I get home, make scrapbooks, cultivate nostalgia.

That night I move to another hotel, this one closer to LAX and taller. I press my face against the window in my room and watch the sunset. The pleasure I take in solitude tips toward loneliness. I order Thai food to be delivered and when it arrives, I give up answering work emails and watch The Martian instead. At least I’m not stranded alone on another planet.

Friday – in which I almost leave the Chevy Spark behind

I check the hotel’s airport shuttle schedule, forgetting briefly that I have a rental car. Only when fishing in my purse for chapstick do I discover the keys and remember I’m driving. My brain is apparently too occupied with planning details for the conference and especially the advocacy day to be troubled by other concerns. I drive to LAX, land in San Luis Obispo, am picked up by my protégé, to whom I left my Humboldt career. She’s doing great. You can’t just leave your legacy in incompetent hands. I’m grateful. And also amused that this person I’ve known since she was eight, the daughter of a friend, a friend to my own children, is now chauffeuring me around California.

Life.

Saturday – caught in the boneyard

The conference resounds with success. My attempt at surfing, not so much. It looks like this:

A crew of Surfrider staff and volunteers paddle out at what is perhaps not a legitimate surf spot, nonetheless successfully propelling themselves into slabby waves running a few feet overhead to nearly double-o. I’m on on a borrowed longboard trying to imagine how to maneuver nine feet of glassed foam down the face of these decidedly unfriendly waves. I can’t get the picture right in my head, so instead of catching waves, I dodge them.

Despite this frustration of not having the right equipment, being in the water restores me. Watching my people tuck into bomber waves thrills me. The sun slips behind a cloud on its way to the horizon, beams shooting out above and below, the ocean glows gold.

And then a big set breaks outside. The wave smashes the board out of my hands. When I came up for air, another wave breaks and shoves me back under the water, propels the board, so much board, hard toward shore.

But not the part of the shore we’d paddled out from. The part of the shore dotted with rocks. I grab the borrowed board in time to save it from damage, but my body is less lucky. Especially my feet. Unable to paddle back out and around, I climb out on the rocks, hand the board to one of the guys who’d come over to help, pick my way through the tide pools, ouching with every step. I’m such a tenderfoot, used to wearing booties when I surf and habitually exfoliating my feet in the shower to keep them soft. Which is nice for twining in bed, not so helpful in this situation. I wince with every step.

Worse than the several tiny cuts, the experience injures my pride far more. I’m a more competent surfer than I’d appeared and the failure to exhibit that – to not only not catch waves, but wind up in a stupid situation – embarrasses me.

Sunday – camel guts and Thai food

I lead a workshop on Advocacy 101. People respond well. The conference wraps. Delia and I hit the road in her rented minivan. In addition to containing sign-making supplies and surfboards, we’ve added a box containing a camel “bolus” to the mix. We’re delivering the dried intestines to our colleagues at Californians Against Waste to display at Ocean Day because the camel guts contain a dozen plastic bags, illustrating that the problem of single-use plastic bags exceeds being “merely” an ocean problem – ungulates in Dubai are also ingesting them and dying as a result. Which is why everyone should vote to uphold California’s bag ban this November.

We stay the night in Santa Cruz. I take Kaylee out to Sabieng for dinner, attend her boyfriend’s jazz performance. As I climb out of the Uber afterwards, a crack in the door handle slices open my index finger.

Monday – the final rose

Breakfast with K and last-minute Ocean Day organizing dominate my morning. Delia and I hit traffic on the way to Sacramento, arrive later than we’d planned. It works out, however – we still reach our colleagues with enough time to help with final details and a fine dinner. I order a whiskey at the hotel bar and sip it in bed as I go over, one more time, the next day’s agenda. The fact that Delia’s watching The Bachelor finale impedes my focus. I keep asking her questions – “So do they all start out living together? Do they all have sex along the way? Will they actually get married at the end? Doesn’t this seem like a terrible idea?” Ben chooses Lauren over JoJo. Obviously.

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Tuesday – “You do not have a permit for that turtle”

Here we go. Months of planning manifest in a 14-hour work day that starts with setting up a 30-foot inflatable sea turtle on the Capitol lawn, continues with me leading a team of six people to eight separate meetings with legislators and their staff, from skeptical Republicans to enthusiastic Democrats, to update them on the current most critical issues facing California’s coast, and ends with me catching a flight to Orange County.

Trouble arises when the CHP orders our turtle to be deflated, but is averted when the sympathetic officer says we can keep it as long as we anchor it down. Some of our advocates fail to show, other people arrive at the last minute. A certain amount of chaos permeates. I manage, with the help of my team, to keep it under control.

When, at the evening reception, people ask me how the day went, I tell them, “All crises were averted.” They congratulate me. We clink glasses and drink.

I fly out. I pick up the rental car. Google instructs me on how to get where I need to go. The impact of the day finally lands. Tears stream and I sob for 20 miles.

I stop crying and arrive at the house around midnight. It’s part of a mile-long row of homes situated on the edge of the Pacific. The water is right there. I chat with my coworker who sits at the dining table finishing her presentation, then collapse into a twin bed, one of three in my assigned room. My roommate is not coming until tomorrow. The sound of waves smacking the shore echoes through the night.

Sleep eludes me. My brain has no idea how to shut off any more.

Wednesday – I do a smart thing

I drink too much coffee and can’t clasp my necklace due to shaky hands. But I arrive at the all-staff meeting pleased to be among my people, marveling at my good fortune. The day progresses with connection and inspiration and all the other things one hopes for at these sorts of things. And then we suffer through a two-hour state-mandated training on how to not sexually harass our coworkers and also how to avoid creating a hostile workplace. We’ve been sitting a long time already. The examples cause me to recall the times I’ve been sexually harassed in other workplaces, none of which resulted in compensation or validation that I’d been wronged, and I feel a familiar bitterness arise.

This falls by the wayside afterwards because afterwards I find myself in the water at San O, catching waves with our legal team, the longboard perfect and the sunset sublime.

We rejoin everyone for a big Hawaiian dinner at Hapa J’s. Toasts are made, recognition given. The plan calls for everyone to caravan to the karaoke bar. I notice some of my housemates sliding toward the exit and tag along, for once going home instead of going out. I will be so happy I made this choice tomorrow.

Thursday – JOMO

I am so happy I chose to go home instead of go out. Sleep is amazing. I feel amazing. Usually I’m among those pressing hands to temple, gulping down water, Advil and coffee in equal amounts. Today I am laughing at the stories being told about the night before instead of cringing from being the subject of them. Everything is wonderful. I love my job. I love my people. We surf again, later, and finish the day on the deck eating leftover Mexican food, drinking a little wine and relaxing in the communal satisfaction.

Friday – an Oopsber moment aka all’s well that ends well

And I’m out – down to San Diego, home to SFO. The flight is delayed so I treat myself to a manicure along the way. The guy who does my nails commutes from Mexico each day. He’d planned to study medicine, but a girl he knew wanted to open a salon and convinced him to manage it. Now he owns two salons of his own across the border and works at Be Relax in the airport four days a week.

I listen to the latest Serial on the way home. It’s no Season 1, but the story of Bowe Bergdahl interests me. The realization that I made it – successfully – through the meetings, conference, Ocean Day permeates. I identify my mood as accomplished.

This skews sideways when I climb into the wrong Uber.

Look, the app said a white Ford. It notified me, “Arriving Now.” I looked up to see a white Ford with an Uber sticker, so I waved. The driver pulled over and I opened the back door, then climbed in front because the back seat was taken by two college-aged women. We drive off. I ask them where they’re heading and they say UCSF. They also say the driver isn’t very good with directions. I glance at the sweat beading on his forehead as he cuts into another lane when the girls holler at him that he needs to turn right.

My phone rings. It’s my Uber driver. Wait. What?

I cancel my own trip on the app and tell the driver and other passengers I’m in the wrong Uber. The women again say that the driver seems confused. The driver does seem confused. He asks me to text his company and tell them I’m in his car. I am not sure how to text Uber to tell them this, so I decide I’ll just get out when we reach UCSF. It’s not the most inconvenient location. Except the driving goes so poorly and the distance so inefficient that instead I announce, when we reach the Frederick/Ashbury stop sign, that I’ll hop out here. “Good luck!” I say over my shoulder to the girls as I fling open the door. Because I only have a backpack and purse, I’m able to exit quickly, before the driver can offer his own opinion on the matter.

Besides, I think he was happy to be rid of me.

I order another Uber, this time the right one. Mario, in a Lexus. I tell him the story of what just happens. He laughs and points out I can check the license plate in the future to avoid making the same mistake. Great to know, I say. And at last I reach my San Francisco home-away-from-home. As usual, I’m hungry.

I fling my things in my room, say a quick hello and stride back out, across the street to the pizza joint. The slice I order has pesto and potato chips, caramelized onions and roasted red peppers. It’s beautiful.

 

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