Sometimes, I just can't handle the city. There's too much concrete and too many lights, and too much NOISE: people shouting and cars and the constant badgering blink of advertisements several stories high, reminding you that acne scars are temporary and McDonald's is having a sale on cheese fries (by the way, does anyone remember back when McDonald's had tiny individual pizzas? I had a craving for one the other day).
So today I wanted a day off. I wanted to go camping and smell something other than exhaust and maybe see the stars. It didn't help that a very good friend of mine is roaming the backwoods of the Pacific Northwest, and I just couldn't make it happen to get up there for one weekend to go camping with him. So I knew he was surrounded by trees and empty air and robust bugs, and I'd be damned if I wasn't going to get the hell out of Dodge.
I originally considered going to Joshua Tree, and then Slab City (again). Then I ruled them out on the theory that it was possible I would completely vaporize, leaving behind only a whiff of gasoline and a single black hair, floating gently to earth, where it too would immediately sizzle to a crisp. It's hot, and Joshua Tree and Slab City are in the DESERT. Camping in the desert is fine for approximately 6-12 hours, and those hours are at night, and since it is summer, that would be closer to 6 hours than 12.
Also I live near the fucking ocean and I never go there, so I decided to go beach camping. I don't know anything about camping around here, but I mostly just wanted to get the hell out, so that's what I did: loaded a bunch of odds and ends into the car and drove up highway 101 towards Santa Barbara, passing the mysterious isolated palm-tree island that bemused me when Justin and I drove up this same route for Colleen and Peter's wedding. What IS that little island? It's joined to the mainland by a long gated-off road. Is it someone's private islet? is it a BDSM fantasy resort? A fancy restaurant? A game preserve that is only a mile across?
Then I sat on the beach for hours. I didn't have a bathing suit; I just sat, and listened. There is nothing that is more the antithesis of the city than the ocean. While I sat, I remembered being in Utila, bobbing on the dock at the end of the day, hair stiff with salt, everything tasting of cheap coconut sunscreen. There, the sound of the ocean followed you, mixed with the taste of sweat and a slight seedy undercurrent of pollution. I remember how every scrape and scratch softened and refused to heal, but I also remember the smell of salt everywhere, and the infernal calm in everyone's eyes. Divers are young, tanned, beautiful, fit, and devastatingly remote from normal society; there is no other group so much like mercenaries, in that they live outside standard social rules and do things for you if you offer them enough money. It was in Utila that I paid for my diving certification in lempira, so I could take out thousands of them from the ATM and hurl them up over my head, while Colleen and I turned our faces up to the bills.
Here, on the beach near Solvang, CA, I sought absence from a group, where in Utila I wanted to fit in; I felt too old, much of the time I traveled, too different from the bright-eyed teenagers. I wasn't enough of a diver to be accepted, and I wasn't enough of a traveler to be accepted for that either. But today, on the beach, I wanted to hear the sound of no voices. Only waves. I lay on the brightly colored beach towel and read a book about the wild Sierra Madres cover to cover, until I looked up in the evening sunlight and forgot where I was, for just a minute. Wait...I'm in Mexico? At one point, I read of the marijuana trade that is the backbone of capitalism there, and at that exact second, smelled the couple thirty feet away lighting a joint. Sensurround.
The pelicans fall out of the sky like stones, like wingless beasts who only just realized they don't know how to fly. They bob in contented groups and I mistake them for the heads of children. And then, walking back along the beach towards the car, I saw a pod of dolphins. Their sharp fins sliced the water over and over, they leapt out, twisted, played, and my face hurt from smiling.
Later, I found the RV overnight parking area off the 101, near the turnoff for 33 and Ojai. I pulled in, determined to spend the night by the water, but was deterred by the numerous signs that very clearly say "If You Camp On This Beach And Are Not In An RV And Didn't Pay $25 And Are Not Where You're Supposed To Be, Big Big Fines Await You." I flipped the hatch of the truck open and lay down in a curl of sleeping bag anyway, feeling the salt dust my lips and hands, and staring out at the sky. Then fear got the better of me, and I sat up, intending to move on; again, not a part of the in-crowd. No RV, no parkie. And I sat humped in the truck bed, listening to the waves and the absence of city noise, while a dozen tiny campfires burned along the beach, from the legitimate RV owners, and I saw a shooting star, like a silver hair, there and then lost.
There were ships on the water, brightly lit, and I wondered what we on land look like to people who don't come onshore. We create arbitrary divisions, but that's one that's as old as it can be, and as divisive: land vs sea, the soup of creation vs where we can survive. And then I closed the hatch, and turned the wheel towards home.