I took the Cabrillo HIghway beyond Pigeon Point Road, bound for Whale City Bakery and breakfast. I had come through a heavy layer of mist in San Mateo, a rolling bank of fog to which the ashes of a thousand Redding homes clung with a desperate vigor. The Carr Fire, the Mendocino Fire, even the nasty little brush fire that tortured the foothills in Vacaville — these all raged for so long that our very astmosphere hangs thick with the debris of their destruction.
Highway 92 took me through Half Moon Bay and onto Route 1. I floated south, nodded to the lighthouse, and pulled into the parking lot of the seaside restaurant at ten o’clock, just three hours after leaving the Delta.
I can’t say anything good about my breakfast or my waiter, so I will mention only that a painfully sweet woman in a shiny transfer wheelchair admired my cane as I passed her table on the way to the accessible bathroom. I stood online much longer than I desired, with just one restroom available to a flood of Labor Day tourists. The same lady winked at me from her chair as I left. Her care giver shook a weary head and smiled. I paused outside long enough to wonder about their story and then got back into my car.
No one will believe that I spent a half hour photographing stained glass and statuary in the Catholic Church, but I have the pictures. A woman came out and asked me where I lived. I told her, “The Delta”, and she turned her head to one side and contemplated me for a few minutes. Then she asked me from where I had come, as though I had the look of an out-of-state interloper. I confessed as much, identifying Kansas City as my home town. I didn’t go into the discrepancy between the first thirty years on the east side of the state and the next thirty.
Her face lit. “My husband was from Arkansas,” she said. I thought about that. I couldn’t see the connection but I made one. “My son was born in Arkansas,” I told her, and we had a moment before a woman with limp grey hair and a fancier walking stick than mine emerged from the back room.
“Enjoy the church,” the first lady instructed, and I said I would. I asked her if my flash would be allowed. I told her that my siblings would find my choice of tourist attractions sufficiently astonishing that I would need to send proof.
“Why?” she asked. “What religion are you?”
I hesitated, then admitted that I had been raised Roman Catholic. Again the tilt of her head. She wondered outloud what I was now. I gave her the only word that seemed to fit: “A survivor.”
She went away without smiling again.
I drove the wrong way on Bonny Doon Road and found myself at the back door of Santa Cruz. I didn’t care. I needed batteries or a new flashlight, and gas. I went into the CVS where a woman who looked exactly like my friend Susan Lynn Hogan told me that the only flashlights for sale in the entire store could be found behind the counter, safe from the nimble fingers of the local homeless population.
“They need to replenish their light source often,” she explained.
With two more hours to squander before I could register at the hostel, I drove beyond it again, north this time, into Pescadero. I had in mind a trip to the thrift store to find a computer bag more compact and lighter weight than the one I had brought. I did. For six dollars, I got a San Francisco Chronicle messenger bag. I could not have been more pleased.
At the parking lot on the ocean at Pescadero, a bride patiently held her face beneath a make-up brush. Her groom stood nearby, in a royal blue tuxedo and leather sandals. I skirted around a Mini to snap a few pictures of the ocean, closing my eyes afterward to let myself luxuriate in the soft sea air.
Then, without so much as a careless thought, I made my way to Pigeon Point, to the hostel, to the lighthouse, to the rolling waves and the twinkle of Michael, the perennial steward of my retreat. “Dude,” he said, from the roadway. “You’re here for four nights! I have your bed reserved! Dude, what a state the world has gotten itself into, dude.” He stopped for a minute, waiting for something, perhaps some thought in his head.
And then he said, “Happy birthday, Dude.”
I had come home.
It’s the second day of the fifty-seventh month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.