The Tide is High

2048x2048So, I’ve reentered the workforce. And not only am I back at a restaurant, I’ve returned to waiting tables after a few years away. I feel a little old and a little slow, but I genuinely like the people I work with and for and the food is amazing. Turns out, I like being around delicious food.

There is another thing I like about working in a restaurant, it’s not confined to restaurant environments, but it is a trademark. It’s when you start talking to a person, a customer, a client, a guest, whatever you’re asked to call the person and you start talking about what’s good on the menu and you somehow transition to talking about where you grew up or what you love/hate/love about LA or what are you passionate about.

A few nights ago, I waited on two women. I asked them where they lived, they told me. One of them lives in Venice. “Born and raised,” she told me. I asked her if she’d seen the exhibit about Venice Beach that’s at LACMA right now. She told me she had not seen it and I told her she must. She asked me where I was from. Kansas. Then she asked me when was the first time I saw the ocean.

I paused. Although it’s not a question one often gets asked, suddenly, I was 12 years old, on my first 747, seeing the ocean from my window seat as our plane prepared to land at San Francisco Airport, a stop on my family’s trip to Hawaii. As I told this to these ladies, the hair on my arms stood up, reliving one of the most exciting moments in my life up to that point.

Memories flooded back. I told them how Blondie’s The Tide is High was playing on the airplane’s radio playlist and I couldn’t figure out if the synchronization was random or orchestrated. To this day, I still don’t know, but every time I hear The Tide is High, I think about that sight.

I live 14 miles from the Pacific Ocean. I sometimes see it several times in a week. It’s also not rare for me to go months without seeing it. But every time I go through that tunnel that drops you onto PCH and I see that beach and that water, it thrills me. I just never get tired of it. I tell myself, one of these days, I’m moving to the beach. And maybe I will, maybe I won’t.

When I lived in New York, I lived near the Atlantic Ocean, blocks from the Hudson River and I would see the water almost every day. During my San Francisco days, I could run from my apartment, through Golden Gate Park, all the way to Ocean Beach.

I don’t have to see the ocean every day, but I like knowing it’s there. When I go to Kansas, I actually get a little nervous, a little itchy thinking about how far I am from the ocean. Weird, I know, but it’s the truth.

I’m not the only land locked Midwesterner who followed the siren song of the ocean to a coastal city. Los Angeles is full of people like me. It’s even full of waiters like me. As much as I feel that tv and movies and that Hollywood illusion called to me from my living room floor, eyes and heart glued to the tv set, there is something about the geography that beckoned me too. Like the end of Inside Daisy Clover, when Natalie Wood barefooted it down the beach after her shanty exploded in flames. Or Jim Rockford’s trailer in Malibu. And even though we never saw them go there, except in the opening credits, we knew that Jack and Janet and Chrissy’s apartment was mere steps from Santa Monica Beach. They did not have to actually go there, for us to know it was there.

Which brings me back to my relationship to it. I probably won’t see the ocean today. Work, traffic, minutiae, they all can keep me from making the time to make the trek. But soon, Eric and I, or maybe I’ll go by myself, either way, I’ll get in my Jetta and head west. Maybe the traffic near the 405 will make me curse a little, but I’ll keep going and inevitably, I’ll take that little dip on the 10, into the tunnel, and spill out on the other side. I’ll see it, my enduring friend. I’ll try to keep my eyes on the road when all I’ll want to do is gaze to my left. And up the coast I’ll go, California dreamin’, a sunshine day, the tide high…

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This Takes Me Back

photo-37I am home now, but a few hours ago, I was walking through the David Hockney Exhibit at the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco.  Eric and I were in the city this week working a job together and I had a little extra time, so I went to the exhibit.  I used to live in San Francisco and as I drove along Fell and into Golden Gate Park, I remembered how I would often go for a run from my apartment near Alamo Square to the Pacific Ocean, along Fell, through the park, and then I’d turn around and run home.  I marvelled that there was ever a time when I had that much energy.

As I was walking through the exhibit, I noticed a gentleman about my Dad’s age lean in to say something to his wife.  They were looking at a rather large piece, entitled “Midsummer: East Yorkshire” which was composed of several panels of paintings.  I’d noticed him earlier, he was wearing a thin scarf around his neck and he just didn’t look like the scarf-wearing type.   He then pushed a finger up to his scarf and with a gravelly voice, whispered, “This takes me back to our trips to England.”  Then the two of them stared at the paintings in silence for a few moments, presumably lost in the memories of the vacations that they’d taken together through the years.  I don’t know the story of the scarf, if it’s something he’s dealt with for years or if it’s a new development, if it’s temporary or permanent.  He reminded me of my father, who last year for a couple of months had a tracheostomy tube and we wondered for a while if it might be permanent.  

When I saw the couple, for a moment, I thought I would write about them, then decided, no, there isn’t that much of a story.  Then in the next room, there was a very elderly couple, also taking in the same exhibit.  They were in their 90’s and the husband was bent over and the wife, who was only in slightly better shape than him, was helping him adjust his audio ear pieces that one sometimes rents at museums.  And while I was staring, yet again, I noticed my scarved friend was watching them, too.  I don’t know exactly what he was thinking, but it appeared to me, the look on his face said, “Don’t let this happen to me.”  Or maybe his look was just, “I wonder if this will be me.”  It’s hard to read looks, even when you’re a documented voyeur, I mean, people watcher.

And then, in the very next room, there was an installation called “Woldgate Woods” which depicted a road and the trees surrounding, on four different walls, at four different times of a year, April, June, early November and late November.  In the late November piece, there was snow glistening on the road and in the trees.  Certainly, it was intentionally evocative of the seasons of life and it reminded me of Thomas Cole’s “Voyage of Life” series, which depicts the four stages of human life.  And not only was I witnessing it at the DeYoung as I walked through those rooms.  I was a part of it.  I was a 45-year-old man, remembering those enduring, athletic runs of my youth, looking at these men at 70 and 90, wondering if this was going to be me, wondering if I could accept if it were to be my plight.

Last night, after our hosts took us to dinner in the Marina, Eric and I decided to walk from the restaurant to the home where we were staying in Pacific Heights.  After a few days of bitter cold, it was a balmy 50 degrees.  Many houses were decorated for Christmas, the Golden Gate Bridge was always within our eyeline.  As we walked around the Palace of Fine Arts, we took pictures and talked to the five swans that came to greet us at the water’s edge.  We talked about Ricky and Millie, because being around these gorgeous, flirty, talkative creatures made us miss our own gorgeous, flirty, talkative creatures back home.  And then we walked up Baker Street at what felt like a 75 degree angle, huffing, puffing, and laughing the whole way.  I guessed we laughed too much to call it romantic, but when we finally made it home, it felt like we’d made a special memory.  

And today, as I was driving down the 5 back to Los Angeles, already missing Eric, who is coming home tomorrow, it made me hope that one day, 20-40 years from now, we might be in a museum together and we might see a painting of Golden Gate Bridge, or Coit Tower, or the Presidio, or the Palace of Fine Arts and one of us (no matter what kind of shape we are in) will lean in and whisper to the other, “This takes me back to our trips to San Francisco.”