Sunday, April 29, 2012

California: Will You Take Me As I Am?

While Dave and I played ping pong at Engfer’s, he marveled at the fact that this morning we were skiing  in Tahoe, and this evening we were taking a sunset stroll on the beach in Santa Cruz.  A guy who overheard said, “You two could be an advertisement for California.”  I like that idea because I love California.  I’ve lived two places other than California in my life:  Yokohama and Seattle.  I had great experiences in both but often found myself yearning for California.  Sometimes I’d play this song over and over to revel in that longing:

Maybe it’s because I grew up in California.  Maybe it’s because I love the weather.  Or maybe California seduces me with her perfumes:   pines and redwoods in the mountains, oak and manzanita in the foothills, brine at the beach.  

Variety.  Of landscape.  And people.  As Joni sings above, California is where "the folks I dig" live.  Take, for instance, the campus where I teach.  We have a 56% “minority”population, with 7% foreign national students.  But those stats don’t capture the vibrancy of hearing students out in front of the Student Union chat in Farsi, Mandarin, or Spanish; or watching the group of lithe Asian guys break-dance in front of the library; or having students in my classes write papers that explore a huge range of life experiences. 

Recently I read a memoir piece written by a quiet, unassuming guy in my creative writing class; in it, he poignantly details his anxieties about adjusting to home life after some—shall we say brutal—experiences in the military, where he served in Afghanistan.  He's just one face among many in the crowd that reminds me that my students have lived a lot of life.

Another student wrote a charming fiction piece about a girl trying to get another girl to fall in love with her—and at the end of the piece she declared, “This is based on a very true story!”  In fact, in that class there are several gay and lesbian students who are very matter-of-fact about it.  They talk and write about their boyfriends/girlfriends in the same nonchalant air as the straight kids.  Now that’s equality in action.

Speaking of diversity, on our drive home today we stopped in Jackson, a small gold rush-era town.  The place is a magnet for leather-clad, tatted men and women on Harleys, who give off an aura of freedom-worshipping tough love.  I asked an old candy store proprietor to steer us in the direction of the best place in town to eat.  He recommended Mel and Faye's Diner.  Then he told a story about how Mel's used to have waitresses on skates but because of some redistricting or change in city codes or something like that (I was distracted by the seductive array of fudge and divinity in the glass case he loomed over), they had to relocate, and they nixed the skaters.  The new diner is located exactly 100 yards south of the old location.

He pointed us in the right direction, which involved walking across the freeway in the crosswalk.  When a car stopped to let us cross, it was almost rear-ended by a huge biker in leather with huge mutton-chops barreling down in a huge Harley.  But Mutton-Chops was no greenhorn bike rider.  He leaned the bike over so far his body almost touched the ground, tires smoking.  In a split second he squealed around the car in an impossible horizontal fashion and then righted the bike as he sped away. 

Now that’s skill.  I was humbled.  My little tumble earlier that morning on the slopes was nothing in comparison.  But I did get back up again and keep going, so I’ll give myself some props for toughness, too.

Mel’s, by the way, has Sierra Nevada Pale Ale on tap (always a bonus for me), a huge salad bar, and delectable burgers with yummy fries for a great price.  Instead of the dining room, we liked sitting in the bar with the bikers, watching two California teams, the Giants and the Padres.  They battled it out in Pac Bell Park, that wonderful California gem of baseball stadium.

In Joni Mitchell's song she's yearning for California and asks, "Will you take me as I am?"

I think the answer is "yes."

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Perpetual Vacation

At the Peet’s on campus, I was standing in line thinking my new thing that January morning would be to try something other than my usual drip coffee or chai tea.  A small chalkboard on the wall proclaimed a new drink:  “The London Fog.”   

London, one of my favorite cities.   
I love staying in a Victorian-era hotel, walking through parks and museums (marveling that I can linger before Titians and Van Goghs for free!), and hanging out in dark pubs trying new food and beer.   

This is one of the greatest pleasures of traveling:  so many new things to try, to see, to discover.

London Plane Tree
As I sipped my yummy London Fog (black tea, soy milk, vanilla syrup) I realized I can be a tourist, an explorer, in my own life. The sweet, new taste inspired me to see familiar things anew as I walked to class.  Thinking about a student’s paper I’d just read about the 180 species of trees that populate the campus, I watched the familiar landscape come alive in a new way before my eyes:  a spiny Crape myrtle that would soon explode in bright pink blossoms, a towering ginko, and yes--the pale gray-green bark of a London plane.   

I thought about how as we live our daily routines, we can discover what’s new right in front of us.  It’s like perpetually being on vacation.