A Little old place in Southern California

Kim and I loved our stay in San Francisco. There was a diversity in the people, the places and the food that made me feel like we just scratched the city’s surface.  That said, a big reason for our trip to California in mid March was to absorb some sunshine, so we were anxious to head just north of the border.

I walked out of the baggage claim in San Diego’s airport and immediately stripped off my sweater, boots and rain coat. I could barely keep my eyes open in the bright afternoon sunlight. Kim asked me if I remembered to bring sunglasses, and I realized that I wasn’t sure if I even owned a pair.

Our friend Lainy, who was Kim’s college roommate, picked us up and drove us around the San Diego Bay to her apartment. We promptly exchanged our jeans for shorts and headed to Pacific Beach to catch up over fish tacos. Like us, Lainy left the familiar surroundings of DC for the prospect of a western adventure. We knew very little of her new life in San Diego since her departure from the east coast two years ago.  Lainy introduced us to her boyfriend, who kindly offered to take us out on the bay in his sailboat. Despite being boarded by the Coast Guard for a random safety inspection five minutes into the trip, we enjoyed a very relaxing afternoon of sun and sea.
The next day Kim and I drove up to La Jolla, a beautiful neighborhood just north of the San Diego Bay. The morning was dense with fog and the green surf was unusually rough as we walked along the oceanside. Fortunately for us, the waves drove a large number of harbor seals to a seek refuge on nearby beach. Together we observed the seals of all shapes and sizes resting warming themselves in the sand. With each wave that encroached on their resting places, the seals raised their heads and tails in unison. It was odd to see marine animals recoil from water with such disdain, but having just escaped the drenching rains of Oregon and Northern California, I could relate.

After a great brunch in La Jolla, we head back to Pacific Beach and did our best seal imitations by nestling ourselves into the sand and listening to the surf. With the afternoon sun on my face, I fell fast asleep and woke up feeling more refreshed than I’ve felt in months.

The next day, Lainy joined us in the afternoon as we cheered on our alma mater in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. The game quickly turned into a drubbing but we were happy just to be reminiscing about college in a beachside bar 3,500 miles away. Rather than romp around the city in a vain attempt to hit Sea World and every other tourist destination, Kim and I decided to spend another afternoon on the beach, frequent Taco Surf, a legendary taco and burrito shop, and take a scenic drive to Kate Sessions Park.  Perched atop a low-rising coastal mountain, the park overlooks downtown San Diego and the rest of the bay area. As Kim, Lainy and I lay in the green grass with the sun drifting down toward the sea, I started to wonder just what life could be like living in seemingly eternal sunshine.

We also traveled to nearby vista at the Mount Soledad Memorial for an even more expansive view of the surrounding hills and coastline. Aside from some rather unattractive rows of gated communities, the views were stunning.

In the end, we didn’t manage to see the Hotel Coronado nor Balboa Park, nor the San Diego Zoo before heading back to Oregon. I’m sure those places are beautiful and fun in their own ways, and I’m excited that they give me a great excuse to return at my next opportunity. In the meantime, I’m more than content to have relaxed over California burritos and frozen yogurt with my friends.

Kim and descended from sunny skies into rain clouds as we landed back in Portland, but we landed feeling restored and, deep down, glad to be back in our new hometown. After all, in two in a half months, we’ll be enjoying an Oregon summer.

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Watching the Tide Roll Away

I’m back home in Portland after taking a week-long respite in California with Kim and I can’t help but feel like some one cranked the color dial on my life back down to black and white. Still, I’m grateful to have accomplished my mission of catching up with old friends, making new ones, and restoring my skin to a more familiar shade of tan.

We started off last weekend with a quick flight down to San Francisco. It was quick enough to make me wonder why Kim and I don’t do it much more often. I had been to LA on a few occasions, but never to the city by the Bay, so I was excited to take in the new sights, sounds, smells, tastes and geography (I’m a little bit of a map nerd). Upon my arrival, I went to work trying to locate all of the place names that I had always crudely lumped together as San Francisco.  San Fran, Marin County, Berkeley, Oakland to Sac-town, the bay area and back down; all the names started fall into place after a couple of days.

We stayed in the Mission district with Kim’s friend from her study abroad program, Eric. A former offensive tackle, Eric was had a massive frame and sported a reddish-blond beard. The name Erik the Red came to mind upon first meeting him at the airport. On the day of our arrival, the three of us grabbed some food and drinks then relaxed in the fresh green grass of Delores Park. Kim and I let the sun wash over us, inert like lizards on a stone. This strange radiant ball in the sky started to seem vaguely familiar.

Unfortunately, the fog and rain set in after than afternoon and persisted through the duration of our visit. We ventured across the Golden Gate Bridge to the jagged coastline Marin County with the hopes of hiking in Point Reyes State Park, only to be turned away by sheets of cold, stinging, sideways-falling rain. Despite the weather, Kim and I managed to see a number of San Francisco’s storied neighborhoods. We ventured through the vibrant Castro, up to the Haight  (the nexus of the Summer of Love), and the massive Golden Gate Park.

Haight and Ashbury. I've heard that you used to be required to have a flower in your hair in order to live here. Or something.

Obligatory San Fran shot

Within the park, we explored the Academy of Sciences, which was well worth the price of admission (though the price gave me a renewed appreciation for the free Smithsonian Institution museums in Washington, DC). We explored a four-story sphere that contained the closest thing to a tropical rain forest you’ll find in an exhibit. We even looked up at arapaimas and other Amazonian fish from a fulled immersed glass tunnel.

Sweet green and blue rain forest bird. That's actually its scientific name, look it up.

treefrogs in a bromeliad. They lay their eggs in the water stored at the base of plants.

This is what the Amazon looks like from a catfish's point of view, except it'd probably just be a brown muddy blur in real life.

Eventually, museum fatigue set in and we rested on a railing overlooking a shallow coral reef. After gazing at clownfish and anemones for about 20 minutes, we noticed that a large, psychedelic-looking coral abruptly clamped shut when fish swam too close. It was actually brightly-colored  football-sized clam! You might think Kim and I are nerds for being giddy at the discovery of a monster clam. You’d be absolutely right, but you also would have thought it was pretty cool if you witnessed it. Trust me.

The wavy purple thing at the bottom is a clam.

That's amore

That's amore.

In addition to exhibits inside, the Academy offered educational experiences on its exterior. Kim and I toured the building’s nifty, hilly green roof and natural ventilation system, along with its impressive array of solar cells. I was happy to see a venue for educating the public about the virtues of green roofs and the importance of sustainable building practices. After all, every single kind of extraordinary living creature featured within the Academy has in some way been negatively impacted by the extraction of natural resources we use to build our homes, drive our cars and maintain our lifestyles. If nothing else, it’s important to understand that we are all connected.

A green roof with porthole windows that open and close for ventilation. Very cool.

The next day, Kim and I switch from science to history and criminology with a tour of Alcatraz. Yes, it was a very touristy thing to do, but it was also a very well-crafted experience. The award-winning audio tour succeeded not only in making throngs of tourists look even lamer with big headphones and lanyards, but also in instilling a very real sense of gravity. Much like the battlefields at Gettysburg, the crumbling walls of Alcatraz gave me a distinct and eerie feeling that I was standing on ground still heavy with dark and deep emotions.

In the words of Red, these walls are funny.

Remnants of the Warden's house.

The audio-tour’s raspy narrator and accompanying soundbites of escape sirens and prison fights helped my imagination re-occupy narrow halls the prison blocks. I wondered how long I’d keep my sanity pent in a 9x5x7 ft. cell. The worst part, the audio recording informed me, was that inmates could hear the joyful voices and laughter of free people just across the bay in San Francisco, a mile and a half away; a constant reminder of the lives they forfeit.  I felt a tiny sense of relief just boarding the ferry back to the pier.

So close, and yet...

The next day Kim and I bid our gracious host farewell and boarded another plane for “San number 2”,  San Diego. I’ll get to that bit another day.

Suspended Animation

I do my best to slant the truth in ways that suit my tendencies toward complacence. I suppose most of us do.  The unmitigated truth is that Portland is a small, remote, and dreary city; work is, well—work; and the pain of living apart from my closest friends and family is getting harder to bear.

I moved here last June with a notion that I was charting a course toward a sense of purpose. The excitement of exploring a new setting proved ephemeral. I’ve searched oceans and mountains, rivers and roads, and I still feel just as adrift as I did when I left the east coast. To borrow a line from the Avett Brothers, I just want to decide what to be and go be it. I feel like I’d have an easy time with the second part, but the first has me in a state of suspended animation.

At least spring is on its way.

I’m befuddled. In a given week I consider applying to law schools, business schools, MFA writing programs, enrolling in art classes, and even taking off on a trip around the world. It’s clear that I feel the need to start learning again in one way or another, but I’m paralyzed by the fear of making the wrong choice.

A few years ago, my brother and I were back at our old homestead in Pennsylvania, and we were undertaking our usual task of going through our childhood belongings and telling our mom what we wanted to through away. “All of it” never seemed to be an acceptable response. We were in my old bedroom going through a flat-file of artwork from grade school, and in my brother’s case, college. After flipping through stacks of charcoal figure studies and sketches, Lee unearthed a pile of construction anthropomorphic paper dolls I made as a kid. He burrowed further still, beneath a green paper frog with a bow-tie and a deer with a top-hat, and grabbed a third grade project covered in cartoon figures. From what I could tell, the project an illustration based on a prompt typed across the top of the page. “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  My answer, scrawled in crayon, was succinctly, “Cartoonist”.

This answer both made perfect sense and confounded me. Sure, I could remember spending hours on the floor drawing crude, misshapen animals and creatures. I embraced the opportunity to be an artist, a satirist and a goofball all at the same time. Still, up until the moment I rediscovered that third-grade artifact, I had considered myself one of those unfortunate people who would never be sure what he wanted to do until it was too late. I never had “doctor” or “astronaut” or “professional football player” stamped clearly into my subconscious.  I figured I would just have to stumble upon the answer through a process of elimination.

As a young man in his early twenties staring down the reality of an abysmal job market, the notion of being a cartoonist for a living just seemed absurd. It’d be decades of work for lousy pay, with very little chance of ever paying off. I had already written off journalism for the same reasons. I told myself to be practical. Finding some sort of office job made worlds more sense than taking a blind leap into a dying industry.

Four years later, and I’m about as practical a person as I can stand. I have a practical job and apartment. I eat a packed lunch almost every day and I don’t own a car so that I can improve my carbon footprint. I figure my life is overdue for some scribbles and silly jokes. Absurdity is good, and there’s freedom in embracing your inner goofball. I owe it to that little curly-haired dreamer who thought “cartoonist” would be a fun career. Over the past few months I’ve picked up some new ideas. This weekend, I picked up some art supplies.  I’m going to see if I can’t start a new project. I hope you’ll all enjoy it.

Please stay tuned.

This guy knows what I'm talking about.