I love the Central Coast of California. When my business finished early on Tuesday, I had some five hours before my flight left.
I know, deep down, that I am a small town boy, because every time I fire up my rental car in a strange city, I end up making my way naturally to off-the-beaten path rural highways, running past hay and hills. Yet I've never baled hay or plowed a field in my life--my agricultural credentials end at growing small crops of turnip greens and pinto beans.
I wondered where I would hike when I saw the sign "Pismo Beach, 5 miles". Here I found something to which to cling. I'd never been on Pismo Beach, you see. I drove there.
I arrived around 5 p.m., when the sun first broadly hinted it would set some time soon. The beach was lovely,and the setting sun made a muted yet colorful horizon off in the distance. Surfers enjoyed the waning moments, as did gulls, terns and a huge, booby-like bird whose name escapes me now. I loved the terns, who handled the surf in teams, rather like German snow skiers on holiday.
Up in the sky, I saw a planet--I would have said Jupiter, but something I read in Sky and Telescope on the plane made me think instead "Venus", whether accurately or inaccurately. It hovered overhead, on the opposite end of a crater-enriched Moon sky.
Everything was still and pleasant, as the the darkness slowly overtook everything. I enjoyed an hour of exercise on the beach, walking to and fro, in front of motels with names like "Sea Gate", past signs warning me not to pick the Pismo clams. I like those timeless moments in which nothing happens but dusk, and I am altogether in between eternities.
I walked to the end of the pier, where a young woman occupied one bench, staring off into a watery distance, while young men fussed with fishing poles at the other end. I resolved to come back some day, and let my thoughts wander as I walked. We all need the wandering, sometimes. I hit the road to the next town over, while the rental car radio played Christian alternative rock by a man who had clearly heard more Lou Reed songs than Amy Grant songs, and somehow I found that idea redemptive.
I made my way to downtown San Luis Obispo, where I settled onto a sushi bar chair rather than the table I would have much preferred. I am not good at "cheek to jowl with strangers" settings. I ordered "The Gorgeous Platter", which meant that the sushi chef chose 12 different types of sushi pieces and made them for me. I usually do not take chances, but I was ready to run the table, sushi-wise. I had never had salmon roe, which had a bubbly look and an acceptable if different taste.
I am far too interested in people I don't know to sit near them. The couple next to me, only a tad younger than me, debated whether to take a rather large (or in this age, rather small) step in their relationship, with the woman voting affirmative and the man voting in the mildly negative abstention column. The women on the other side of me were stereotypically "college town Californians", about my age, filled with hip eccentricity and a mild 60s flair, which each was just a bit young to quite pull off. I prefer isolated tables and a good book. That's less tempting to me than the allure of endless stories and fables. I liked the raw fish.
Every college town has it secret codes and rhythms. When someone mentioned that a lunch place had lots of "Poly Dollies", I would have been out to sea had someone not explained to me that the aspersion referred to undergraduate women at California Polytechnic University, the wonderful local school. The phrase conjured for me instead something vaguely garden-club-like, although I suppose all the other plays on the phrase are a bit more green and less green, if you take my point.
On the plane home, I alternated between sleep and a book about John Wesley's infatuation with an woman 15 years his junior during a sojourn to Georgia. Ultimately, it was 4:30 a.m., and I was home again.