I forced myself from awake from the cozy confines of my bed in San Bernardino, and stumbled down to the continental breakfast room. The continental breakfast room. That disconcertingly impersonal institution of travel. The entirety of my experiences with continental breakfast rooms would have been made only slightly palatable due to the largely superficial, if not inevitable, differences between them, had it not been for the occasional opportunity to converse with, attempt to converse with, or simply eavesdrop on, other travelers. I recalled specifically my run in with Santa Claus in Dothan, AL, and the look of fear I inspired on an unsuspecting French woman in Page, AZ as I forced myself to remain out of a conversation between two little league umpires in San Bernardino that morning. Both fellas were old, although only the elder was older than dirt. The other was maybe as old as mud. Dryish mud.
Anyhow, the conversation started innocently enough, with the guys discussing the unfortunate state of little league umpiring, and what it would undoubtedly mean for the regional tournament that was unfolding in San Bernardino that weekend. The guys were both clearly dedicated to this thing, umpiring for little league baseball, and both cared deeply for it. Both voiced what appeared to be heartfelt concerns over the state of the profession, and had clearly invested significantly in their involvement with umpiring. I’m not sure who it was harder for, then, when the younger one finally implied that perhaps the older one has seen his days of adequacy at umpiring pass him by. Almost as if in passing, the older guy was reminded by the younger of an important call he recently blew, and heard it suggested that he doesn’t have the eye that he used to. I sort of zoned out here – it was like witnessing a break-up in public, but far more soul-crushing. This wasn’t young people realizing they aren’t right for each other. This was the painful recognition by a proud old man that his comrades knew about him what he also knew about himself, but was simply too proud to admit.
People watching, that tired old hobby of anyone who’s been bored in public, is more than anything an exercise in imagination. Even if you’re lucky enough to be within earshot of a conversation, chances are good that you lack anything resembling the context necessary to put anything meaningful together. These guys were old, were little league umpires, and one brought up a blown call by the other. Anything else I can relay now would be conjecture, based on at best sideways glances at expressions, reflections on tones picked up through the din of the room, and mannerisms, and at worst on pure imagination. All that being said, I left with the distinct feeling that the younger guy was in the power position in the relationship, and that the older guy was the recipient of some very disappointing news. Call it a hunch, but the entire conversation seemed staged by the younger guy for the benefit of the organization. Is that really something that should be taking place in a Days Inn in San Bernardino?
(An aside on terrifying a French woman in Page, AZ: She was the only person around with whom I could share my disgust after seeing a local broadcast highlight the fact that some locals did not want their children to see the President speak at their high school later that day. You know, because he’s a terrorist and stuff. Anyhow – I launched right into “doesn’t this make you sick?” as I gestured to the television. Her initial, voiceless, response implied that perhaps she hadn’t seen the news story, so I gestured again to the television and repeated “doesn’t this make you sick?” She glanced quickly at the screen, then back at me, and decided this was the time to let me know that she didn’t speak the best English. If you’ll recall, I was suffering mightily through New Mexico withdrawal, and was in the pits of Arizona syndrome at the time. I needed some positive human interaction to reinforce my belief that we humans aren’t all that bad, and this middle aged French woman was my only hope, so I did the best I could to explain what I was talking about. Gesticulating mildly and speaking slowly, and aided greatly by his likeness on the television, I was able to confirm that she knew the president of the United States was Barack Obama. My attempt, however, to convey that he was speaking locally, and that some crazy people didn’t want their children to witness this, was a complete failure. Maybe it was the “cuckoo” finger circling the temple motion coupled with my clearly irritated tone, but she just backed away slowly, likely thinking that she was talking to some crazy American who hated the President, doubted his citizenship, and certainly didn’t care for the French. Well, she was wrong. Too bad I didn’t study any French. I guess maybe I am uncivilized, after all?)
So my time in Southern California had begun with waffles, juice, and a disappointed old man, and I was ready for sunnier skies in San Diego. I was meeting my buddy for lunch in Poway at 12:30, and had a 3:10 tee time at Torrey Pines. A brief analysis of the maps told me I was going to be doing some pretty decent hustling, and backtracking, if I were to see downtown San Diego. Too many people, however, had extolled the virtues of the city, and I decided that the time spent in the car would be worth it to see at least a slice of the city. I hopped in my VW and sauntered on down Mexico way.
The VW was running on fumes, and I would need to procure some fuel before arriving to downtown. Prior to this expedition, I had no problems finding diesel anywhere on the trip. Of all the myths and pseudo-myths out there surrounding diesel fuel, the lack of its availability is one of the most easily countered; the yellowish-greenish gunk is everywhere. Everywhere except San Diego, I began to think, as I took exit after exit from the interstate, only to be shockingly disappointed in the lack of diesel fuel in the stations. Surely all these tractor trailers ran on diesel, no? I was beginning to think that I had time traveled to a magical land where trucks were motivated down the roadway using smiles and rainbows instead of dead dinosaurs, when I made my exit onto Mira Misa Boulevard – a seemingly main thoroughfare in the northern part of San Diego, and one which should certainly have several locations to get some diesel.
A few miles down the road, however, and I still hadn’t come across the nectar of the efficiency gods despite my having passed a dozen fuel stations. I guess it was time to break down and ask someone where I could get diesel. I was stopped at a red light just about the time I had come to this finality, and to my delight, a “get two birds stoned at once” opportunity presented itself under my nose. A San Diego police officer was harassing a homeless man who had settled at the base of a telephone pole on the northwestern corner of the intersection. Brilliant! Ask the cop where to get some diesel, and in the confused back and forth of a northeasterner and the local cop, the homeless guy would certainly have time to make a speedy and undetected getaway! Everything appeared to be coming up Milhouse! I pulled over, rolled down the passenger side window and hollered out at the cop “Hey – where can I get some diesel?” As if his role was something other than to serve or protect, he angrily, condescendingly, and ignorantly blurted out “I don’t know! Don’t you have a phone? Find it on there!” and went back to haranguing the poor dude who fell through the cracks of a society held together by the likes of himself. Don’t municipalities alert their officers to such basics as the profound lack of locations at which diesel fuel may be purchased? I guess not. This is one of 3 run-ins I have had with police in a major American city (Chicago and Washington, D.C.), and while I would love to do the comparo-contrasto now, I’ve already been far too pedantic and tangential in this entry as it were. Some other time. I drove a few more miles, finally found some diesel, and was back on my way to downtown, my best efforts at helping a brother out thwarted.
I made it to the Gaslamp District, put half my savings in a meter, donned my Flyers knit beanie (complete with an orange and black fuzzy ball on top), grabbed my lap top, and set out in search of the most bohemian coffee shop I could find. My decision to take the beanie on the trip was a pretty easy one – the hat is simply dope. Just so happened that it was a brisk morning in the low 60′s, and the hat’s dopeness could also be matched by practicality on this morning, so on it went. Anyhow, I’d obviously never been to San Diego or the Gaslamp District before. Hopes of finding anything bohemian there were perhaps not entirely misplaced, but for a first timer with just a few hours to spend, my definition of bohemian quickly deteriorated into simply somewhere with Wi-Fi…
While I initially felt guilty at not keeping up with the blog while on the trip, the last few entries have put those feelings to rest. As the stresses on my time and body while on the trip accumulated, it was inevitable that details and reflection would be passed over for mere pragmatism in the entries. That’s not what I envisioned in the blog, and I’m glad I never let it get entirely to that point. There is, of course, value in the “I played here, drove there, ate here and took a shit there,” but I obviously find there to be more value in the small delights of travel, and of being alone out there in the great big world. California is going to take me tens of thousands of words to get through – and that’s okay. Enjoy…