Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Turning the Dials Back Down to Four

Somehow, yesterday's random ramblings ended up on a pleasant memory from the spring of 1982. Something about girls and cars, and- you know- stuff. That's a long time ago. If You threw that incident into a novel, the teacher would take pains to explain to the class how the author was foreshadowing the good times that the season would bring, and then go on to explain the Freudian symbolism of the boobs...

You can go ape shit crazy trying to divine symbolic meanings out of an amusing event. All the more so if the event is a work of fiction, part of a made up world completely contrived by the author of a story. Or, if it's just a bullshit line invented by some poor soul to try and impress everyone with all the cool shit that never happened to him.

But that event wasn't something written into a story. Nor was it BS. It happened. In real life. No (deliberate) embellishment in the re-telling for dramatic effect. A random event. Nothing more than a coincidence that I just happened to be right there, right then. So, if there was, indeed an author to that particular flash of insight, it wasn't me. Sometimes, however, there is evidence of a Greater Hand...

Anyway. It was a good start for the season that would strike a chord so sweet and clear that the resonance of it still defines spring for me twenty seven years later.
I guess, like I said yesterday, that a great deal of it had to do the abruptness, and stark contrast of the change. It was a blessing to escape from the grit, shit, and drama of living in Hollywood. It was liberating to not have to meet obligations, or listen to the horror stories that were the stock in trade of meetings in the city. That year too, the coastal eddy settled in forever. I remember weeks on end of the monotonous pewter sky, and bland temperatures. It was like turning all the dials back down to four, after having them pegged on eleven. It was healing to resume a quiet routine set to the rhythms of tide, wind and swell.

Mornings I'd drive the '68 Falcon down to Huntington cliffs. There was a spot where a couple of parking meters were missing, but even if those were taken it was still just a quarter for an hour, so a dollar would take care of most surf sessions. The Cliffs was the ass end of Huntington. There were oil wells pumping away on the bluff, and a mask of shattered concrete, and broken chunks of highway covered the bluff face to protect the oil wells from erosion. There wasn't much beach to speak of. At high tide, the shore break washed right into the surfboard eating concrete teeth of the lower bluff. But there were consistent sand bars off shore that produced a decent wave from any swell that happened to be running, and the wave field was scattered and random enough that you could manage to get rides no matter how crowded the place got. And while it was never a great surf spot, it always had something worth paddling out for. It was funky, ugly, and my favorite place. The old pintail that my brother gave me was really more of a big wave board; it was stiff, and hard to maneuver on small mushy days, but it suited the way I liked to surf. I had never been into carve, and slash surfing. I always tried to pick the longest cleanest line, and execute the ride as smoothly as possible- that casual 'waiting for a bus' kind of style. It didn't take long before I regained, and then exceeded the proficiency I'd had five years earlier. I was confident, strong, and deft in the water.

Other days I'd take the cruiser out for all day bike rides. Sometimes I'd travel out Carbon Canyon Road, which started just east of Brea, and twisted some twenty miles through the Chino hills. Back in high school, when I first had a drivers license, Carbon Canyon was an empty road to nowhere. Perfect for a solo slow cruise on a sunny day with quart of beer, and a fat joint of cheap Mexican weed. Better yet if you were ditching school for it. To get out there you had to head out of La Habra on Imperial Highway, and drive east just past Brea. Once you got past the dump, Carbon Canyon road snaked up the into the Chino hills in sweeping 45 mph curves before making a steep straight plunge of a half mile or so into the canyon itself. It was a workout on the heavy five speed, but the old style Schwinn cantilever frame, and balloon tire bike handles remarkably well at speed. Those old clunkers were stable at over forty miles an hour. Going down hill through the canyon was huge fun, but the long straight drop was actually kind of scary. Right at the bottom and a few turns down was La Vida Hot springs, and a couple miles past La Vida , a small community of very old houses called Sleepy Hollow nestled into the canyon. La Vida had been a popular resort back in the 1920's. The hotel was closed, and I never did see the actual hot spring, but the restaurant drew new owners every few years. It was a great location for a secret spot restaurant- a place just loaded with atmosphere, a word of mouth treasure of an eatery... but no one could pull it off. Last I was out there in the early nineties, it was a biker bar. I don't know if it's even still there now. Carbon Canyon Road ended up in Chino. Chino was important for dairy farms, and a state prison. Now it's a huge city. Much of Carbon Canyon was incorporated into Chino hills State park, but the rest of it was incorporated by land developers.
But in that spring of '82 a ride down Carbon Canyon Road was still a day of long immersion into the soft lit, hazy spring colors, drinking in the soft resonance of that season with the weedy sweet perfume of the unspoiled hills.


  1. I know 27 years is quite a while, but it is amazing to me how much some parts of the country change so quickly. I was in California only once, in '78, and it seemed extremely developed to me.

    On the other hand, I lived north of Dallas in the late '80's, early '90's, and parts of the country between Dallas and Denton were still fairly rural. When I was back through there recently, it was unrecognizable.

    For example, there used to be a little place called Frisco north of Dallas between 35 and 75, off 121. It was a modest place when I was there. Now they have their own Double AA ball team.

    Too, the picture of Huntington is interesting. A place does not have to "pristine" to be real. That's something that's often overlooked.

  2. Easy enough to say in retrospect (or as an onlooker) that the decision to turn the Dial back from 11 to 4 was a good, even 'sensible' one -- but what strikes me is how often that decision is not made, and peeps just "live the stress" and suffer the consequences.

    We all get tangled up in events at various points in our lives, but the old "vote with yer feet" thingy seems to escape people as an early-on option.

    Don't Buddhists claim we're all run by either 1-greed (moving toward) or 2-aversion (moving away-from) or 3-confusion -- or all three? Number 2, aversion, is active in me, so I've never had a problem leaving a scene where it got "too heated." This could become "running away" if carried too far, but in some cases -- or say, in my case -- with booze and drugs and smarmy people, I just decided to leave.

    There's something healing about being in your "chosen spot," which in your case was that un-metered parking space above an overlooked beach.