Thursday night, after catching the midnight premiere of The Hobbit, I can’t sleep. Partially, it’s due to the broken wing. Mostly, it’s because I’m leaving town for the weekend to visit family in the Bay Area, and this marks the start of my Farewell Tour of a 26-year existence in California.
The morning arrives suddenly.
Breakfast at Weatherstone, standard sandwich, cup of coffee, to go, black. I lug my little black suitcase to the street corner to meet the taxi driver, who speaks in rapid Arabic on a Bluetooth earpiece all the way to the train station. I part with a decent tip and head inside the old brick building to buy my ticket and wait for grandma.
She’s in good spirits, as always. We hop onto the train. I’m exhausted, so after a beer and some conversation, I curl up and fall half-asleep for an hour. We arrive in San Jose with enough time for French fries and a drink, then it’s back onto our connecting ride north toward the Bay Area, all the while discussing the elusive details of how it is my parents met and how it is I came to be.
And how that moment 26 years ago led to now.
In Menlo Park, Bill picks us up. We have drinks with him and Jim at The Brown’s House, an old stomping ground of my childhood days, and we have drinks, and drinks, and then Barbara shows up and we have drinks, and drinks.
Then it’s dinner at Angie’s. She’s the Italian surrogate mother of dozens upon dozens of children from these parts, and my young self is still immortalized on the wall of photographs, sleeping in a car with my young mother. For dinner I’m stuffed with ravioli and meatloaf and sweet wine, then it’s lights out for grandma and me.
After breakfast and few trips through downtown Menlo, we’re picked up by Megan and taken up into the hills where she and Brett moved from New York once little baby Charlotte Rose was born. I get to meet my tiny little cousin. We have lunch in this secluded campfire-scented getaway, exchange a few gifts, then Brett drives me to my dad in Redwood City.
Dad’s hungry so we head out to Harry’s Hofbrau, our go-to whenever I visit, and as always it leaves us overly satisfied. Our next stop is one of dad’s favorite bars for drinks. By now he’s aware of my Japan plan, and so as I’m introduced, this facet of my future is much lauded, and I shake a lot of people’s hands. I find out that I’m a fan of whiskey, neat, especially that expensive stuff he managed to let me try for free.
The next day I go out for breakfast with Grandma Fryer and get a chance to connect with her like I’ve never had, since I’ve been distant from the Fryer side of my family over the past 10 years or so, physically not mentally. Afterward she takes me over to Macy’s to snag three pairs of professional teacher slacks, gray, brown, black. We get coffee at my dad’s work in Redwood City, then get back to the house in time to watch the more promising portion of the Raider game.
The Raiders lose. Nothing new.
Nikki’s mom, Betty, arrives around 2:00 PM with a few things for me to take to the Philippines for Nikki. Scuba gear, hot sauce, tea, peanut butter, candy, toothpaste, razors, incense, and pickles. We chat for a while and then Betty gets a little teary-eyed and leaves. I feel the first pains of long-term goodbyes.
I get in touch with Jason, a childhood friend who has since become a father and lives nearby, and we make plans to meet up at Rudy’s Bar in Palo Alto. My dad and I get in a few drinks before Jason arrives. It’s as if no time passed at all, and we three have a great time reuniting and filling in the blanks of our lives. Then Jason leaves and grandma comes to pick us up.
Next morning, around 7:30, I say goodbye to my dad and grandma drives me to the train station. At San Jose I drag my luggage and Nikki’s luggage from one train to the next, hopping onto the Amtrak to Berkeley.
Rob texts me the moment I get off the train: I’m in Berkeley, where are you?
My friend, Shannon, picks me up at the station, like planned, and we drive to the acupuncture clinic where she has an orientation scheduled. I walk ten extra blocks down Shattuck to meet Rob at Peet’s, where he’s just arrived from a whirlwind adventure in Big Sur. Decompressing there, we happen to catch Jenny the day before she leaves for her own journalistic whirlwind adventure in South Korea, and the three of us catch up while waiting for Shannon.
Moments later Shannon, Rob, and I are at Indian Rock, overlooking the Bay Area like gods sitting on cloud thrones, above the haze, the bridges, the hills, the expanse of Northern California like a map unfolded over our laps. It was just what we needed.
Driving, driving, stopping at a taqueria, driving, driving, then we’re visiting Tracy, Shannon’s aunt, and Franco, her Italian husband. Comfort and conversation ensue. I tend to my bruised shoulder with a plethora of vibrating massage devices. Heartfelt goodbyes are had, advice and wisdom are shared, and the sun begins to set.
We spend a quick second at Rob’s house, then Shannon and I head out to the Pacific Zen Institute for a forty-minute meditation and a Dharma talk. Shannon says, whatever you hear tonight, it’s going to be exactly what you needed. I walk away with the image of a shelf stocked with silver bowls full of melted snow, past chapters of my life, and in my hands is a silver bowl called 2013, mostly melted, and waiting in the queue is a silver bowl called Life Abroad, and it hasn’t accrued any snow yet.
Suddenly we’re eating dinner with Rob at Mary’s Pizza Shack.
Then we’re in the vacant heated pool of Kenwood Spa, the mecca of Santa Rosa that I’ve been destined to experience, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. The hours roll by. The powerful jets keep us occupied. We all walk away with robes and melted bodies and mellowed minds.
It’s a long, pensive drive back to Sacramento, late beneath the beautiful full moon paired with its outer ring of galactic mystery.
Sleep comes easily, but reluctantly. Another page turns, and I can feel the weight of all the previous pages pulling up the back cover of this astonishing book called 26 Years in California. I’m thinking hard about the sequel, but relishing these last few sentences.