This time of year, like so many Parkites, I traditionally head south to the desert. Lay on a flat, hot rock and take stock of how I've wintered. But this spring, a series of wants and needs drew me to the West Coast, with the possibility to unwind and ramp up and unwind again. A conference is the anchor reason, a chance to visit with rare friends is another. And finally, one last day of business, as it relates to the business of my mother's passing last summer.
So I start in the place I know best, a small, cozy, sleepy, bed and breakfast place situated in a neighborhood and right on the beach in Half Moon Bay. My (now late) sister and I discovered it years ago when we first started coming back to California to care for my mother in her last years. We had placed her in a home for dementia. And though this area is a place I had come to my entire childhood, growing up just 20 minutes away, I only discovered a few pieces of it once I was an adult and moved away.
That happens. That seeing with new eyes what was always there. Highway 92 -- the curvy road to the beach with tall, shady eucalyptus trees filling the car with that intoxicating, relaxing scent and filtered light. And once at the top of the hill you had three directions to choose from: quickly right to the cemetery (where my mother now rests), left to Neil Young's ranch, or over the hill to the ocean. Then more curves down the backside into the fields of Christmas tree farms and wholesale flower growers, and pumpkin patches in the fall.
Last night, by the time I grabbed my bags and rode the little train to find my rental car, the sun was setting when I headed over the hill toward the ocean. And that seemed appropriate. I settled into my room and then wandered down the block to the restaurant that has been here since before there were beach cottages surrounding it. The Miramar was a speakeasy started in the Prohibition days. Liquor was brought on bigger ships down from Canada to this spot about 20 miles south of San Francisco. Smaller boats, known as rum runners, would pick up the liquor from the bigger boats and then scurry back to shore where waiting vehicles would transport the goods up to the city. My mother always loved the glamorous past of this place. It has always been a spot with great seafood and steaks, reasonably priced, with a piano player and slope floored bar. And an unmatched view right on the beach.
The secret cabinets that spun around are a thing of the past. Ditto the brothel upstairs. But the piano player is pounding out tunes from another era when I enter. This will be my only night on my own this trip so I want to savor the unstructured time. And as soon the waiter brings me my glass of relaxation I find myself reverting to old habits. I grab a tiny notebook and pen and I start letting my mind unclutter itself. All the years coming here, right here to this beach, this restaurant, weigh upon me. And a certain kind of sadness creeps in.
I remember the unhappy child, the rebellious teenager, the scared divorced woman, who each came here to listen to the waves crash against the same rocks. I am lost in my own fog when the chowder arrives.
I look up at the waiter and notice he is not the tall, handsome, Italian, young man I remember from my youth. He is a short, older, Hispanic man. Still in the crisp white shirt and tie and ever so polite and well-trained. And though this week will be filled with cutting conversations about technology, there is no one here on their phone. Not checking it or talking on it. The table next to me might be Silicon Valley types over the hill for dinner. Their conversations have that style and tone and they are all annoyed about a presentation they were made to sit through this day. But even they only do a cursory phone check when they sit down to the table, then they pocket their devices to dine and converse.
Dining alone allows you the exquisite pleasure of choosing which conversations you select to be a voyeur.
The table on the opposite side of me is either a first or second date. Certainly not yet that Closer, the third date. They are selling themselves to each other and telling their stories. They are slightly faded characters. Late fifties if I had to guess. She has on a dress a little too tight and he is dressed in all black, including a beret. He could be a slightly larger version of James Gandolfini. He has that same speech pattern. She is a bawdy version of an older Minnie Driver, with the same speech pattern but a high-pitched brittle laugh.
By the time the old school lady-fingered-perfect tiramisu has arrived I am between worlds. Happy the present has brought me back to this place from my past. Anticipating the rest of my trip and grateful for this Sunday, out of the Park...
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the organization that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.