So, here I am a year and a half later sitting on Solomon Island watching people walk along the board walk beside the Patuxent River. It is a pretty day, warm, though overcast. The wind is up, a gentle, maybe moderate breeze off Chesapeake Bay. Long, low waves form on the estuary; now and then a white cap turns. The wind is enough to drive a schooner filled with tourists, and the sloop rigged smaller boats, up the river, not down to the bay. I wish I were out there with them rather than watching from the shore. I had come down here for a Spin Sheet crew sign up, but I found it sparsely attended by skippers with boats. It is also far in east coast terms, meaning it isn’t far but lengthy, time not distance. I had to wade DC to get here, and then I decide it is too far just to crew. I make sure my name is on the Annapolis area registry, and then I go outside. I walk up the street to a restaurant with patio seating. I sit at the street side row of tables and study a menu. I do not see fish tacos. I ask the sole waiter if the restaurant serves them. He stares at my white cap. It reads SAN DIEGO. Then answers: “No, we have fish wraps.”
I glance at the menu again. “Okay, I’ll take that.”
“It comes with fries.”
“Coleslaw, please and lemonade.”
After taking the order, the waiter goes up the stairs to the indoor seating. Several unhappy people watch him go into the windowed dining room. I wonder why, but then decide I don’t care. I do care that I have persuaded an unsuspecting waiter into serving me deep fried fish, with cabbage, but no mayonnaise, wrapped in pita bread, like a pupusa. It’s not a taco, but it is close enough for a west coast expat. We are chill; we hang out. Yacht rock murmurs.
People from Maryland are fairly startled when I tell them I am from San Diego. The usual response is “What are you doing here?” I always hesitate before I answer, then I give the response that best fits the situation. Today it is sailing. I don’t know what it will be tomorrow. I do know that it will not be west coast gunslinger humor. It does not play well here. I save if for my private moments.
“Pandora, if I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times, don’t open that box!”
I am not sure what sort of private moment that would fit except for one stuck behind the wheel on the Beltway.
Sailing is different here. Because of the inland waterway, the bay, the estuaries, the rivers and creeks, there is some where to go, some tiny tree lined harbor with a tie up, a restaurant, a bar, and a band at happy hour. Sailing off San Diego is like the John Lennon joke. Asked by a BBC interviewer, “How do you find North America?” Lennon said, “Turn left at Greenland.” Sailing out of San Diego bay is like that. Turn left: Tahiti. Turn right: Vladivostok. Go straight: Honolulu. I often wondered if there is a buoy a hundred leagues or so to windward of Ballast Point that has three signs pointing to the way, like those I have seen driving fragments of Route 66 from Victorville to Albuquerque. Last chance for something you will need. Water you can drink. Whoever deemed the Pacific vast got it right the first time, though maybe he should have added: Empty too except for container ships from Shanghai.
I notice, after a while, the people around me are all complaining about the slow service. In full west coast mode, I shrug. “It’s a beautiful day.” It is, and I am content to watch the restored muscle cars roll by on the two-lane road separating the long row of buildings from the river bank. A long time ago I stood beside Paul’s Cone Shop watching the very same cars roll along a two-lane road, Highway 75, or Riverside Boulevard to a fifteen-year-old with a learner’s permit. Those very same cars rolled from the bridge over the Sioux to the curve onto Gordon Drive, where it meets the Missouri. At Riverside Park, the drivers would pull into the lot by the pool to turn around and then roll back to the bridge to South Dakota. Some would take pity on the gaggle of fifteen-year-old boys jeering from the curb at the cone shop. “Give me a ride, man! I can drive that heap better than you!” Jeering sounded less desperate than begging. Both were intended to get one of the older boys to pick one or two of us up. Then we would roll like royalty with the driver who had a license, a car, and a girlfriend, usually the older sister of the boy picked up. The very best thing about muscle cars, besides everything I can think of, including popcorn with sea salt, is that in the early days of small block V-8s, all of them had bench seats, not buckets. The boy with the license, and a pack of Lucky Strikes or Camels rolled up in his sleeve, had the better of two choices. He could swing a hard, questionable, left to slide the girl with him to his side, or, more suavely, roll into the parking lot. The sister would invite her creepy little brother to cruise with them, grateful to be spared the shame of being outed as a “Door Hanger.” The curse of door hanging did not strike boys almost licensed to drive. We felt no shame, the begging for rides forgotten. We were riding shotgun!
Three years later when I had a license and a hard-top yellow and white Ford, with a wicked chrome strip, I cruised Pearl Street with a tall, blond girl from Kansas, who did not have a younger brother. I waved, coolly, at the guys, with their learner’s permit, standing in front of the courthouse. Sometimes when a light had stopped us, I let the younger brother of a guy I knew hop into the front with Sally. All of them knew better than to slide too close to her. It is a long way back to the courthouse from the mouth of Boulder Canyon, where Arapahoe and Pearl Streets join. Those days were magical, then and now, even though the guys driving and girls with them both sit on their side of the car, and both have white hair, children and grandchildren. The car is the same, though. 55 Ford, maybe Chevy, once in a while a fast back Pontiac, rarely a Plymouth.