My love affair with America was inflamed today as I sat at the bar of Margie’s Diner on the verge of the 101.
Lit up by determined, crimson letters flashing *Real Food* *Real Food* *Real Food* a man in a stained and faded hunting jacket stirred his coffee for the seventh minute and a waitress licked her lips and winked at me… and my heart skipped a beat.
It was beautiful.
I fell in love with the weirdness and color of it all. I fell in love with the familiarity.
The parts of America that I adore are always reminiscent of old movie sets and 70’s television.
I’m road-tripping, so my heart and eyes are open. I feel full. Full of Real Food and Real Emotions. I finish eating, brave the rain and keep driving. South. The road dips and curves and carries me further along in the shadows of the never-ending parade of Golden Arches and stern-faced Colonels. Fast food nation. Unreal food.
The windshield wipers scratch against the glass.
Soon the McMalls give way to flat plains and the hunched bodies of small-statured, brown-skinned men and women picking strawberries beside a line of port-a-potties, provoking peculiar thoughts about crapping in buckets and other unmentionable tangents from a dirty mind in a clean car.
Some time later the flat plains spit up the bones of a skeletal town where broken windows and boarded up houses wearing black sooty coats of highway exhaust crumble into beds of California Poppies that dance an orange jig in the frozen wind.
And I keep driving.
Past low clouds kissing high hills.
Past vivid green expanses and brown-blue ocean.
Past the blight of oil rigs squatting offshore, looking, despite all their monstrous metal and machinery, like fat, evil toads waiting to pounce.
I see the time, 11:11, and reach for my phone. Then I remember. My heart breaks all over again while I abandon my compulsion, stopping my natural inclination to text the letter “x” to the person I love. He’s gone. No kiss for him. No kiss for me. The shock is unnerving. I swallow my pain and drive on.
11:11 was our time, our kissing time, a time to smile and lean closer, to touch noses, lips. A time to send a message or make a call.
The road blurs. I blink.
My mind drifts and I remember our argument about “x’s” and “o’s” and what meant what, and which was which, and if “x’s” were hugs instead of kisses, and if “o’s” were kisses instead of hugs. I recall the friends and strangers we surveyed in our quest for the answer, the laughter, his pantomime acting, the shaking of heads.
He was wrong of course. And I was right. This was not unusual.
An X is a kiss and an O is a hug.
I realize, quite suddenly, that every time he sent an “x” I was being given a hug, not a kiss. I’m perturbed by this new insight into our communication. I feel oddly cheated and let down. I feel as if a million kisses have been stolen from me. Taken back.
I frown and drive on.
Deep canyon walls and gleaming lakes. The smell of wood fires and red clay roads.
And then I arrive.
Ojai, valley of orange groves and aloe plants, rich with the call of native birds and the sound of feasting coyotes.
What the fuck am I doing here?
Why, I’m here to write, of course.
I turn off the engine and smile.