Travel Notes

I like to travel and take pictures and see new places, and sometimes I get a wild impulse to not just see the sights, as it were, but to enjoy an area as a local would, going to somewhere to hang out and not as a major attraction.

With that in mind, I stepped out of the hotel in sunny Southern California, within a mile of the Land of the Mouse, and walked through the nicely paved streets, the beautiful (if incongruous, because this is the season of drought there, and it appeared to be well-watered) green landscaped setbacks, and tiled and adobe structures.

And there was nothing to see except for that, at least on the route that I walked. I mostly walked close to a fence, on which the other side appeared to be barren ground awaiting development, or so a NO TRESPASSING – PRIVATE PROPERTY hinted at. But the fence was nice, because I provided a modicum of shade in the 250-or-so-degree Farenheit weather. Unfortunately, there were no stores with water for replacing the 40 or 50 gallons that sweating out into my shirt.

So I turned around and went back to a realm of civilization that might be a little more, I dunno, interactive. There was a Starbucks, no surprise. I paid too much for a flavored iced tea that didn’t really deliver on the flavor, and sauntered out to the bus stop, let my shirt dry, and hoped it wouldn’t leave obvious salt rings.

At this point, please understand something. Grandma and I are solidly (we hope) ensconced in Middle Class. We don’t fret over brown spots on the golf course, especially since we don’t play golf, or how Manuel isn’t trimming the hedges quite right. Nor are we complaining about harassment from authorities or when Cousin Bob is getting out of the penitentiary. We reside comfortably, more or less, in said Middle Class. The neighborhood of suburban-looking single-family homes is quiet. If someone keeps their lawn up way too well, or not well enough, it’s just part of the normal variation of the neighborhood experience.

The bus stop was whole ‘nother experience entirely. I was dressed in what I thought was nondescript clothing – a baseball cap to keep the sun off my balding pate, a T-shirt that was alternately soaked or drying from my perspiration in the wretched heat, cargo shorts, pushed-down white socks, and walking shoes.

It really didn’t fit with the small crowd there. There was a guy in a wheelchair off to the side, keeping quiet, and another man with an oxygen tank who was a crumbling ruin, meandering around a promo wall, with the other two people at a bench, and they formed the unfortunate focus for the next few minutes. The woman, seated and spread out over the bench as though she would never rise again, was an amalgam of baggy unrestrained fat and bad complexion. Her darkish ruddy face, the color of unhappiness, unkempt stringy hair, and sparsely toothed mouthings announced to the passerby, “Absolutely nothing healthy going on here.”

(Just so you know, I’m not making character judgments based on attractiveness. If I did that, I’d have no confidence in the person who stares at me every morning from the bathroom mirror. But if you look and act like these people did, for goodness’ sake, you need to change what you’re doing, for your own good.)

The lady’s ire was directed to an older man who seemed to be hovering in her orbit but looking for escape. He didn’t respond, much, just listened to her complainings and took it.

I walked a little ways down the bench, sat down, and suddenly everyone shut up. But like any of us might be just then, I was filled with sadness there. What are these people’s lives like, going home? Are their environments there an extension of what I was seeing, and suffused with anger, shallowness, and attitudes of misery?

I saw a bus coming a perpendicular direction to the crossing, and since I was intentionally rudderless, I bailed from the small band of human desolation, and got on the other bus. I didn’t have exact change. They were supposed to take exact change. The driver let me get on about 30 cents short of full fare. Very pleasant gentleman.

Bus rides can be interesting, but this one wasn’t. It was half full of people who stared out the window and hoped that the next person on wouldn’t sit next to them. I did pretty much the same.

A couple miles down the road, the economic landscape changed. More places with bars on the windows, more neighborhood ethnic language mixed into the signage, more graffiti. It looked interesting, and I was getting hungry, so I left the bus at the next stop.

Across the street, a place called Angelo’s beckoned. It wasn’t the Taj Mahal of restaurants or anything, but it had outside seating and looked plenty big. I walked over, explored briefly how to get into the place, found a door on the side, and entered.

Inside revealed a seemingly standard bar and grill, with lots of California sports regalia, TV screens carrying games, and the hum of conversation that I’d never join in. I was looking to see whether I should sit and order, or order at the counter, when a vivacious Latina on roller skates stopped, asked me here or to go, and when I said here, she told me to have a seat, gave me a little menu, and she’d be right with me.

As energetic as she was, and she was very energetic indeed, it actually took her quite a while to get back to me. I didn’t mind. There were two waitresses all told, both fit in their tight little shorts, and quite adept on roller skates, skimming over the tiled floor. One was a taller, slender, attractive Caucasian girl who stopped and socialized at the various tables she waited on – turned out she likes to surf, so the California stereotype was complete – and my Latina, shorter and more round-faced with permed-type hair, who was bilingual, never stopped for more than a few seconds, chatted in friendly but very brief terms, and I decided that she was impossibly cute in her cheerful, bustling, highly industrious way.

She did stop long enough to take my order, which was simple and frugal, and she was gone again.

In a booth close by, a guy whose face was worn by age but whose hair and moustache was youthful and dark with artificial ingredients, had a dialogue going with his companion, an older guy with thinning gray hair (which I relate to a bit better), a heavy paunch, and stick limbs. Dark Hair was telling Older Guy how to find and treat women in order to have a good love life. Older Guy was responding, yeah, that’s what he strove to do, although I don’t think he’d ever use a derivative of the word “strive.” Their conversation was punctuated with the occasional cheer or groan from the restaurant crowd in response to the goings-on with the television. I think it was a college football game.

Impossibly Cute rolled up and dropped off my food, an iced tea and chicken taco which was flattened and too full to fold over, so it was a good thing that I had utensils. A moment later, she flashed by with the words, “Have a sauce,” and dropped off a little plastic container of mole, and was gone again. The mole turned out to be a very pleasant addition to the food, which itself was plain but tasty, and I sure wouldn’t mind going back there someday.

It turned out the place was cash only, and it was a good thing I had cash, and it’s always a good thing to have cash when you’re traveling because  You Never Know, but just in case a patron had only plastic, the joint had an ATM by the counter, which I’m sure served as another profit center. Anyway, my bill was fairly minimal, and I made sure to get change that would give me exact fare for the bus trip back and would tip her well more than the standard, for which I was rewarded with a brilliant smile and cheery, if rote, wish to come back again soon, and then she was gone again.

I left Angelo’s and walked a little more, up to a Dairy Queen, and decided I didn’t want anything else. The sidewalks seemed to be a nod to city standards more than offering any real utility for walking on the side of the street. I rarely saw a pedestrian in this automobile-heavy area, and the sidewalk was shared with a smattering of bicyclists.

It was now getting dark enough that it was cooling down and also suggesting that the hotel neighborhood would be a better place to spend time. I caught a bus back, and this trip was more true to form. The driver could’ve been mute, for all he volunteered. A lady was yelling into her cell phone explaining why she was late, because the bleeping bus had just arrived, and what, was she supposed to turn around and go back? A man stood in the bus aisle, close to the driver, even though there were seats available, and moved his bulk halfway out of the way whenever someone would board. A doughy young man got on, came up, and asked if he could sit by me even though there were some empty rows. I said sure, and he was restless and left the bus about five stops later. I felt my pockets, but I still had everything.

Back at the hotel, it was night, and things were genteel, with courteous, proper employees, some guests chatting each other up, and an air of highly impersonal refinement. I was still a little hungry, and I ordered a drink and appetizer, and they came, and they were tasty enough, and cost entirely too much.

I went home the next morning. There’s no place like home, and I was entirely happy to go back. But I wonder. These places and people I saw, with their indifference, their desperation, their alternately maintained and crumbling facades, these were all places that someone else calls “home.”

It’s not good to be arrogant. Perhaps the people I’d run into would scoff at my middle-class single-family home existence and feel put off by my environment that I wear as comfortably as a broken-in yardwork shirt. Perhaps they’d spend uncomfortable moments at my favored hangouts, and then they couldn’t wait to get back to their home.

Except for Impossibly Cute. I believe she’d make a go of it anywhere she ended up.

— Grandpa

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