Ventura Highway in the Sunshine

For the first three days of my trip, I didn't really get the feel of California. I was staying at Ernie's house in Santa Barbara and, outside of a quick outing for dinner one night and another spent in a night club on the Ventura Marina, dancing the night away to Ernie's band, I pretty much stayed indoors. I was getting used to being on my own, and the freedom the trip offered still felt illusive to me...

Flowers and dvds I received
from filmmakers John and
Grace Ferry on my last day
in Santa Barbara
What many people don't know about me is that I can be a little reticent about stepping out these days. I don't know where this started, and I don't like it. It's a constant, daily struggle to convince myself that I deserve being alive, much less to treat myself to some much-needed, long overdue extended time alone. Especially when that time costs money. I've become a bit reclusive and, when I have the opportunity to go tits to the wind and embrace whatever my current situation is, I hang back, or else I do it, but feel I'm somehow trespassing on a world that's not really mine. It's hard for me to explain and even harder to battle. Never was this more apparent to me than during those two weeks. Living in Oklahoma, estranged from all that's familiar to me including family ties and a lifetime of memories, has made me feel orphaned and isolated. I see now that I truly am an expat here, with all the accompanying alienation and loneliness.

Highway 101 north
On Sunday, August 26, I packed my suitcase in the trunk of my rental car, threw my camera case in the front seat, and left for Solvang, the town I grew up in from ages 7 to 17. It was a beautiful day, the sky that brilliant, deep azure that's so typical of the west coast. I'd planned to take the San Marcos Pass (Highway 154), a road that goes through the Refugio mountains from Santa Barbara to the Santa Ynez Valley and where, on the western side, there are magnificent vistas of the Pacific Ocean all the way out to the Channel Islands. When I got to the 101 entrance, though, I decided to take it instead. The drive is a bit longer, but I didn't want to look down at the ocean, I wanted to be down there with it, and most of the drive follows the coastline until it turns inland at Gaviota Beach.

Gaviota Beach and pier
As soon as I merged onto the highway, KRTH-101 playing Jefferson Airplane's Somebody to Love on the stereo, I knew I'd made the right decision. I felt free. I was in a new car with a full tank of gas, I had brass in pocket and an open schedule. The only time constraint I had was the 3:00 check-in time at my hotel in Solvang, but that didin't count. I could check in anytime I wanted that day or evening. I set the cruise control, turned up the music, and fought the tears of happiness that clouded my eyes. At Gaviota State Park I turned off the highway and found a tiny road that led from the park entrance up onto the cliff that stands above the ocean. I didn't know where it went and I didn't care--I had to get some pictures before turning inland, and this was my last chance.

Being only a 12-mile drive from Solvang, Gaviota is where we teens went to soak up the rays while listening to the Beach Boys, Jan & Dean, and the Surfaris back in the 1960s. It's a large, white sand beach in a small harbor protected on both sides by tall, rocky, white cliffs. It was there my mother held beach parties for my birthday, where we wondered at the magical glow of Red Tide (it actually glows blue--here's a photo of it), and where I had my first vodka snooze (and got a terrible sunburn) with a group of friends when I was 16. Already, I'd been confronted by more memories than I'd recalled in 12 years, and I wondered how many more I'd meet before my vacation was over. Could my mind hold them all? I took a lot of pictures before getting in my car and going back to the 101.

Gaviota Tunnel
Approaching the Gaviota tunnel, I remembered that my best friend, Cathie, had died in a car accident there in 1973. I remembered a trip to Goleta I'd made with my friend Ria's family. They were Chumash Indians and I remembered that her father had pointed out an old, fraying rope ladder that hung suspended on the rock face above. "That's an Indian ladder," he'd explained. "It was put there when we were fighting the Spanish." I tried to see if it was still there, but I couldn't find it. He also pointed out the yucca plants and told me that wherever you see one, that's where a Chumash died while trying to fight off the white man. I remembered when the highway was only a two-lane road and how frightening the tunnel was at night before they built the south-bound lanes that now bypass it.

I started to find my memories that day, I found them embedded in the asphalt. I found them in old oaks that I'd looked at many times 50 years ago and are still there. I found my memories in the sky, in the sand and in very air that I breathed. I let my window down to take them all in and I let my wall down, opening myself to whatever my memories would bring me, be that sadness or joy.

Next: I encounter my childhood demons and find they were really only angels unawares.