Played an escapade just like you

All it took was some traffic outside of Monterey for me to start second-guessing the trip. One by one, radio stations were cutting out. I clung onto a hippie based out of San Luis Obispo playing The Grateful Dead for awhile, but then I swung around a cliffside and he cut out too.

I wasn’t lonely. Just a bit bored. I’d made this same mistake before, forgetting to bring CD’s or make an offline playlist – misremembering what hours of silence feel like. They kind of eat at you.

I’d just left Santa Cruz – which was insane. Perfect waves – thick ropes, round and symmetrical, sucked kelp right off the ocean floor, but with so many people in the water complaining about all the people in the water, I gunned it for Big Sur.

A park ranger eyed my Hurley t-shirt wearily and said she did have an open site. A guy standing nearby looked shocked – told me I was lucky as hell. He had a potbelly framed by a sweaty baseball tee and a beer in-hand. He seemed friendly with the rangers and mentioned several times he was having a party later if any of us wanted to stop by.

I set up camp and drove down the road to surf before dark. There’s a current at the south end of Sand Dollar that whips you out into the lineup. It saves a lot of paddling but it’s disorienting. Within seconds I was a hundred yards out at sea – umbrellas shrinking into tiny, colorful dots.

The water was shallow and clear as vodka, but the more I looked, the more I disliked seeing the grains of sand beneath me, the peaks and valleys, divots, and caves. I felt my heart pounding in my wetsuit.

When I got back to camp, I met up with George, the guy with the baseball tee who looked shocked about my campsite. He said he had some, “tweaky bud.”

I followed him to a clearing where a fire was roaring. I expected to see others gathered around but there only a few dusty tree stumps. He handed me a beer and we started talking about Big Sur. George was from a town inland and used to come here as a grom for birthday parties, surf trips, or just to get wild.

“Now we got fuckin’ trailers rolling around and kids spilling out,” he said. 

The fire spit and George smiled slyly, the gaps in his teeth shining in the moonlight. He swung a bottle of vodka clutched in his right hand towards the night sky.

“We’re in fucking Disney World, man! We’re in the fucking blue tea cup goin’ round and round.”

He paused, as if lamenting a lost brother.

“But as least we’re in the blue tea cup and not the fucking pink one.”

George’s musings got increasingly more scattered. He asked if the moon ever reminded me of a frog holding onto a tailgate, told a story about a time he’d caught a fish to impress a Hawaiian, stumbled through a shitty joke, spoke dearly about his love of kayaking, and made me promise I’d look up a waitress in Lake Tahoe – his girl.

After a few beers, he was reluctant to see me go. I told him I needed to go write, and thanked him for the good fire. Truthfully, I was starting to wonder. He told me that the guy who was supposed to meet him that night was also named Duncan.

I brought my buck-knife into my sleeping bag just in case George turned out to be a nut, realizing that the weed was probably making me anxious – tweaky. And of course, I woke up the next morning to gorgeous sunlight and the sounds of kids squealing and RV’s beeping, and realized that we were in a fucking theme park – at least there were still a few of us weird enough to visit alone.

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Alberto Balsam

Pushing open the door of the Play It Again Sports in Portland, ME, I’m reminded of being a kid, eyeing the Vapor skates displayed on the rack, weighing a Synergy in my hands.

It’s a grey, New England morning and we’re on our way to visit my brother in Vermont, making a quick pit stop to sharpen our skates, and for me, an opportunity to record a Music That Moves Me Segment at Maine Public Radio.

We try on a pair of red and white gloves with an enlarged thumb to ward off vicious hacks, and then it’s time to head over, so I slip out, nervous to put words to something so wordless.

The studio is just two hundred yards from Play It Again Sports. There’s a good amount of snow on the roads so I clomp my boots out front, and suddenly I’m in the studio, in front of a microphone, watching the audio levels rise and fall.

“Want me to read from here?” I say, holding up a crumpled piece of paper.

The producer smiles, as if anticipating the question. “Why don’t you just talk to us.”

Washtown

To pass the time I scan the wall. Above the coin machine are flyers, stuck with sharp, metal tacks. There’s a poster promoting a liver detox, an ad for arigatou classes, and a photo of a sad-looking cat named Dwight. He’s been lost since Friday.

A woman in a khaki jacket sits across from me. She’s leaning back in a plastic chair, her iPhone perched upright in a wrinkled palm. I insert my ear buds, which are tangled around each other like jungle vines, and hit play on Elder Island’s feverish, twangy Bonfire. 

Inspiration comes at the weirdest times, no? Too often I sit down at a computer to write, headphones on, then headphones off, sitting, then standing, trying to squeak out something new. But when I have the time, nothing pools.

The woman across from me exhales and Jim James’ wobbling Here in Spirit starts to play. Truthfully, it’s the only protest song I’ve ever liked. I want to pump my fists.

The dryers click and whirl. My mind is moving, swishing through avenues of past, present, and future. I find it odd that it’s happening now, in Washtown, details jumping out like fireworks.

Bringggggg!

My clothes are dry. The woman in the khaki jacket coughs, wipes her nose, and heads for the exit. I start to sort through a pile of crispy t-shirts. The fluorescent lights descend and the playlist resumes, shooting me back up into space.

3 is my guess

“Three is my guess. Three or three-thirty,” said the man in a bright yellow polo tucked into khaki shorts. He drifted by our window, circled his car and stopped to lean against the guard rail. Two older women sat inside — one with a Tom Clancy novel spread across her lap, the other eating a bag of tortilla chips as she searched for a cooler of beer.

“Think they’ll be cold?” said the woman.

The man laughed. “Not a chance.”

Two miles up 1-80, a car was on fire. Behind us, were two more accidents. “That’s what happens when people slam the brakes on a two-lane highway,” said the man to no one in particular.

Beyond the guard rail was a drop off, a steep ravine lined with pine trees bending up to the clear, blue sky. I kicked off my shoes. The hot cement felt good pressed against the arches of my feet.

A car door slammed. A family of three jogged by — sweating. The woman in front of us let out a shrill yelp, tipping a beer can back, frothy liquid dribbling down her cheeks.

“Time to go!!” she shrieked.

Saltwater Sun

I like this band. They’ve got something going on. And it’s not just because they’re #1 on Hype Machine right now. I promise.

We’ve been a bit wordy as of late, so I’ll try to cut to the chase. Saltwater Sun is a British band that combines the elegance of Elder Island with the grittiness of DIIV. Lofty guitar riffs create a thrashing tension that seems to stretch as far back as it rushes forward.

Feels good doesn’t it?