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It's Nelly's World

California Dreaming

alec vanderboom

It is a place I've been exactly twice, in what felt like two distinctly separate lives that I have been given the memories of, so apparently the same person experienced them, and that person is me. Or why are these sensations and recollections in my head?

In 1980, in that between-college-and-real-life juncture--more like a pothole into which the wheel thunks suddenly, because you do not see it coming--I went west to California. A stay in a roommate's lovely old family house in San Francisco (not withstanding my ugly ban on her Laura Nyro records in the communal student housing) was offered, replete with sushi breakfast in the garden. A a week of doing little but skulking around the best bookstores I'd ever seen, drinking coffee and Anchor Steam beer, and having my conception of Chinese food rearranged in the most pleasing fashion, I got on a Greyhound bus. I was headed for Utah, and a breakup, though I did not know this detail until after I'd arrived. Now I see I survived. Then, I was less than sure; such is youth.

The second time I was another person, a new mother. This journey was by airliner, praying all the while the baby would not start screaming somewhere over Indiana and not stop til LAX. The flight and the hotel--the kind with cool marble lobby, artful bowl of green apples on the reception desk, and alluring fountain sending a wall of gold water into a basin--were paid for. I was just along for the ride. So ride I did: around and around an unfamiliar city in a car with an infant in the backseat, day after day, in order to explore, or rather push a stroller around, by myself. But there was more car than stroller. Way more. I did not like L.A. I'm sorry.

It is time, I've decided, for a new view on this variegated and gorgeous state. The baby is now big--we wear the same shoe size, at least for the moment. And I want to take him there.

The plan got byzantine, even for someone whose daily bread is twisting things into impossible shapes. It involved overnight camp with California cousins, visits to friends both known and as-yet unmet along the coast, traveling Highway 1, and a real sense of having gotten there: ergo, by motorcycle. Because there is just as much to see along the way. I have grown tired of hearing myself say, "I want to take you to the Grand Canyon, honey," and "We could go see those Indian cave dwellings in New Mexico," and repeat the variations the next year. When is "next year," anyway? Is next year when I'm leaning on a walker, or, worse, never? I want to be as good as my word. Or not utter words--or have hopes--at all.

The problems would pop up, and my brain would find a counter for them. Don't feel comfortable enough on the K75 to put my dear heart on the pillion seat? Well, how interesting that I happen to know one of the finest riders on the planet; I would trust my son to him, if to anyone. It all seemed possible, if not truly, overwhelmingly, excitingly difficult: a month total on the road, two bikes, three people, thousands of miles.

When an idea takes hold--and an idea I go public with, to boot--I am loath to let it go. Even when the other rider suddenly finds himself without a motorcycle to ride. So my brain starts churning again. I could ride someone on the back of a bike like a Lario: there was not a place I did not feel fine taking that nimble, well-balanced machine. Too bad it is recommended to bring a certified mechanic along on rides of more than forty miles. But a bike like the Lario but not a Lario: how interesting that a Breva 750 is up for sale nearby. Do I need three bikes? Is that a rhetorical question?

I am still California dreaming--August sounds fine, doesn't it, the word itself like gentle heat--but now it takes place in a fitful sleep. I wake suddenly on the what if . . . and suddenly feel as though all the balls are in midair but I am watching some of them fall to earth, uncaught, in slow motion.

I never know what I am going to do, really, until just before I do it. I somehow sense this is not normal behavior. But a trip like this is not normal, either, which is why you have to sleep on it, and wish hard upon waking that it is real. Not disappeared into day.