EIGHT AND ONE HALF-HOURS later after barely escaping the high desert of southeastern California, I emerge from the Central Valley and onto the upper deck of the Oakland Bay Bridge. I am near migration’s end, yet I don’t get the fabled view of the Queen city of the Pacific, the Oz of the west that so many other writers have described upon their arrival. Instead, there is a steady drizzle that distorts the lights on the jumbled mass of skyscrapers barely hinted at in the distance. The Corolla is assaulted by cleaner, crisper rain than it knew in its Mojave existence. I know my destination is somewhere within this apocalypse of hulking, mist strewn monoliths.. My brave, plucky vessel, once prepared to die, now smothers us, my possessions and me, in warmth and dryness.
I take the first exit that comes my way, winding my hatchback in a circuit until we are delivered onto a familiar sounding avenue:
This is the wondrous alien nightmare the evening news sang of in my youth. A landscape belonging to pedigree uniforms by day, and the trolls I was warned about as a child by night. Every edifice, every brick, is packed snug against the next disproportionate spectacle, cast in the sickly, orange streetlight pall.
Just sounding out the name is simultaneously beautiful and horrible. Is this how Native Americans originally thought of missions? The only thing keeping night at bay, keeping it from swallowing my worldly possessions and me is D’s phone number, which I can barely make out in the light of my dashboard. The only working lifeline I can find is cradled in what looks like a broken eggshell. I see no one, yet feel all of no one’s eyes upon me.
I arrive and double-park outside the Nitecap bar, where Diana meets me in her trademark black hippie dress and baubles. Ray offers to stand guard (on her suggestion no doubt) while D and I haul all my stuff upstairs. “His back is bad,” she tells me upstairs, not sounding all that convinced.
We finish unloading the Corolla and Ray rides shotgun to help me figure out which streets are one way…and before we’ve even made one loop, we find the perfect spot a mere block down Hyde St…beginners luck Diana will tell me. When we return, Ray then needs to leave to find a parking space for his truck, and D has asked him to buy some champagne. Then she sidles up to me and asks if I want some speed.
“You know I came here to try and get away from that kind of shit. Why, won’t Ray do it with you?” And I immediately regret the poison in my voice. I know what is coming; a month ago self-righteousness felt delicious, now it feels like a cheap shot.
She begins spilling, because talking is something we once did really well, and she hasn’t really spoken coherently in my direction since dumping me.
Also by Paul Corman Roberts
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