He driving behind me and my Airstream, we headed south along 101 and didn’t stop until we hit…
Charlie had honked at me and blinked his headlights at the first intersection on Beach Street, so I pulled into a small strip mall to get off the beaten path.
Charlie’s VW van sidled along side my SUV , he rolled down his passenger side window and told me properly park my silver bullet behemoth, so I did.
“Hey Man, is there any extra dough for say, a CB or some two-way radio get-up?” Charlie asked.
“Why?” I asked.
“Just so I don’t have to play no charades with you, Man, to know where we’re headed and where we’re going.” he coyly said.
“Oh, yeah, I see what you’re saying. Hey, yeah, let’s find a hardware place or something. They usually have those kinda of walkie-talkies for sale.” I offered.
So, we left the vehicles and wandered around the frontage roads ‘til we found what we were looking for.
The day was crystal clear and despite the early hour, the California sun did not disappoint and we soon became searing spots on searing pavement…gotta love Cali-for-NY-A!
Once the shopping was done and a cold couple of Starbucks Iced Mochachinos in our sweaty hands, we wandered back to Beach Street.
Without even a pause, Charlie took off his sandals and headed for the sand, in the direction of that huge rock that signals you’ve arrived at Morro Bay.
I followed, but slowly, kind of too mesmerized by the actions of this diminutive man to concentrate on walking…
He ran like he weighed a feather while not really making a sound in the process. He ran and people on the beach didn’t even notice him at all, yet his straggly hair, that white button down shirt with the tail hanging out, his frayed jeans and that freaky coloured vest of his screamed “Flower Power” when no such style is normally viewed, nor palatable, today.
Charlie reached the edge of the beach and stopped. He let the quiet surf roll in over his baggy pants and as he squatted there like an Indian guru, silent, still, slurping his iced java, gazing out on that domed rock, his black beady eyes focused so intently I thought he was conjuring up the power to move it.
I eventually made my way to him and we both stood there, me looking down on the sparkly specks of beach sand and the odd sea shell and Charlie still trying to move that rock with his mind, I felt.
Breaking the silence, I said, “So where you think we should park for the night, Charlie?”
“I got people I know in Pismo Beach. How ‘bout we head there for the night?” he offered.
“Sure, Pismo Beach it is!” not really caring and not having a goal in the world, other than to tread all over where I had trod before.
We got back into our respective vehicles and unwrapped our new communication toys, tested them and headed south once more…
The highway was as surprisingly calm as the Pacific Ocean that day. Despite the “California Dreaming” I was doing, I did notice that my memories of the coast highway were a far cry from the reality of today. More touristy boutique-like places, more strip malls, just more population dotting and pushing its way on to what was really almost endless stretches of land and water when I had last visited.
I didn’t really approve of the effect but I guess nothing in Life is supposed to stay static…even that big blue rolling hunk of water to my right.
All I knew is that it felt right to be back on the 101 again, other than my disgust at myself for waiting this long to have it happen in the first place.
As the miles ticked by and the curves left and right swayed and undulated under my feet, I would pop into the CD tray one 60s tune after another, in a feeble attempt at denying 2010, and with my ethereal focus, I almost think I succeeded!
I would occasionally look in my driver’s side rear view mirror to check on Charlie. but as always, he was quietly behind me, two or so car lengths away, our walkie talkies in the On position but neither of us having the need or want to talk. Maybe he felt, as I did, that when cruising the 101, sounds beyond Mother Nature’s ocean breezes and rolling waves, were just meddlesome noise.
It wasn’t long before we slid into the outskirts of Pismo Beach and a crackling sound came over the walkie talkie with Charlie’s voice saying to pull over and have him lead the way. On the first patch of ground wide enough for my Airstream to fit, I pulled over and let Charlie pull ahead, his rusty old VW making a grating, chugging, spurting kind of sound as he lurched it up to cruising speed.
It was only minutes really when he barked at me over the walkie talkie once again where we were to pull over. We were parked in a rest stop that over-looked the Pismo Beach area to the south but that had these strange cliff/cave-like structures viewable from the beach.
Charlie got out, stretched his waif-like body and waved me on to follow.
He marched directly for one of these caves in the rock wall, took out what I figured was a joint and began to smoke it at the entrance of one of these caves as we sat looking out on to the ocean. He offered me his little cigarette but I told him I was from the Rat Pack Set so that kind of thing was not my thing. He shrugged his shoulders, not really caring one way or another, and he began to talk, which had you been with this little old man for the days I’d been, you’d know this wasn’t his natural posture.
“I used to come here on trips, Man, when things just got too tight down south.” was all he offered.
“Oh yeah, too tight from what?” I snuck in an inquisitive jab.
“Ah, you know, shit, from little shits. The Man. Life.” he retorted…like that was supposed to make all the sense in the world to me.
“Well, yeah, Man, anyone could use a reason to come here. How did you know about these caves, Charlie?”
“Ah, shit, that ain’t nothin’. I’d park where I could and sleep where I could find some shelter, you know. These caves aren’t exactly hidden, Man.” Charlie offered.
“Yeah, you’re right.” and I left it at that, never wanting to push too far with this skittish hare, that he might feel the need to bolt before he should because I pushed too hard. He was kinda growing on me like some kind of anthropological science project…or a mean rash…whichever…but I wanted to see this through – our 101 adventure – it felt like it would be important to me…in the end…
“Hey, man, I know we’ve got a real pad tonight because I’ve got a connection here. Contacts I had back in the day I wanna rekindle, ya know.” he said.
“See that wharf over there, on a back street straight up from there, there’s a house that sits on those hills. My contact lived and ran his business outta there.” Charlie points out these locales to me, like some kind of psychedelic tour guide, with his tiny pinkie finger, the one that has this ungodly long finger nail.
“Ah okay, Man.” was all I could say, not even broaching the fact that his head seemed to be firmly mired in the 60s and this was 2010…and the odds of…oh, well…never mind…
With that, Charlie got up and headed back in the direction of our cars. I just followed. It seemed like my trip had become his and I was willing to go along for the ride. I think I was thinking that if he had a magic bullet to turn back time, even for me, I’d like the chance to have the chance…you know?
We left our vehicles where they were and took that walk. Pismo isn’t large and very laid back, with sun worshippers and tourist shops, still not fully what you would call an urbane locale, still representing a slice of Pacific Coast Americana… and I was glad for it.
Charlie had no more to say, intent on getting to his destination, his eyes focused yet again, his body language taut and agile, allowing me, for a moment, to see what he must have been like when he was just a young man, invincible, unwavering, a man, who in his eyes, could probably do no wrong.
We got to the street that he had decided was the right one and as we walked down it, I could see him hesitating and then eventually stopping between the gate to a small suburban park, the kind you will see interrupting a row of houses from time to time.
He just stared and stared at this piece of land, and eventually I figured it out that this MUST be where his friend’s house must have been back in the day. I didn’t dare say a word, for I had feared this outcome for him and I knew this realization must be hitting him hard.
After a time, he shrugged his shoulders and said, “Come on, Man, let’s hit the road. I ain’t in no mood to meet people today anyway. Too damn hot to be walkin’ around…let’s split.”
And with that, we went. I did look at him looking back at that park a couple of times yet I dared not offer a penny for his thoughts.
A 1969 penny wouldn’t be worth much in 2010 anyways…