This is for Maria, a fellow hunter of giant squid.
One day, not so long ago, I visited Los Angeles for whatever reason and since I’d never been there before I decided to do some sightseeing.
I rode a bus out to Hollywood to look around and when I stepped off, I found myself in a swirl of motion and sound—all simmering in heat from the sidewalks that it almost made me dizzy. I remember that the colors were red and gold and a bright searing blue, all fighting for space in my sight until I wanted nothing more than to close my eyes and see white, white, an ocean of white–with maybe a little gray here and there, just to reaffirm I hadn’t died.
I moved along in a trance, pushing past people lost in their own moments; thinking I could start doing a tap dance right there in the street and no one would notice. I didn’t, though, because I hadn’t come all the way to Los Angeles to act like a fool.
I walked past Hollywood and Vine, but no movie director jumped out to claim me; I passed Fredericks of Hollywood, but the pink boas in the window scared me and I hurried past, thinking I could hear the slithering sound of a malicious snicker behind me.
I continued my walk, feet hurting from the hard, hot ground, when I spotted a Chinese building up ahead with a mess of people milling about, most looking down. As I made my way through the crowd, I kept looking at the building and all it’s intricate beauty, when all of a sudden I found myself on the ground. Yes, face first, knees dug into the unforgiving cement, and breath knocked out in one giant exclamation.
I rolled over to sit on my butt, and brought my knees up, rocking from the pain, tears streaming down my face. A nice old man wearing a straw hat and a Donald Duck t-shirt who saw me fall came over and asked in a gentle voice if I was OK.
I rubbed at my eyes to stop the tears because I’m an adult and big girls don’t cry. I laughed and said I didn’t know LA was going to have an earthquake just for me. He chuckled back and said, “Miss, that wasn’t an earthquake. You just stumbled over Arnold Schwarzenegger.”
He pointed down at the ground, and sure enough, I had stumbled over Arnold’s deep footprints–permanently dug into cement, preserved for all times…even against the clumsy stumbling of an out of town tourist like me. They were pointy shooed prints, too. Big, like the image I had of the man.
Somewhat embarrassed at my clumsiness–I can trip on lines painted on the road–I made my way to my feet and noticed that my pants were scuffed where I’d fallen down. The nice old man had moved on now that he was assured I was in no trouble. I decided it was time to head back to the hotel. Instead of the bus, though, I grabbed the Red Line back into the city.
It was still early and this was my only day to sightsee since I had work to do the next day. When I got to town I noticed there was another line that went all the way to Long Beach. Since I hadn’t seen the ocean, and my knees had stopped hurting, why not take it?
The ride seemed to take forever, but the train was comfortable, and the other passengers seemed friendly, sometimes even smiling at me when I would look at them. I rode to the end of the line, where the train let me out in downtown Long Beach. I squinted into the sun and headed west, figuring I’d eventually run into the ocean.
It was the middle of the week and in March, so there weren’t many people about. I walked on boardwalks where I bought an ice cream, and past the Queen Mary where I gazed in amazement at the size. and eventually the concrete capitulated and grudgingly gave way to sand. I looked at the cool water and the smooth beach, and decided then and there, to take my shoes off and walk barefoot in the sand. Maybe I’d even dip a toe into the surf.
I spent an hour walking slowly along, breathing in the perfume of the ocean and feeling the wind on my face. I did dip a toe into the water, I did indeed, and found the water so cold that I jumped back and then laughed at myself for being so silly. Gulls had hopefully followed my steps, and one in particular, an old dull gray lady who looked like she could barely fly, laughed with me. I wish I had kept part of my cone for her, but I had eaten it all.
It was getting late, though, and it was time to head back. When I turned around, I noticed my footprints in the sand, leading back the way I had come. Footprints that even now the tide was reclaiming; greedy lips of water licking their traces from the sand, as if the ocean liked my prints so well, it wanted to claim them for its very own.