California in May


It’s cherry time in California. I have crossed the state and everywhere pickers lean against old farm trucks, tailgates stacked with brimming boxes of Bings and White Rainers. I bought a bag for $1.00 and chewed their sweet flesh as I drove the Central Valley , placing seed and stem in my morning coffee cup.

I was returning from Yosemite. It was Memorial Day Weekend and my first visit to the park. I never imagined that in “the wilds” there could be so many miles of pavement, so many strollers, tents,RVs, bicycles and cars. Kids fed tame deer Pop Tarts at the campground. A woman pointed a finger into the early evening sky, enamored by a tic-tac-toe of pink contrails. Tourists from every place on the planet scampered in the raging mist of Yosemite Falls, risking it all on wet rock.

The park was brimming with humans and there were lines for everything: lines to get in, lines to get out, rush hour traffic polluting every hour. There were all the amenities of the city too—restaurants, movie theaters. An espresso stand served Irish Crème lattes–though I just bought a plain coffee. At the cream counter I opened two sugar packets and was dismayed to see a bin of tiny plastic creamers. I emptied eight into my cup, carrying in both hands a small rubbish heap to the garbage can. Yosemite Valley still has a long way to go in terms of sustainability. “A sacrifice zone,” my friend grumbled.

But the Ansel-Adams granduer radiated nonetheless: waterfalls thundered in the valley and sunsets turned El Capitan from gray, to blue, to pink, and finally to scarlet. Indian Paintbrush smoldered red-orange in the meadows and one evening, a bear trampled rushes and sedges in a distant clearing.

My companion Jeff and I took a hike and saw no one. Miles into the forest we sat on a granite outcrop and split an upscale snack of sliced tomato, basil, and mozzarella and took in our own personal view of Half Dome. I unwrapped a beer from the fleece jacket taken from the bottom of my pack. It was still cool when we opened it.

In San Francisco now the weather is hot, but hands of fog feel their way through the city, offering intermittent cooling and then moving on. Today I accompanied an actor friend to drop a headshot at the office of his talent agent.

We took the BART to the Embarcadero station. A walk up Geary Street led us to the building of JP-Talent. His agent greeted him and said that though he’d made the final cut for a cowboy role, he didn’t get the job. Robert was disappointed but not surprised. Work these days is scarce–especially in California.

We stopped at Swan’s Seafood for lunch. The diner has been in the same location since 1912, its same long marble counter a sturdy edifice that stretches the length of the narrow restaurant. Customers sat shoulder to shoulder and we wedged ourselves among them, assuming our place on round stools. Containers of horseradish lined the counter, along with bowls of tarter, jars of capers, and plates of bright lemons that sat like sliced suns. Behind the counter, the workers moved fast and happily, hammering pink lobsters shells, tossing half-halibuts across the kitchen and sloshing buckets of soap water into deep sinks, rinsing away the lunchtime fallout of skin, bone, and rind. Robert and I shared a salad: crisp iceburg, piecey crab, and curls of shrimp. Robert polished off two raw oysters -on-the-half shell that glistened like something forbidden.

We went to an art gallery and looked Salvador Dali’s block print depiction of the Divine Comedy. We sipped coffee among ipod clad hipsters. Finally, we found a bakery and I finished off this May in California with two sprinkled cookies.