The first leg of my perfect California trip was in Tahoe, at Megan’s family’s house. I would have been happy spending every single minute on the boat. Did you know that in my past life as an advertising copywriter*, I used to know a shit ton about boats, bass and speed and pontoon, oh my? Oh, sit down and let’s talk about livewells and trolling motors and handlaid fiberglass hulls. I wrote the entire catalog for two or three different lines of boats for two years. This is funny, because I didn’t grow up a boat person. In fact, the only time I ever remember getting spanked was at age four, when I rode in our family friends’ speed boat for the first time, and lost my shit and started screaming and told my mom’s best friend’s husband that I HATED HIM and I HATED HIS BOAT. My mother grabbed me by my arm and hauled me into a bathroom and swatted me, and I remember thrashing about and sobbing hysterically, but the inside of my head was totally calm and blue and I was like, “Yes, I had this coming. This is what I needed.”
(* You know, what makes me cringe more than anything I wrote in adolescence is re-reading my old ad copy. I would rather read you poetry I wrote in ninth grade a million times before letting you hear the radio spot I wrote at age 23 about the bank card that gives you a no-cost line of home equity credit, much less the Long Honker Goose Call.)
But I digress. Tahoe! The water is really blue and clear, and at night you can light a fire, and if you leave your lemon bars cooling in the window, a bear will climb up the deck and eat them. But they’re cool bears; they wear plaid hats and share their weed and sell hot tubs in Chico the rest of the year. Megan’s house is the type of house where you’re suddenly a little chilly and you wish you had a blanket, and hello, there’s a blanket right next to you. It’s a big, cozy, rambling house that makes you want to tell secrets, the good kind. Sarah and I would lie in bed at night and sing and giggle like tiny, wasted children. You drink wine and eat almonds while making dinner, listening to Andrew Bird and The Band. Everyone sings along. Everything smells good. Everything you do seems sort of momentous and glowing, like those times when you know that what you’re doing right that second will be a wonderful memory, even if you’re just watching Point Break at 1 am. It feels like June during the day and October once the sun goes down. Just being outside in that cool, dry air is invigorating. It skews your brain. You eat an apple without cutting it first and feel heroic for doing this. Suddenly not cutting up an apple makes you freaking Hemingway. You think, I could live off the land. I should write fiction. It would be good. Everything is beautiful and clean. Maybe you’re just high. Probably.
One night we took the boat across the lake for dinner. The ride back was late at night, and Megan tucked us in with blankets like it was Little House in the Big Woods. That boat ride is now one of my favorite moments of my life. I have never seen so many stars, ever. You could see the Milky Way. I counted eight shooting stars. Then we sat on the dock and had the most ridiculous heated argument about the universe that we are never allowed to mention again, except that I keep mentioning it.
One day we drove into Reno to fetch Sarah at the airport. Reno smelled like meth and grandmas. I worry about Reno. I want to give Reno a sandwich and some tissues and a note from its mom saying it’s okay, it can come home now, all is forgiven.
After several days in Tahoe, we drove to Megan’s brother’s house in Santa Cruz. He has a nice dog named Odie and a house in the redwoods. He built a hot tub out of a chopped-down redwood, and a cathedral of redwoods grew up around it, and aside from the spider eggs clinging to the lid, it was probably the most impressive thing I’d ever seen. Then we went into his Pirate Bar and I immediately had to re-evaluate that statement.
My last stop in California was San Francisco, where the Masons repeatedly threatened me with a good time. This was my third visit to San Francisco. I loved it both times before, but both of those times, it was fall, my favorite time of year, and both times, ten years apart, I was in love. I wondered if I’d like it as much this time, being clearheaded in July. Good news: yes. Even more than before. San Francisco, I officially love you. I can’t decide if I love you so much I only want to sleep with you once a year and keep our romance alive, or if I love you too much to be away from you for that long. San Francisco, do you have VD? Tell me true. Now is the time.
The day I had to leave California, I had a hard time walking inside the airport. I felt like a little kid. I wanted to whine, “Five more minutes.” The only other time I’ve felt like this was the first time I visited New York, when I nearly had a panic attack on the plane home, and the only way I could calm down was to promise myself I’d be back soon, really really soon. Less than three months later, I lived here.