Pam’s Pictorama Post: This rambling and personal post was written last week while in Los Gatos and San Jose for a business trip. I was there over the anniversary of my father’s death, but since I would be sad about that wherever I was I decided there was no reason not to go. (I wrote about Dad at some length last summer in a post here.) The reason for the trip was an unexpected opportunity for a dinner on the west coast. I work for Jazz at Lincoln Center and Wynton Marsalis, and his schedule is generally so tight that opportunities for him to host something on the west coast are rare. Anyway, what follows is the tale of the unexpected things that happened on that trip.
I didn’t think I wanted to post today, the one year anniversary of my father’s death. Like Father’s Day I sort of felt like what of interest could come of it. However, the universe conspired today and as it has been a rather extraordinary day which has triggered much reflection which I will share.
I find myself on the west coast as I write. I flew out for a dinner held in Los Gatos last night – it used to make my sister Loren laugh, that her little sister would be flown across the country for a single dinner. (It isn’t that it happens so often, but it happens often enough.) Having come out here I also inquired about a meeting with a foundation in Los Angeles which agreed to see me, and so as I write this I am on a smallish plane speeding to that destination. However, in every sense that puts me ahead of my story.
When I left the house Thursday afternoon in a yellow cab, I immediately hit a wall of traffic and had time to contemplate the trip ahead, sitting in the parking lot that the road to JFK airport had become. No matter how often I do it, every time I leave home to travel I am somehow surprised to be reminded over again that I exists fully outside of the daily bubble that is my life – joyfully, Kim and the cats; my minor daily commute to and from work; my own punch list of things that need doing, errands that need running and work that needs to be done. Somehow it is always a shock to realize that I am a being apart from that comfortable day-to-day, and here I am, on my way to the other side of the country and I will still be me. Sounds simple but this is what I remember thinking while stuck in traffic, listening to my gym music on my phone for a distraction which, for someone who otherwise generally doesn’t listen to music made after 1939, is a surprising mix of rock ‘n roll from the ’70’s, Bruce Springsteen and even a bit of Motown.
Everything about the kind of dinner one travels across the country for requires someone like me and my team of people to create it, people whose job in part is to assemble an evening that seems perfect yet effortless. We all know that effortless requires forethought and elbow grease. While this dinner was no exception, it did not present any truly unique challenges. By the end of Friday night a lovely meal had been executed with some Bay Area elite and all of whom seemed lovely. A colleague and I jumped in an Uber to head back to the hotel.
While checking my email I saw one from a college friend. I don’t hear from her that often so her emails in my box always cause a thrill of anticipatory pleasure when I see them. Sadly I rapidly realized that it was not the case tonight. On this evening she was writing because her husband, a man of our own newly minted middle age, had mysteriously died in his sleep on Tuesday.
I rarely make a visit to this part of the country without routing myself through their town, but this fast and furious trip was an exception. I had reached out to her in the weeks leading up to it and said it wasn’t likely but giving her a heads up in case my plans changed and I found myself able to swing through. On this evening my post-dinner, champagne infused brain raced. It was so sudden and so unbearably sad. I emailed her when I got back to my hotel, almost midnight by then, told her I could push LA off and come see her if my showing up wouldn’t increase the chaos she was already experiencing. The suddeness was overwhelming and knocked me sideways. I had last seen them on a trip with the Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra last fall and I had stayed with them. They had come to the concert.
When I woke this morning it was as if someone had pulled loose thread of stoicism I had carefully constructed for the purpose of getting through this weekend, the anniversary of Dad dying a year ago. My calm started to disintegrate and a wall of sad began to ooze around me with memories of last summer. However, despite realizing this nothing to do but attempt to button it up, pack my bags and headed out for a meeting in Santa Cruz which was to be followed by going directly to the airport.
I live on the east coast and my geographical knowledge of this part of the world is not, to say the very least, deep. Therefore, foolishly, I had planned an in person early morning breakfast meeting with Wynton in Santa Cruz when I was staying in Los Gatos as it was the last time I would see him before September, back in New York. Somehow, although the time for travel had been dutifully been plugged in by the extraordinarily capable colleague who had put the trip together, I managed to miss the mountain that sat between where he was staying and where I was.
The view was stunning, mist hanging in the valleys like a Japanese print and the winding highway reminded me distinctly of travel in Bhutan years ago, but the sheer folly of the trip across a mountain for a meeting rather than a call struck me as especially idiotic on my part. However, as it turns out the driver, Gajend, was from Nepal and we had a long conversation about how pollution has changed Kathmandu for the worse and how this was a baby mountain compared to those that made up the foothills of the Himalayas. He had been back recently and I have not been since 2000.
As I described my trekking on a sacred path on Mt. Kalish in Tibet, I realized I hadn’t really thought about that life changing trip in years. I told him about the various sacred caves I had climbed to – sometimes crawling into tiny ones on my belly as instructed, and he was interested, but it cheered me to think about as well. I remember tying prayer flags to the top mountain pass and saying a prayer for my sister, who was dying from cancer. And I remember leaving something on a mountainside full of bits of clothing and items with the idea that it would help draw you back to that sacred spot when you at the moment of death. I also laid on the ground among the detritus left by others and meditated for a few minutes on that sacred ground – imaging that I would return to that spot at the moment of my death and therefore have a more auspicious rebirth.
The restaurant in Santa Cruz turned out to be right on the beach and it reminded me of the seaside New Jersey town near where I grew up, where I waited tables and was short order cook to beach going visitors in my high school and college years. Santa Cruz seemed a bit more affluent than Sea Bright. The sight and smell of the ocean was cheering.
I had my suitcase as I was to head directly to the San Jose airport after my meeting although I was still torn – should I just bag everything planned and head instead to my friend’s home in Santa Barbara? So frustrating to be so close and not see her. Yet, I sensed too that I was a tad too raw and this news had ripped the scab right off the wound that was the anniversary of dad’s death; I really was not at my best. The lack of coffee probably didn’t help.
I was the first to arrive at the restaurant and within minutes I realized that I did not have my eyeglasses! Now my sister was blind like couldn’t see her hand in front of face unable to see without her glasses and I am not that bad, but I’m pretty bad. My prescription sunglasses (in addition to being sunglasses) are only for distance only (I wear progressive lenses and mostly they are geared to mid-range) not to mention impractical inside. Alas those were perched on my nose and my regular glasses nowhere to be found and were presumably in the Uber I had just exited.
By the time Wynton arrived I had reached out to Uber (yes, the app has a place for left something in my driver’s car) but hadn’t heard back. We talked over breakfast for about an hour (throughout which I continued trying to contact the Uber driver with no luck), and after making sure I was okay to get back to San Jose he left for a film shoot. I sat outside near a large ukulele band setting up to play. Normally that would have cheered me immensely but not at this point. Frankly I didn’t know what to do next and I was melting down. I pulled out my phone and I called Kim in New York. I felt better hearing his voice but then he suddenly immensely far away and I was missing him. The dam broke and I found myself sobbing – yep, just sitting on a curb in Santa Cruz and weeping.
A few weeks ago in my first post about Frances Hodgson Burnett (which can be found here) I said you want to marry someone smart enough to give you good book suggestions when you are whining about having nothing to read (and I still maintain there are worse ways to chose a mate), but really one of the very best thing about Kim is he remains very calm in emergencies and times of extreme stress. Although I am generally the more rational of the two of us and I rarely lose it, but when I do he is one of the few people who can get me off the ledge.
He spoke very calmly to me even though in retrospect, never having experienced me in quite that state before, let alone on the other side of the country), he probably was a bit worried. We agreed that I would get another car and head back to the hotel where I started in San Jose and hopefully be able to meet up with the first driver there. I pulled myself together and called yet another car and a woman Uber driver named Guadalope picked me up. (I am sorry to say the uke band had not started before I left – I was very curious.) The first driver, Gajend, eventually called he had my glasses! We established that he would meet me at the hotel where he’d picked me up, but he was in another area and it would take him two hours to get there.
I was probably screwed for the flight to LA and I became confused all over again about maybe changing my plans and heading to Santa Barbara. I called Kim again to update him. I was still weepy and by the end of that call Guadalupe pretty much knew the whole story. Kim took charge and told me I was definitively not going to Santa Barbara and just get my eyeglasses, we’d figure out things out from there. He was right of course, you cannot drop your hot mess self with your own problems onto someone who truly is in the midst of dealing with their own, more significant crisis.
About the time we hung up, Guadalupe and I were slowing down in traffic to a stop – yes, because there was an accident somewhere ahead. However, Guadalupe turned out to be a resourceful woman and she softly said something about how there are not many back road options and she turned the car (just, um, briefly off-road) and she took us up exactly that sort of back road.
Once again I was brought back to memories of traveling in Bhutan and the endlessly winding roads in order to go over the mountains – constant switchbacks with nausea induing constant turns and twists. Oddly the roads were populated with many people on bikes (it was so steep I can’t imagine how the muscles in their calves must bulge) who braved the cars emerging from each blind turn. I have a strong inner ear and rarely experience car or sea sickness, but I was turning a tad green by the time we finally emerged on the other side and went bombing off toward the hotel.
As I plunked myself down to wait on a bench outside the Holiday Inn where I had spent the past two nights I reflected that for me today was clearly going to be about learning patience and slowing myself down a bit. This Holiday Inn wasn’t bad, but it was in the midst of a very poor area. The day before a colleague and I had walked about two blocks away and eaten rather splendid Mexican food for lunch (an enormous bean burrito in my case), but encountered several people who appeared to be homeless, their possessions in the shopping carts they pushed.
Across from where I sat waiting, there was a stop for the local light rail line which I had no time to figure out during my stay and I watched people come and go on that. I read part of a Frances Hodgson Burnett novella Theo: A Sprightly Love Story, on my phone. I fought with a cash machine in the hotel – and lost. After counting all my cash to figure out what I could tip Gajend – who at this point had now driven me across a mountain where he probably didn’t get a return trip and now was making his way to me, wasting his work day, gas and time I found I had $100. Somewhere in the back of my head was my mother’s voice asking me why I had traveled across the country with so little cash – and she was right of course. She taught me one should have cash in case of emergencies. Anyway, I would give him the $100 and figure out cash in LA.
Eventually a heavy-set man, probably a bit older than me, decorated with monotone tattoos and walking a tiny, bulging eyed dog came and sat on the bench with me. We passed the time, discussed the dog – the pup tired easily with such short legs working hard when they took a walk. My cat Cookie could have taken this dog on with one paw behind her back, but I kept that thought to myself as it seemed like it could be considered unkind. I was just about to ask if I could take their photo when Gajend pulled up! Yay! He jumped out of his car with my eyeglasses in hand. I thanked him profusely and gave him the hundred dollars. He offered to take me to the airport. I ended up making the flight, where I started this post, with enough time to be a lousy slice of pizza for lunch.
I write now, a day later and tucked into my airplane seat heading home after my last round of meetings in Los Angeles. I am very anxious to get home and see Kim and the cats. All will likely be asleep when I slip in around midnight, we are early to bed folks when left to our own devices.
I just watched Dumbo on my tiny airplane screen, which was about the level of emotional intensity I felt like I could manage at this point. After my usual tomato juice (don’t know why but I always have a glass of tomato juice when I fly) I had a stiff drink, which I generally never do when I fly – afraid of jet lag. It wasn’t a martini, dad’s favorite drink, but I think he would approve. So at last here’s to him!