I saw a fantastic show a few weeks ago at the Whitney of Georgia O'Keefe's abstract paintings. If you're in New York any time between now and the end of January, I'd recommend it. I was thinking of her Taos Mountain paintings when I took this photo. I'm so arty.The trip to Morro Bay had some magical qualities for me right off the bat. Having friend Homer include me in the invitation was no small part of it. He had won the six day trip at a silent auction two years ago, long before he and I knew each other. Life just hadn't allowed him to make use of it yet. Once again I've been showered with the generosity of friends.
Even the trip to the airport ended up having a quality of blessing in it for me.
In order to have as much of the day on the beach as possible, Homer, Melissa and I elected to take an early flight out of Newark. So at the ungodly hour of 3:30am I climbed into the car service we'd booked. I am not at my best at that hour. In my experience taxi and car service drivers are a surly, taciturn bunch, and I would expect their moods not to be improved by that hour any more than mine is. So I knew something was different when the driver hopped out of the car to open the trunk for me. He was a tall guy, lanky, short dirty-blond hair, with blue eyes that twinkled more than I was ready for at that hour. Due to some missed turns and general confusion on the drive from their place to mine, Homer and Melissa had reason to question our driver's geographical sense - that is to say in his actual ability to GET us to the airport- so they were a bit wary, but this wasn't the only impression he had made on them. As I climbed into the backseat, Melissa said "our driver is a bit of a caretaker."
I quickly got a sense of what Melissa meant. This guy wanted to help. He liked to help. He wanted us to know he was ready to help. He checked twice to make sure the slightly open window was to our liking, clearly ready to use his power window button on our behalf if we, for any reason, were unable to use our own button. He had offered me the front passenger seat twice, but seemed to understand that Melissa and I wanted to cuddle a bit.
He was also real chatty. That's a risky choice at that hour, perhaps, but he was willing to take it. Since we were in Jersey, naturally the first topic was about roads, exits, and traffic. He learned that Melissa was from Freehold, which led to talk about Springstein and that led us to learn our driver was a former drummer with a foot in both the punk and classic rock worlds. He named us his favorite bands. He told us about all the great concerts he saw at the Garden, paying $10 to see the Stones, and $5 to see Bowie. He told us who his favorite, and second favorite drummers were. Sorry I can't remember their names at this point, maybe Homer or Melissa do? I do remember the band Deep Purple was part of that discussion. We learned he got a few tattoos in the 90s, which is when all the punk rockers got theirs. "They didn't have them in the 80's, that came later." I thought about showing him mine, but decided against it, for fear he'd want to show us his.
I was intrigued by his accent. He used expressions like 'fuggedaboudit' fluently and sincerely, but there was a sharpness to many of his consonants that kept catching my ear. I finally asked where he'd grown up, and learned he had lived in Queens since the 70s, after moving there from what is now the Republic of Georgia, but was still the USSR back then.
When we arrived at the airport, before we settled the fare, the driver showed us his acrylic drum sticks. They were beautiful. He keeps them in his trunk. He told us he'd stopped drumming when he got married, but Melissa and I pictured him banging out riffs on his steering wheel on breaks.
I wish I could remember more details of our conversation, but it would have been a bit odd for me to start taking notes. To be honest there was also a lot of filler, things about the toll booths, road construction and such that would only have interested other drivers, if anyone. We learned way more than we needed to know about the computer difficulties that would prevent us from paying with a credit card (We assured him we were paying with cash.) Even the boring stuff made me happy, though. There were so many ways this guy struck a chord with me; the open, cheerful manner, the innocent (over-) sharing about his interests, the clumsiness in reading his audience, the earnest desire to help, the job he was doing, even just his appearance, all of it felt familiar. When I called my sister that night to tell her about this guy, I had barely started the story before she recognized him too. While Homer and Melissa also liked him, I think they were understandably a bit perplexed by my enthusiastic reaction to him. So as we headed into the airport I explained.
"He reminded me of my brother. A LOT." Really the only thing missing had been the send-off kiss and hug.
Okay, there were plenty of differences in the particulars -James was not a drummer, had never lived in the Soviet Union, and never, in my hearing, said "fuggadaboudit"- but in certain essentials they were cut from the same cloth. At the very least, I bet they would have been instant friends.
The upcoming trip had triggered thoughts of James already. For one thing he had bought my plane ticket. Yeah, THAT didn't stir things up at all. I had begun to feel like my grieving for him in NYC hadn't progressed so much as stalled; I wasn't thinking, or crying about him every day any longer, but it felt more like I was simply being distracted by the demands of life here, rather than actually moved on to a new phase. Maybe that is how grief works, maybe we simply do have to get on with things, knowing that at any moment we may experience another emotional ambush. Whatever the case, I feel this chipper drumming driver was my first surprise visit from James that wasn't painful or sad. He showed me I could spend some time with James during this trip. So I did. I took several walks with him, collecting rocks he would have liked, photographing things he might have noticed, even remembering some goddawful jokes/stories he would have insisted on retelling, in order to drive us all ape-shit.
Maybe the slower pace, the ocean waves, the good food and good friends, the serene, spacious beauty of the place would have opened me up in any case. But I'm grateful to that big galoot nonetheless.