The Best Days of Summer, May 13, 2013

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I. Coronado

 

On a Friday afternoon in May, I plopped down in an airplane window seat and shook my head.

“You’re making a mistake,” I told myself. I was going to my ex’s wedding in San Diego, fresh from a job rejection, painfully single. I’d broken a luggage wheel the second I’d gotten ready to board my first train to Newark Airport. I was ready to turn around and go home and call off the trip. “I have to stop travelling alone,” I said.

This would be my first time on the West Coast, one positive glimmer in the journey. I would only be there for two nights, then back in time for work on Monday. We were in the air by 8 pm. I can’t remember if I slept or otherwise.

In San Diego, the weather was perfect. I took off my jacket outside the terminal and hailed a cab. My grumpiness, sleep-deprivation and stress started to melt away when I looked at the terrain. People are always speak so positiviely California—I was beginning to see why. A flurry of text messages flooded my phone, mostly from the groom.

“Text me when you land in SD!” he wrote.

“I’m here!” I wrote. “There are palm trees!”

My cab driver, a native, pointed out Tijuana from the top of a bridge on our way to Coronado, where the wedding would be. The groom texted again, the wedding party was having drinks at a local bar. He suggested I come out, but I looked down at myself, I was a mess.

“I’m grubby,” I texted back.

“We’re all grubby,” he said in reply. I looked out the window at a set of single family homes, a curb and a sidewalk, I hadn’t seen the suburbs in forever. I then reminded myself that though it were only two days, it was a vacation and I was going to treat it like one. I leaned forward in my seat.

“Hey, can you turn around, take me to McPhee’s,” I said. The driver laughed.

“OK.”

The gang was all there as I rolled in lugging my suitcase, wrinkled pants and messy hair. I shook hands with all the friends he used to talk about over the years. Then we exited the bar (the boys made a pit stop at the liquor store) and then to the hotel. It was a small place, right on Coronado’s main street. There was a small pool, a restaurant. I checked in, flopped in bed.

The next morning, my friends from New York kindly invited me to lunch. Then we split up. I told them I was going to walk to the beach and dip my foot in the Pacific Ocean for the first time. So I did.

The sunlight was high, and the weather was much hotter than it had been in the city when I left. My friends told me to just go in the direction of the main road and through the hotel. I enjoyed the Saturday morning scene. Many of the locals were having coffee in yoga pants, and brunching with their families. I met the beach near noon. I stood on a sidewalk that spanned where the beach sand began. There was a bench and a lizard there, “What do we think of the Pacific?” I asked him with my look. I took my shoes off.

The Pacific water had a bit of a chill to it, and like the rumors, it was indeed a nice green color from far away. Back on dry land I raced to the hotel for a change of clothes, a shower, and the wedding.

My mother warned me that I would have bad luck if I went to an ex’s wedding. But I felt happy to see him doing what he’d always wanted. It seemed natural for him, his every expression as he looked into his wife’s eyes, and the way he placed the wedding ring on her finger with such self-assurance. I was getting kind of teary eyed. I said the first reading, which I’d practiced for weeks and even the day-of during my shower.

The pre-party before the rehearsal was held at the bride and grooms additional suite near the beach in Coronado. There was a balcony overlooking the courtyard of the hotel. I enjoyed perching there with a cocktail. One of the groomsmen, Robert, who happens to be a good friend, went to the courtyard to smoke, he looked up at us from below.

“I’m liking this, I’m liking what I’m seeing,” he said. “lots of beautiful people.” He took out his SLR and snapped a few shots of me and my friends, leaning over the balcony rail. I think that was my favorite moment of summer.

I always have a moment when I travel that reminds me of why I travel, and that moment was it.

It seemed that everything in California was perfect. The reception was on the second floor of a historic boat house. Great speeches were had, and then dinner and dancing.

For the after party we wandered across the street to another beach and found an outdoor bar where you could sit by a marble fire pit. The ocean roared several feet away. I eased my back into a chair and maintained conversation with the guests. I had met a mutual friend of the grooms during the reception while we had a drink. We discussed our lives at great length in only the way that you can when you’re all alone with a stranger in a new city.

At 11 o’clock the bride and groom announced that they were going to go to sleep. A large portion of the crowd left, and then there were about 10 of us left. Mostly of the wedding party (with the exception of myself and a few others). We stood in a circle by the fire pit and planned out what else we could do.

“Skinny dipping,” said one of the girls. We all took a glance at the ocean. Before anyone could interject, one of the bridesmaids smiled.

“I’ve got a hot tub at my room we could go there…and skinny dip,” she said. I hate the idea. The boys loved it. Someone suggested walking downtown.

We found a bar that was open and ordered more food and drinks. We played a game of Never Have I Ever (which is very, very easy for me to win, being as innocent as I am). When they other guests found out how innocent I was, they decided that we should all go to Tijuana.

Obviously, we did not go to Tijuana.

At 3 am, a heavy fog settled on the streets, and one of the guys drove us all back to our hotel. I smiled during the ride. It seemed that living at home through college made me miss late evenings with new people. Sometimes I feel like I’m making up for lost time.

The next morning my friend MM and her boyfriend offered to give me a ride to the airport. Like a scene from a film I climbed in the front seat of her convertible and she turned up Lana del Ray’s “Video Games”. I knew the name but never heard her music before.

“She’s Robert’s favorite,” MM says.

I got to the airport with just a little time to spare to eat and board. I downloaded “Videogames” in the airport for the flight back. I got back on the plane headed to New York and maybe it was the music, or maybe I was just missing my friends deeply or feeling a loss now that they were all pairing off so nicely – but I started to get a little down and teary. “We’re all growing up, aren’t we?” I said to myself.

I looked down and we were crossing the desert. I’d never seen a desert before. It was not a mistake to come.

 

II. Boston

 

I love everything about cities. I love learning them, personifying them, learning their hearts (at their centers) and their veins of roads. People may close off and put up boundaries, but cities let you know them. If I had my way I’d wake up every day in a new city that I’d learned. So when the opportunity came to visit a friend in Boston, I took it.

What I know of Boston is from the man I dated from Boston. I know that there are academics, and US History and Ben Franklin impersonators. I promised my friend Natalie that one day I’d visit her there. I didn’t want it to be an empty promise, so I planned a weekend in July and took the Bolt bus north after work. I arrived at midnight at the station, the furthest north I’d ever been in the United States.

Every time I see Natalie I remind myself how much I can learn from her. She’s brimming with positivity, and takes life’s punches with the best attitude and her head held high. I am completely opposite; I’m a glass-half-empty realist until I am in her company. Then I remember: anything is possible.

We took a cab a little outside the city to her home that she shared with four other students. We sat up writing a list of things we’d do in Boston: the Freedom Trail, the MFA, lunch in Chinatown, among other things. We woke up early for breakfast and went into the center of the city to start the Freedom Trail, a history mile or two walk past all the historical spots from the US Revolution.

We started out optimistically enough. We marched, we played patriotic music. A rain came about halfway through. Then by noon we were harried and tired, the trail was longer than we expected. We stopped for lunch at an Italian restaurant on the North End (I let her try her first sardines). After our break we continued on the trail, passing Paul Revere’s house, and stopping at a maritime center to see a canon blast across the river. When we got to the end of the trail, the true endurance test was presented to us: Bunker Hill.

Bunker Hill was a lookout point, a tower up in the sky reachable only by taking a long spiral staircase worthy of Rapunzel. We got to the door and were told there were 190 steps to the top, Natalie and I exchanged a glance.

“We got this.”

On step 193 I looked down at her apprehensively. “How can there be 193 steps?”

“It’s 293,” said someone going down. I gave Natalie a look like, “I want to go back,” but she encouraged us to make it to the top.

We squeezed in the tiny space and could see Boston on all sides. We left Bunker Hill feeling like champions and sweating like pigs.

That night Natalie got a bunch of her college friends together for sushi in Harvard Square, then ice cream. Natalie, myself and her boyfriend walked to the grassy embankment of the Charles and danced in the dark. Then we went to the Harvard campus at midnight. We sat on chairs in the lawn and fireflies buzzed over our heads. My second favorite memory from summer.

The following day my back and feet hurt from the Bunker Hill climb, but we had breakfast plans in Davis (great name). Then we took the T train to a park near Newberry Street, where all the high end shops were. We did a quick turn at the Boston MFA. Totally worth it, totally going back someday. Then we stuffed ourselves in Chinatown. The ride back felt longer than the ride there, and I felt solace in having spent the weekend laughing and dancing and being in a city.

I like Boston.