California farewell

(It’s worth noting that Chris and I had just spent two nights in a hot pink Bavarian hotel. The first night we slept in a turquoise room under the placid gaze of a swarm of golden cherubs and their electric candelabra. The second night we slept in a cave, complete with waterfalls and stained glass windows depicting a cartoonish blond woman from the 50s transported to the caveman era. It was magically, shamelessly gaudy. Oma would love it here! I thought. Alas, the hotel doesn’t allow pets, and Oma won’t be parted from Andy—her fat, old, co-dependent dachshund.)

I could barely keep my eyes open the entire four-hour drive back from San Luis Obispo to the San Francisco airport. My face felt swollen, like I had just wept for hours or was having an allergic reaction. I’m usually good for a car trip, especially if there’s an audiobook on, but now I was zombie-like, nauseated and cranky. Chris patiently blasted freezing air into my face and, when that wasn’t enough, pulled off the highway to let me take deep breaths in an abandoned parking lot.

I felt myself pulling back together as we rolled into the Payless Rental Car parking lot. This was a relief, because I had been dreading imminent plane sickness, the only thing worse than car sickness. I smiled extra-earnestly and kissed Chris on the cheek as we stood waiting for the shuttle to arrive and take us the final ten minutes to the airport. I wanted to make it up to him for carrying our combined existential weight for much of the day. He grinned back indulgently.

“I’m sorry I haven’t been my best self,” I murmured.

“That’s OK. Sometimes you aren’t your best self. I love you anyway,” Chris said, magnificently.

I nuzzled my forehead gratefully into his deltoid, and at the same time, I was stricken by a thought: I hope I’m my best self often enough. There’s an acceptable ratio of best-self : not-best-self, and I don’t know what that ratio is, but everything depends upon it.

At first, I mistook the shuttle driver for another passenger. He wore a black and navy-blue suit, a matching fedora, and large, faux-diamond studs in his ears. His nails were clean and filed. He did not resemble the driver who, days before, had driven us the opposite way between the airport and car lot wearing a polo shirt with the Payless Rental Car logo.

“Hurry up! Hurry up! There’s only one of me!” he shouted as he waved Chris and I and a small group of stragglers into the shuttle van. As soon he started the engine, the radio blasted the commentary of a basketball game. He pressed the gas pedal, wriggled joyfully in his chair, and turned the volume up another notch.

Someone scored. The driver laughed. We stopped at a red light and he clapped his hands over his head. “Kill him! Kill him! Kill him! He’s not the king today!” I think he was talking about Lebron James?

The light changed and the driver hit the gas again. We swerved left through an intersection, and I heard a suitcase tumble in the back. Someone scored. The driver laughed again and pumped his fists in the air as we caught another red light.

A white convertible pulled up next to us. Without a moment’s hesitation, our driver rolled down his window and shouted, “Hey, playboy! Looking good, baby!” Green light. Gas.

Chris and I caught each other’s eyes. Chris was grinning, and his wide eyes and raised eyebrows seemed to say, “Why not? Weeee!”

I thought that was how I felt, too, until I caught a glimpse of myself in the side mirror. My expression was really a weird, manic grimace of incredulity and glee, like a little kid on the teacup ride who is caught between having the time of their life and throwing up.

We arrived. The driver flung himself out of the van and opened up the back doors. He swung our luggage out onto the curb in a heap. Suitcases toppled over. Some passengers frantically snatched up their luggage and scurried away.

“Man! Nobody tips anymore! Nobody tips anymore!” he huffed. Chris handed him some loose ones—not for the new dent in my luggage casing, but for the unexpected, whirlwind California farewell.

Published by the West Seattle Herald 06/12/2017.

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6 Responses to California farewell

  1. Connie T. says:

    I recently saw you speak at the Kentucky Bar Association convention. As a mother of young adult children my heart broke for you. I did not understand just how bizarre the prosecutor was until I came home and watched the documentary on Netflix about your case. (Saying he was like “Sherlock Holmes”, having an instinct for clues etc. The man is obviously delusional and is the best evidence that your situation was a gross injustice. ) Perhaps it is not my place but I felt the need to impart some motherly advice to you. I know you might have a contract with your publisher to market this book for a time, but I hope you will reach the point in your life where you no longer let this tragedy define you, at least publicly. Perhaps you’ll always want to help those who’ve been wrongly convicted, but it made me so sad to see such a beautiful, obviously talented and articulate women still swept up in all of this when you have so many other dimensions to your life, and such a long life ahead. You are obviously a gifted writer. Perhaps the fame you reluctantly earned due to all of this might open some doors for you, but I hope you will try some doors that do not involve simply focusing on this one horrific event. Perhaps you could write fiction unrelated to your situation, but using the knowledge you gained by all this. But what I most for you is to someday be able to walk in a room and have no one know who you are…for you to have a private, lovely life unrelated to all this. It would be the best thing for the future children I hope you have one day. And for you I think. Those who are close to you will always know, of course. God bless you. I cannot imagine one of my children having gone through this in their tender years.

  2. Frederick Alexander Jones says:

    Your story is truly transporting. Indeed, it is wonderful, as I have been fighting my case for more than thirty years. Now, I do it from a small hole of a room, in a high-rise in Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan. I will be well compensated, neverthetheless, as an exoneree. I am a former new york city police officer and former new york city correction officer who has lived his 72 years alone. So visit me at the American Party Movement, Please, allow me to tell my story. I need your fax or e-mail.
    I am an African-American, and we both are aware of a Trump that is not demonized.
    Thank you.

  3. Stacyhs says:

    Ah, yes…the Madonna Inn! Funky place, for sure!

  4. Tom Zupancic says:

    California is a different kind of place. I only lived there for 8 years, in the Bay Area, but life was such that I moved up and down the left coast quite a bit. I don’t want to elaborate on the honeymoon suite in Encinitas that my Biotech buddy booked for me and my honey way back when, but ‘yeah, been there’. And I’ve been up and down the 101 to San Luis Obispo and beyond.

    California… California love… California knows how to party!!!

  5. Tom Mininger says:

    After a few lines, I suddenly bolted off through the rest of the article scanning for keywords like “ceremony”, “honeymoon”, “married”, and “man and wife”. False foreshadowing alarm I guess. Speculation is a drug that fuels tabloid empires. I was even interpreting nausea as morning sickness. I hope you and Chris had a wonderful trip no matter what the reason, and I hope you’re feeling better. You have me sitting here at my desk daydreaming about my next vacation.

    It’s cool when personal belongings build up memories to share, like the dents in your luggage casing.

    • Stephane G says:

      I confess I shared your speculations just for a second or two 😉 Anyway, I could easily picture the driver’s cool attitude and exuberant behavior, and that really was a funny read. Thank you Amanda.

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