I have seen a few sights on the road that were so bizarre that my eyes-on-the-road-and-my-hands-upon-the-wheel-focused brain couldn’t adjust to the improbability of the drive-by hallucination before it was past and I had to refocus on the next highway warning sign. Some of these little vignettes now play like some whacko movie trailer in my mind, as the scenes of my life might if I were seconds from death. No context, no meaning, just a scene that flashes by my memory like a subliminal message across the matinee theatre screen. A couple of these have been replaying in my head recently – California memories. Probably since I’ve spent the last 3 weeks basking in the California sun and breathing the trade winds. Or, it could just be the effect of 20 days of exhaust inhalations.
Driving the Pacific Coast Highway with my best friend and soul-mate a few years back provided a cornucopia of visual delights that produced both “oohs & ahs” at the natural beauty of the flora, and Olympic-quality synchronized double-takes at the unnatural splendor of the local fauna from the two of us. We stared, we laughed, we puzzled, we shook our heads in wonder. Honestly, I’m not making this stuff up…
As we started our drive up the coast, we rounded the corner just out of the LA metropolis and had to slam on the brakes to avoid the bicycle. Well, kind of a bicycle. It resembled a bike towing a trailer, but it was so much more. The 2-wheeler was festooned with bulging saddlebags, mirrors, a squeeze-bulb horn and handle-bar streamers. (So very “PeeWee’s Big Adventure!”) The trailer was loaded up with what looked like the entire contents of Aniken’s pod-racer spare-parts shed from Star Wars 1. The cyclist was dressed all in silver – silver shoes and socks, silver shorts, silver shirt. But it wasn’t the silver uniform of a racer. It was more the silver clothing of a live manikin at Caesar’s Palace. All he was missing was the silver makeup. His getup included a silver helmet that was strangely familiar – a Darth Vader-esque mask! But wait, that’s not all. In his silver-gloved hand, he carried – I kid you not – a silver jousting lance.
On the narrow PCH, with California traffic snaking in front and behind for miles, you can’t stop and stare. You can only try to retain the image in your unbelieving mind and wonder (sic) on down the road. Until the next strange sight appears…
Quick Change Artist
Santa Maria is a small agricultural community halfway up the coast. We had stopped at a fast food joint – not for food, but for the easy-in/easy-out, relatively, and predictably, clean restrooms that come with a limited service chain restaurant. In this Burger King, I saw a man changing clothes in the restroom stall. Not all that strange actually. I’ve adjusted my ensemble several times in airport stalls when out on the road and no one ever thinks twice.
But this incident is unusual. Waiting by the car, I see the man come out of the BK with 3 grocery bags of his old clothes, and then see him stuff them and an old backpack into the drive-thru' trash can. Then, he shoulders his new backpack – recently in one of the grocery bags – and walks off in his clean clothes. He seemed to be walking with a purpose. I like to think he was not just changing his clothes. I believe he was changing his life and moving on down the road…
Aphrodite in Morro Bay
In her sandals and diaphanous sky-blue evening dress, she had just walked out of the shadow of the viaduct carrying Highway 1 over a side street of Morro Bay and into the bright sun where she stood at the corner to the on-ramp. She was tall and carried herself with a regal grace that belied her grimy surroundings. There was the tiniest squirrel of a “yip-dog” leading Her Majesty and tethered by a leash she held in her pinky-extended right hand. Her left hand she held oddly but purposefully at eye level, palm up and perfectly flat, carefully (and somehow sensually) holding a pink Walkman that she had plugged her ear buds into. From the spinning CD player dangled a yellow rubber ducky she had hung by a loop of string. It swung gently as she stepped off the curb. She kept the Walkman flat and at perfectly at eye level as though she was sighting the horizon along its top.
She smiled dreamily and sweetly at no one in particular - she didn't seem to see us watching her – as if for the cameras on the red carpet. We stared, mouths agape until the light changed. And then, we were through the underpass and on our way to Monterey.
As we found on this trip, there are more reasons than the scenery at Big Sur to take the road less traveled. Seeing those odd exhibits of human behavior juxtaposed against the backdrop of the endless waves of the Pacific has rendered that journey into more of a surreal memory than something that actually happened to me. Writing this, it also occurs to me that these little snippets of experience may act like subliminal messages on the celluloid record of our lives. Each daily occurrence we view affects our future thoughts and actions, however slightly. Have I become odd because I’ve seen so much odd behavior? These are the kind of things that make me go “hmmmm.”
And, as Schrödinger’s Cat will attest, our observance of these events changes the events and the players, too. I wonder: if we hadn't been there to see him, would Schwinn Vader still have held that lance?