pages fly away 87

Strange after traveling so far and wide to visit reservations and tribes across the land, that I’d visited none in California, which has the highest population of Native Americans of all of the States, nearly 800,000.  My reasoning was that I could make a smaller trip of it at a later time, even if I was back to work and could only head out on weekends.  I did happen to pass the Morongo Casino as I was driving west on the 10, but by now the exploration was over. 

I took the 10 all the way to Los Angeles, passing Redlands, San Bernardino, and Riverside.  It was twilight as I reached the outskirts of downtown and I got caught up in the stop and start traffic.  I knew the city well, yet didn’t know it at all.  It had been more of a death star than a home, one of life’s cruel jokes, to have my only base in the world be such an impossible to navigate logjam.  The sun was setting just to the left of the skyscrapers, the sky beside it orange and capped with clouds.

Desperate for one last rush of adrenalin, I pulled off on Alameda, thinking I might drive through the Art District where I’d briefly lived and recorded some music.  Somehow, I got lost, even though I’d driven through that neighborhood a thousand times.  There was no sense of homecoming, only isolation and dread.  Los Angeles is not a community as much as a coalition of warring parties.  I’d had no desire to compete and conquer.  The stress of living in the rat race had seen me fall through the cracks fourteen years earlier, and I’d been largely untethered since.

I took the 10 to the 110, then the 405 to Seal Beach Boulevard.  It was dark by now, after sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic for most of the last hour.  When I got to Huntington Beach, I parked in back of my mother’s cottage and used the back gate to unload the car, tossing everything in one unorganized pile on the auxiliary bed in the popup camper.  The Mountain Bluebird was intact, but looked shaken and was trembling a little.  I’d get up and return it the next morning.  The number of miles I’d put on it weighed heavy on my mind.

That night it was cold.  I’d been camping for a year and a half by now, ever since the pandemic had brought me back from Vietnam and my brother had gotten the camper from a neighbor.  It was my space, but hardly private.  Everyone in the surrounding houses could look into the yard and see what I was up to.  The cloth walls neither kept out the cold nor the noises from the neighborhood.  That night I just lay there and worried.  It made no sense, but I couldn’t avoid it, not until the Mountain Bluebird was back at the agency and everything had been settled.

That morning I sat up cross-legged on the bed and attempted to suppress my nervous energy by focusing on the moment.  Sparrows were chirping in the hedge.  At the end of the block came the whine of a power drill.  There was the cawing of a crow and the barking of a dog.  Someone across the alley was always locking a dog in their garage and it would bark all day.  That was beyond maddening.  A garage door went up and then came back down again.  I could hear the crunching of gravel beneath the tires of a car that was slowly passing. 

The past was gone everywhere I went.  The places where my family had settled had changed.  No one was left from the old days.  The country was not what it had been.  Outside of the nature, the most colorful part of my trip had been history, the remembrance of old ways.  What was left was largely a machine, a cold monster. 

Southern California was as difficult as it gets, yet this is where my family had moved and where my mother and siblings lived now.  It was the closest thing to a home that I had available.  This was the moment I’d been brought back to once again.  Maybe it was time to accept it and look for the good in it.

From downtown came the ringing of a church bell.  A plane passed overhead.  It was Tuesday, street sweeping day.  From two blocks away I could hear the street sweeper getting closer and closer.  Then it was upon me.  The roar of it filled my ears.

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