Here’s something I wrote on my cell phone during a long drive home from California.
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I grew up in the suburban, middle class sprawl of round rock, Texas. The most I had known about California was the pastel abstractions of Rocket Power, a nickelodeon staple about a group of spunky skater kids in Santa Monica. In the fourth grade Spencer Clark moved to my school. He came with spiked blonde hair, like Jason from N’sync, and lots of ten year old stories on snowboarding culture (something I wouldn’t see in person for another ten years). Spencer had an air of confidence and took complete command of our room of quieter Texan kids. I remember mixed feelings of of impressed and intimidation, unusual sensations from a kids age at the time. Even the fifth graders didn’t seem as cool as spencer.
This random memory popped in my sleep deprived brain just now at a gas station. Not coincidentally, I’m on the return trip from my first extended stay (a summer internship) in Los Angeles, CA. I found a gas station-Wendy’s hybrid and pulled over. I’m back in Texas, alright. I didn’t need more gas, not yet, just some pavement to stretch my skinny extensions and a urinal to piss in.
Today I’m wearing grey shorts above the knee, with bicycles symmetrically embroidered on them, black flip flops, the ray bands that miraculously survived the summer, and a saggy white tank top, exposing my side tattoo and sort hardly noticeable chest fuzz. I swept through the place, hung out by the urinal, then washed my hands. The largest man I’ve seen in months scrubbed his hands next to me, talking to his equally hefty son about which snacks he wanted for the road.
A Wendy’s ad chimed overhead, “make sure you try out new pretzel bacon burger today!”
“A burger sounds good”, remarked another teen outside the bathroom, who as just filled a extra large slurpee.
I slipped between families while checking the map on my caseless, white iPhone, heading to the door. It was open so I stepped through, head up and then down again… only to rethink my last ten steps. An older smiling lady had been holding the door open for myself and many more, now filing out. I heard the thank you’s then realized the absence of my own.
The chivalrous woman, in her neon green shirt, with visor and shorts to match, was shaking her head at me. I noticed just after my short window of opportunity to thank her. An even older woman had followed me out, issuing an extra audible “thank you!”, as if making up for the both of us. Her thank you pricked the back of my neck like an irritated bird. This woman happened to be parked next to me, great.
At first I didn’t understand why she was glaring at me. She stood next to her door with the irate expression of a grandma on edge. Oh, I thought, she needs me to pull out before she could open her driver door and I’ve been taking my time fixing this seatbelt.
Damn: strike two. I put my sisters Camry, with the purple fuzzy steering wheel, in reverse and apologetically smiled. No change in her face. Grandma was pissed, and she shook her head as opened her door.
Apparently I’d gone too far. I had let an elderly women, probably native to this tiny town, hold the door open for me without any recognition. I can only imagine the kind labels she stamped to the thought of my skin-showing, post-California face. Had I just added a bad chip to big-city’s reputation in this small western town? Maybe. Probably not. But the whole encounter made me laugh, then got me thinking on the drive that followed. I’m still on right now.
(Don’t worry there are no cars around me and I’m using cruise control and speaking most of this for Siri to translate.)
Friends from New York have told me that people aren’t rude there, they just don’t have time for manners. To me, that’s still a laughable absolute but there is a slight truth to it. Obviously I’ve already shed some of my southern politeness already… And I’d say I’ve grown more mature and empathetic this summer in LA, not the opposite.
In Los Angeles everyone is on the phone. It’s a huge place with pockets of intense energy, and traffic, that you’ve got to basically weave through to get anything done in time. This congestion was overwhelming at first. Tangled highways. Domino lines of Mercedes. It took me by surprise. But two months, down to earth friends, and a full time job swept that worry away. Soon I was another oiled gear in the greater city of angels.
Now I’m driving again, into the throat of an endless, flat sky, also known as I-10. I wonder how many people make this 22-hour drive regularly, even more than two times in their life. I wonder if it makes a difference on the migrating personalities, to soon assimilate in a place far from southern cal to southern comfort? I think it has for me. Flying home would’ve definitely been easier- I’d just like to be back in Austin, really- but this drive through a cultural gradient is worth something, too. Austin feels like a big oasis of forward thinking spunk (ask anyone who visits) but it’s still surrounded by hours/miles/deserts of something very different. Polite gestures. Slow drives Trucks. Open fields. Power plants. Hills with flat tops. Dust devils. Poor cell service.
Funnily enough, my service just dipped. Now my Spotify account is frozen and only the windy hum outside is left. Sporadic but predictable.
If you’ve made it this far into this over written vent-session, you’re probably hoping for a conclusive point, and I’m afraid I don’t have one. At least not the one I’d initially conceived. I guess this is just a view from an unpaid intern road tripping back to school, back to home.
People around me are changing, again, and I’ve gotta keep my eyes up- off my phone- if I want to keep up. But after LA I’ve realized the difference in cognizance and conformity. Spencer Clark probably had the same realization in his ten year old move from California to Texas. That must’ve been a hard move for a kid, though his confidence showed the opposite. From now on I’ll say thank you to every polite Texas woman I see… but they’ll have to deal with my queer tank tops. There are some things a change of scene can’t change about you.