Going to California

From the beginning

Fourteen years ago, my life changed in less than a week. In that time, I went from being excited about the three-hour flight to visit friends in the Bay Area, to the terrible fear of driving alone for three days from Texas to California, a move I never thought I’d make.

While visiting a friend, I’d been offered the job of a lifetime — of my lifetime, anyway, hired right off his couch. The thought of an unprecedentedly awesome job held my fear at bay, more or less, though I could feel my mind straining under a previously unimaginable pressure: I was leaving everything I’d ever known, basically, with no notice, on a promise from a stranger that I would have a job on the other side. Earlier that summer, a grandfather had passed away, I had foolishly broken up with my girlfriend of two years, and I had turned thirty. Change was in the air.

Last month, cleaning out some old boxes, I came across a cassette tape from that trip, into which I had narrated what I’m sure was a stream of insanity as I drove from Austin to Mountain View. I can’t bear the sound of my own voice — even in my mid-forties, I remain troubled by the subtle signs of what remains of the crippling speech-impediment of my youth — so I don’t know how long it’ll be before I break down and give it a listen. Yes, I did go ahead and digitize it. No, I’m not posting it. Maybe next year.

Following the three-day drive, I washed up on the shore of Douglas Barnes‘s spare bedroom, where I stayed until I found my own place, and from which I checked in with friends back home. Two weeks before, the air-conditioning had gone out in the tin-roofed shack where I’d lived happily for two years. I’d been pouring sweat out into my keyboard. My computer kept crashing, overheating. It had been a powerful summer.

“They have this thing out here,” I said over the phone, leaning out through an open window. “It’s like air-conditioning, but it’s on the outside.” Which is to say that I liked the weather in Northern California, and was giddy enough to be a jerk about it, even if I still miss the lightning and thunderstorms of Texas, and even though I know I’ve only traded the oppressive heat for much worse things.

“Buy a digital camera,” one friend had said, a few days before I drove away, “and carry it around with you. That way, when you’re in your first earthquake, someone can take a picture of the look on your face.”

“And get yourself an earthquake-preparedness kit,” another friend said, “and always keep it available.”

“Is that anything like the alien abduction-preparedness kit that I keep in the backpack by the door?” I joked.

“Maybe,” he said. “Only, not so many condoms.”

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