Remembering to look up
I hopped on a 720 express bus and headed west after teaching a morning class to English language learners, my summer teaching job in Westwood. The students had completely revolted that morning against my idea of comparing ancient sister disciplines of psychology and astrology via personalized temperament tests and general horoscope readings from the LA Times. Successfully faking the funk as a language teacher was to soon come to an end. And when preparing for, or during the process of a major life event like becoming a mother, getting over a relationship, or finding employment in an overcrowded region of the world, I always seek out a natural environment to sort my thoughts and devise a plan of action.
Santa Monica, as usual, during the summer was overly crowded, but I still rode the bus to the Colorado and Ocean stop like so many times before. Avoiding the carnival ride crowds and visitors taking pictures near the small veteran memorial right off the pier, I crept down the set of wooden stairs closer to the bus stop, passed through the 1 freeway overpass, down another set of cement stairs, and into a parking lot.
I walked awkwardly through the sand, found a place near the shore to scatter the few items in my bag, and pretended to read a book while people watching and imagining what it would be like to live in one of the beach front properties that line the road by the overpass. Waves must lull residents to sleep and orange red splatter against the walls from a rising sun seems like a perfect way to wake in the morning.
But something was unsatisfying. Looking around at the familiar scene of mothers yelling to their children to stay closer to shore, people lying out in the sun, vendors periodically passing by selling mostly guava, it dawned on me: the crowds were thickest near the pier. This crowded section of beach I had explored time and time again wasn’t a place to think, yet I still came. Mostly out of habit.
So I got up, walked awkwardly back through the sand and decided to take a left at the bike path while trying to decide which direction to walk to find lifeguard tower 28. When getting off the bus, a man said he was going there and that it was definitely quieter than near the pier. The first person I asked to point me in that direction was an employee of Perry’s, wearing the usual restaurant apron and taking a smoke break. He told me to head towards the restaurant’s awnings and ask for a man named Javier through the window.
His suggestion seemed a little strange, but he immediately reassured me that Javier was the person who could help since he was native to Santa Monica and had lived there most of his life.
I soon acquiesced, made my way to the window, and tried to catch Javier’s attention between customers’ orders. Our exchange reminded me of a scene from a mob movie: He motioned for me to meet him on the side of the restaurant, and then appeared in the doorway, incognito and away from customers. I asked him the same question I asked the other man, lower in tone this time and a little more serious, “Which way is lifeguard tower 28?” He took in a deep breath, glanced in either direction, as if someone might be watching, and told me to follow the bike path towards Venice for about a half hour.
Although Javier was sure he knew the lay of the land, for some reason, I felt a second opinion was in order. I then hiked through the parking lot behind the restaurant, headed up the cement stairs, onto the freeway overpass, and up another set of wooden stairs until I was nearly back where the bus dropped me off. The information booth seemed like the place to go.
“I’m looking for lifeguard tower 28,” I told the woman behind the glass. She fumbled with some maps and did a search online to eventually point me in the same direction Javier did only minutes earlier. The Capricorn horoscope for that day came back to mind. The jest: “You may do double work if you fail to listen the first time.”
Descending the wooden stairs again, I walked the length of overpass, headed down the cement stairs and through the parking lot to get back to the bike path. A trickle of cyclists passed me by until, unsuspectingly, a pocket of eclectic restaurants, bars and shops emerged.
While tucked away in a small section of the beach, I had forgotten entirely about this side of the pier. The number of cyclists increased along with the surfacing of a plethora of pleasantly peculiar people and a livelier vibe. Nearing the end of Santa Monica beach and heading into Venice reminded me that once the excitement or security of one place is no longer satisfying, there is always an option to start fresh and explore something new.
What better way to receive confirmation than down in the water near lifeguard tower 28. I swam for awhile then turned around to see something floating close to the shore. It was hard to tell exactly what it was. And when I approached the object, it seemed to morph into what looked like clothing, and then a round seat cushion, until it was close enough for me to see it clearly. A large jellyfish was wading lifelessly in the water.
Having swam with/from jellyfish in the Caribbean ocean a few years back, I know that the larger one is, the farther out in sea it belongs. An environmentalist may attribute the appearance of a jellyfish that size near the shore to contaminated storm-water, which makes its way out to the ocean and eventually pollutes marine life. But I like to hold onto a little a magic.
Jellyfish are symbolic of inner power, strength, and vulnerability. Sometimes it takes all three to move ourselves a fraction of the distance a jellyfish moves simply by relying on the natural currents of the ocean.
I set out that day, searching for a familiar place that quickly became all too familiar for comfort. And although my one goal of devising a plan for my financial future was momentarily placed on the back burner, I was reminded to look up for awhile and enjoy the scenery – float a little like the jellyfish. My desire for some control inadvertently caused me to run up and down stairs unnecessarily, yet enjoyably resulted in a mini adventure right there in a section of the world I thought I knew all too well.
A California native, Jessica has lived in numerous southern California cities, chases nature with urgency, and travels to anywhere possible. She listens to folk, indie rock, blues, and anything with a spirit and lyrics she can support. Jessica writes fiction and creative non-fiction and is completing her MFA in Writing at Vermont College of Fine Arts.