California Stars

Now it’s been seven months since I drove from Seattle down to San Francisco and started this new job (I seem to have a recurring theme with sevens here: seven years, seven weeks; now it’s seven months, for no reason other than that I’m finally ready to get back on this blog train with a vengeance). I can say with certainty that this was exactly what I was meant to do: I’m in love with this job, in love with this place, and in love with my life. It’s not always perfect and I’m not always happy, but it is everything I hoped for. The only thing missing is Jake, but I think we’ll work it all out in due time.

I never took the time to talk here about the trip down – the story is pretty entertaining, at least to me.

I was not ready for the change; it seems I never am. Is anyone? The job change and impending move had quickly shaped up to be a more seismic shift than I had anticipated. I had told my new employer that I would be ready to work on September 7th, and suddenly I found myself waking up on September 6th with a completely not-packed car and no plan for leaving. But I had to leave – I had given myself no other option. I needed my car in California, so I couldn’t fly down; I had to drive. I also wanted to have my motorcycle, so I had bought a tow-hitch-mount rack but hadn’t put it on my car yet. That morning, Jake helped me install the rack and then load my bike onto it and lash it down. Then with some hugs and kisses, he left for work. I proceeded to go upstairs, crawl into bed, and cry for half an hour, just smelling him on the pillow and wondering how I was going to drive away, or if I would at all. I wrapped my heart into a letter, sealed it, and left it on the pillow, then got to packing. Having the car was a blessing because I could throw everything in there without thinking too hard about arranging it efficiently. It took maybe an hour, maybe more; I don’t remember. I just needed to make sure I had basic work clothes and gear covered, everything else was an afterthought. By 10 in the morning I was ready to leave, and I was already screwed for the drive that would take thirteen hours or more.

It turned out that Jake wasn’t needed at work until the night shift on the job site where they were installing their project, so I met him for a last coffee at Macrina bakery before starting on my way south on I-5 at 11 in the morning. Normally when I start out on the drive to the Bay Area from Seattle, I try to leave around 6 am, which will help me avoid rush-hour traffic in the cities and get me home around dinnertime. Leaving at 11 meant that I was setting myself up for a nightmare situation somewhere near the California border around midnight, but I would just have to deal with it when I got there. As it was, by nightfall I had only gotten as far as the Rogue Valley in central Oregon, and it made me dizzy to think of the dark hours that lay on the highway ahead. There had been a nasty big-rig accident somewhere in central Washington as well that had added at least an hour to the drive. I listened to podcasts, music, anything I could do to keep my mind off of my loneliness, fatigue, and anxiety.

It was ten o’clock at night when I crossed from Oregon into California. The metal-and-glass dragon sculpture in the grass beside the highway between Yreka and Weed wasn’t glowing like I hoped it’d be; perhaps it had already gone out since the sun went down. I stopped at a gas station in Mount Shasta for fuel and caffeine, and almost scrapped the plan when I suspected I was about to be accosted by some grubby, leering drunks huddled around a broken-down truck in the shadows by the corner of the building. Without thinking too long about it i just locked my doors and drove down the street to a different station to get what I needed before heading on my way.

I was on the 505 entering Solano county sometime around one in the morning, and by this time I really could not keep my eyes open, so I pulled off the highway and wedged my land cruiser in between the huge semi trucks on a deserted on-ramp, curling up against a pile of blankets in the front seat to sleep as long as I could. I opened the moon roof to let some of the warm country air settle over me, and I breathed it in and listened to the crickets as I drifted in and out of dreams.

When I could function again I was back on the road to Napa, and I finally pulled up to my mother’s house at 4 am on the seventh of September. My mind and body were fried. I slept until 11, unloaded the bike and unpacked my car, and was on the boat by 1900 that night. Ever since then I’ve been on an amazingly regular one week on/one week off schedule, and at the end of March they closed my dispatch, meaning that instead of a casual I am now a full employee. This makes me so happy!

In the first few months I rode my motorcycle to work whenever I could, until it started to get too cold to ride at night in December when the wind turned my fingers to ice. In the fall when it was still hot and dry, I was overwhelmed by the smell of the fennel coming from Carquinez strait, getting stronger and stronger the closer I got to Benicia where we do our crew changes. Now that it’s spring and it’s been pouring heavenly rain for months, the smells are of coyote bush and eucalyptus.

But having come from years of living and working in Washington and Alaska, the thing that strikes me the most about these nights on the water and riding and driving to work is how crystal clear the sky can be at night and the multitudes of stars blazing down from the inky velvet expanse of it. I’ve looked up for years and only seen overcast, tinged orange and gold by the lights of the city (in Seattle) or of an oil terminal (in Valdez). I’m overwhelmed at times when I look up and see Orion’s belt, three massive stars perfectly spaced, shining at me from the west. You can even see the stars in San Francisco where we tie up along the Embarcadero; even with the city lights, when the sky is clear the stars have no competition.

I’m so grateful to be where I am now and I can’t wait to tell more stories of what it’s actually been like to work here.

2 thoughts on “California Stars

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