Patrick’s Point is a beautiful place. When you can see it. One evening the setting sun conspired with the fog to let a few rays of light through.
Most of the time though, it’s enveloped in cloud.
Having driven in on a broken alternator (draining our starting battery to dead and our house batteries way down) we really needed sun. Instead we got not just overcast skies but swirling mists of fog that create an artificial night around the entire point. It was like living in a cloud. Every morning I got up, and, while stowing our bedding under the couch, stared at the ever-dropping voltage readings on our batteries.
After three days it became apparent that I either had to do something today or we were going to be stuck. The nearest auto parts store with a new alternator in stock was about 35 miles away in Eureka. The nearest bus stop was six miles away but assuming it was even remotely on time I’d be gone about 16 hours round trip. Maybe. U.S. bus systems tables are completely inscrutable1 so it was also possible there was no bus running at all. I could risk driving, but if the battery died the whole family would be stuck.
I ended up with a compromise. I rented a car from the airport which was only a six mile walk and ten mile bus ride and would, theoretically get me back to the bus by dinner time. I threw on some warm clothes, packed water and, at my daughters’ insistence, some snacks in my backpack, and set off for Trinidad.
I really did not want to walk to Trinidad. It just wasn’t on my list of things to do when I woke up that morning. A bus or even a really expensive cab ride was much more appealling. At the same time, perverse though this sounds, I like these little breakdowns. I like putting myself in situations where I’m well outside my comfort zone and have the scramble a bit to solve problems. How else do you know what you’re capable of?
I don’t generally try to teach my kids “life lessons” or any of that crap. Words are cheap. As a professional writer, I can tell you with some authority just how cheap they are. Children learn by watching . They absorb. The world around them gets organized into a patterns right before their eyes. One of them, that I have tried to cultivate to some degree, is that you should meet life head on. Good or bad you have to go through, not around. This is easy when life is good. When there are problems it gets more difficult. But still. The only way out is through.
You cannot avoid. You can not ignore. You cannot put your head in the ground. The minute you pull it up and look around, there’s everything you were avoiding, waiting for you. Similarly, there are no shortcuts, there are no easy escapes. No one is coming to save you. You have to save yourself. You save yourself by going through. Whether life gives you fear and sadness, or joy and wonder, there’s no escaping it, there’s no way around it, you go through it. You can choose to accept what comes and deal with it accordingly moving through it or you can lay down and die. It’s really that simple.
And usually what we think is going to be so awful isn’t that bad2. We’re pretty terrible at telling what is good from what is bad in the midst of things. I am anyway. Many of my favorite moments in this life aren’t ones I’m in a hurry to re-live, but doesn’t make them any less wonderful to me. Whatever it is though, these experiences are here for you now. You put them on, you sit with them, so to speak, you live them. And then something else comes along. Some of it will be hard, unpleasant, involuntarily thrust upon you, not really what you wanted to do when you woke up that morning, but you get up and you do it anyway because it is life, whether you want to call it good or bad is up to you, but all of it is life and without it, there’s no reason to be here. The only way out is through.
That’s what I was thinking about walking through the damp cold dreary world of Patrick’s Point, at least when I wasn’t concentrating on the sound of cars to avoid being run over by insane California drivers. I also thought about the millions of people all over the world (most of them women) who were also at that very moment walking further than me to get water. And they have to do it again tomorrow. I don’t have to walk for water, I don’t have to beg for food. I don’t really have any problems at all, just a burned out coil of wire that needed to be replaced. No big deal.
I also thought about how if I were in the south someone would have stopped to give me a ride before I made it a mile. Everywhere we’ve been recently has served to reinforce something I already knew: the only place still alive in America is the south.
I made it to the bus station about half an hour ahead of the bus, time enough to grab some pastor tacos from the gas station, which was way better than you’re thinking. I have my beefs with California — lots of beefs in fact — but damn if you can’t get a decent taco at a gas station. Eventually the bus showed up only ten minutes late, which is almost Germanicly on-time by the LA public transport standards I grew up with. I made it to the airport, picked up the car, drove to Eureka, bought an alternator and drove back in time for dinner.
The next day I installed the alternator and took the bus for a drive to charge the batteries. It wasn’t enough to stop us from needing to conserve energy, but it kept us afloat a little longer, it got us out of our energy jam. It got us through. And that’s all we really need. Eventually the sun even came out for day.
I have ridden the bus in 16 countries, reading over bus schedules through the fog of half a dozen different language barriers and I’ve never had so difficult at time as I have at every bus stop in the U.S — MTA New York being the notable exception to that rule. ↩
By the same token, things that seems so great at first often turn out to be downright nasty. ↩