2. Cowgirl

11 May 2020

Last week, after spending days doing a rigorous analysis of the safety of this plan and landing on “fuck it”, I rented a car to go to San Francisco to see a close friend for her birthday, a friend I hadn’t seen since lockdown and who I missed very much, but before I made it over to her apartment I went on a joyride up the coast, because I missed that, too.

I really enjoy listening to my “lo-fi low-key california brat” playlist when I’m driving. It’s all music I think you can only truly appreciate if you grew up eating In-N-Out, living in towns with Spanish saint names, knowing you were lucky to be here but also taking it for granted. Do my fellow Californians know what I’m talking about? I’d say “sound off in the comments” but I will never add a comment section to this website. Just DM me. I want to hear from you.

So anyway I listened to Shannon and the Clams on the Bay Bridge, marveling at San Francisco’s skyline; I listened to FIDLAR (Fuck It Dog, Life’s A Risk) on Franklin St, calmly letting the car cruise downhill by gravity alone; I listened to The Beach Boys on the Golden Gate Bridge, laughing at how cliché this whole experience seemed. Still, I was teary-eyed. It was a beautiful day, one of those where you can see the top of the bridge (normally covered in fog), and there were few people on the road, and I felt good. I pulled over at a vista point to look out at the city and sketch it quickly before continuing up the 1, California’s scenic highway that hugs the coast. On this particular stretch, it snakes through the redwood and evergreen forests of Mt. Tam before opening up to Stinson Beach and the surrounding wetlands. It’s a gorgeous drive.

It’s also bittersweet now. I’ve done this drive so many times that it’s become almost, I don’t really know how best to put this, but multidimensional, like layers and layers of memories all playing out at the same time on top of each other. Like, quantum physics? Is this what quantum physics is? Don’t sound off in the nonexistent comments about this one, I don’t actually want to know.

I thought a lot about my ex-boyfriend because we drove up and down the coast many times in the five years we were together. Looking back on it, I don’t really like who I was when I was with him, which is probably good; if you don’t look back on your past self and cringe, you are a psychopath. Secure in the knowledge that I was not a psychopath, I was able to think about my ex, appreciate the good times we had together, and be very thankful it was over. Now it was just me driving up the coast, and I was happier this way. Though sometimes it’s nice to have a handsome, blue-eyed, erstwhile skater boy drive you around, too.

I thought about some other California drives, more layers of memories. A few early morning drives to some particularly good lakes and beaches with a soft-hearted surfer studying water in grad school. Drives to wine country with some girlfriends, car buzzing with gossip and the best possible vibes. A very long drive to Joshua Tree with a writer who I admire greatly for her calm and wisdom. A solitary drive to the mountains to spend a few days with an anarchist cowboy, listening to him play banjo while I wrote poetry. A handful of drives with a painter, the one who introduced me to country music, encouraged my love of the desert, and broke my heart.

Like I said, bittersweet.

And all the more so because, again, reflecting on who I was when I went on these drives (and cringing as any non-psychopath would), I realize how much more carefree I used to be. Some of those drives weren’t so long ago, but I wasn’t nearly as anxious about the future as I am now. I didn’t worry about getting the plague from a gas station or wonder if one day these drives would be completely outlawed. These anxieties mixed in with all the memories, making it almost impossible to just appreciate the drive for what it was in the present moment. Me, alone in the car, thinking about love and loss, singing along to Best Coast at the top of my lungs, driving along the best coast on a sunny spring day, happy against all odds. I should do it more often.