"I'm a man (a man) without conviction
I'm a man (a man) who doesn't know
How to sell (to sell) a contradiction
You come and go, you come and go"
Some repeated perspective may help explain why gratitude was the furthest thing from my mind.
In 2008, Florian picked me up a few miles north of this very same campground just before sunset, so I saw the stretch from near Hearst Castle to Pfeiffer-Big Sur State Park through his rented RV’s headlights. Running with Rael’s initial suggestion, I wanted to take it slow to Monterey. I hoped to find myself literally immersed in this immensely beautiful part of the country. The emerging reality resembled a repeat of 2008 with sunshine. Based on Rael’s words in the weeks leading here, I saw Karen as an unnecessary, intentional roadblock; interference rather than an enhancement. What's more, Monterey held little attraction! I still can’t explain why, although I believed I had visited there with Florian without being blown away. For two-years, I had confused Monterey and Santa Cruz but still: I just didn’t feel it!
Karen planned to meet a friend in Monterey that night but to her credit she also hoped to take her time, enjoy the ride, and stop often for pictures etc., so to sum up: Leaving San Simeon State Park, Saturday lined up as one to mentally shut down and prepare for better things.
The incredible landscape did NOT disappoint. Mother Nature makes it abundantly clear: THIS is where the North American continent ends-- dropping 1,000 ft. into the largest ocean on Earth! The fog returned periodically setting this natural stage with a kind of Heavenly/Otherworldly decor; one with an unparalleled raw, unspoiled, intense beauty that conjures up powerful emotions and implies a "connectedness." I’ve felt that in few other places, like Oregon and The Berkshires. You’ll either “get that” or won’t, but this stretch of Highway 1, from San Luis Obispo to its end in Northern California, is the rarest of places: the one exceeding its hype!
Looking ahead at the thin little ribbon of road, winding precariously perched on the cliffs, I thought of George Carlin’s observations about how utterly powerless humans really are and saying that Earth's “gonna shake us off like a bad case of fleas!” Seeing this place, then visualizing LA, Chicago, and Detroit, I wondered if that would be such a bad thing in the grand scheme of things! These are the moments of clarity that I love the most; those directly attributed to living this way for more than a day or two. Again, you’ll get it or won’t, but it’s energizing and enlightening when unplug long enough to become part of actual reality! That connection illuminates the ridiculous facade we’re conditioned to accept as The World. This was the immersion I had hoped would last a few days rather than just a few minutes. Fail.
January’s string of Pacific storms that delayed me in New Mexico, snowed Chris into Big Bear, and damaged Salvation Mountain, had literally caused portions of Highway 1 to collapse and our ride was sprinkled with regular CalTrans workers and lane closures. Whenever she stopped, Karen would play the dual role of agent/Marketing-PR representative, making damn sure that anyone within 45 ft. of her knew of Rael's in-progress heroic epic, and that Slab City was in fact THE western hemisphere's adventure destination of choice!
Rael and I temporarily decided to get out of the van around Ragged Point or Lucia, but ultimately elected to stay with Karen “just a bit further.” Rael expressed curiosity about finding my old friend, the California Coastal Trail, and this was honestly much safer than walking this winding, twisty, busy two-lane road with no shoulder... one that invites distraction! Rael told me in unambiguous language that he was “sick of being in that van” and wanted us to get on our way, but that he’d “like to get one more meal out of her.” This set off alarm bells. Alarms ignored because we’d soon be moving on from all this. That comment, however, further highlighted and returned to the forefront this predominant “all things to everyone” trait; one clearly displayed (with hindsight) from the start.
Big Sur is merely 20-some miles from Monterey and beyond the dramatic splendor of Highway 1 so it was pointless to get out now. We had missed the road at which we planned Karen to drop us off and she was quite happy when we agreed to ride these last few miles to the city, reiterating that she’d happily take us to the north edge of town-- my lone request in exchange for agreeing to this.
The disconnected, ignored confusion swirling around our agendas finally became unbearable when Karen began speaking in matter-of-factly tones about what “they” were planning to do in San Francisco, and more importantly: WHEN and for how long! It appeared clear to me that these plans had been discussed in detail, and flew directly opposite to my understanding of things! It was now plain that I was the missing link in this disconnected loop; Karen clearly thought I was moving on…soon…and her field trip with Rael would continue.
Rael made precisely zero attempts to clarify things choosing instead to silently alternate anxious, almost sheepish glances between Karen and me. Personally, I had done enough guessing. It was time to push some “water through the pipe” and find our little crack. As Karen succinctly put it as we meandered into Monterey, Rael had “two dates for the Prom.” He had inexplicably made conflicting, separate arrangements with both of us.
In the 2-weeks leading up to my departure, there was absolutely no indication of Karen's involvement. As you’ll recall, it was when I got to Cambria that he told me Karen was on her way and wanted to take him to San Francisco. Of course, he had “explained everything to Karen, and she knew that we would be traveling together ‘for awhile.’” He also assured me that he had declared that if she wanted him to ride to San Francisco, he’d need to first discuss it with me because I had “come all this way to hang out with him.”
Someone was full of shit. Looking back at Karen’s behavior and Rael’s peculiar, quiet avoidance of these conflicting expectations…and his silence…it quickly became clear about whose canoe I was using to navigate this river-of-bullshit! From what little I gathered, Karen probably thought I was passing thru Cambria and happened to temporarily cross paths with Rael or something! My first mistake was assuming I was safe in taking The Chameleon at his word, and not addressing the issue with Karen directly in the first place. It wasn't my last.
Another mistake was giving Rael too much credit--wanting to believe he was who he appeared to be...who I wanted him to be. I would make that mistake several more times, and at my peril. I wanted to assume, believe, and expect the best in Rael (sound familiar?) rather than following my own long-established protocol: deal with folks by operating within the events of the moment and acting accordingly—not based on what you want, hope, or expect from people. In my defense, there was no way I had just traveled 1,000-miles (have I mentioned that?) to philosophize with a cowardly, childlike, pothead/traveling salesman! Was there? My judgment couldn’t have been this off! Could it? This would clearly turn around if we could ever break free from Karen! Right?
This was a watershed moment, but (characteristically) I failed to see it clearly in-the-moment, though I did sense it. Had I embraced my instincts, the following days would read quite differently but as it was Karen and I found ourselves negotiating visitation rights like a twisted divorced couple. After some quick wrangling, it was decreed by the court that I would get Lil' Azzie through the week before Easter (still 15-days away), and Karen wanted him ON Easter itself, as well as perhaps a day or two before and/or after-- during which time I “could go camp in Marin County or ‘whatever!’” For the most part, Karma Chameleon sat silent thru our impromptu custody hearing, with no opinion either way, seemingly happy to let grownups decide what was best for him.
With custody granted, Karen commenced on a Tour de Monterey including an introduction to 17-Mile Drive and most of Pacific Grove while she researched her return-route to the comedy club. Unfortunately, she had only a vague idea of the place’s name and no address. This made things challenging, even with her GPS unit, one which Rael was comically afraid to even touch or glance at due to his imposed “rules”! We were wandering around blind as a bat, the sun was falling into the Monterey Bay, and I still had no idea where I was sleeping.
I needed to be out of this van. It was critical that I got away from Karen, immediately. My voice shaking with frustration, I bleated, “just let me the fuck out at the light. I’ll find a goddamn bus.” Rael finally spoke up…sort of…saying beneath his breath that no, Karen needed to "follow through" and get us where we needed to be.
Remembering to breathe, it dawned on me that I could access Google from my phone and even with Karen's limited information, I quickly had an address, phone number, and called to confirm that her friend was indeed working. It’s amazing what happens when you work to help solve problems rather than sit and brood about them. Had I taken that attitude before hand, we could have easily saved 45-minutes.
We were soon on the shores of Monterey Bay, at Monterey State Beach, where I finally said goodbye to Karen, thinking that maybe I’d see her again in San Francisco. The sun was long-gone, but with its large dunes this huge, never-ending beach seemed to hold endless camping options. In situations like this, it’s often best to go hunting for a spot at night, long after everyone else has left.
Karen drove off and, knowing I was happy to be freed, out slithered the now-familiar “all things to everyone” Chameleon. As we walked along Monterey Bay, Rael immediately and emphatically re-expressed how thrilled he was to “be out of that van.” I thought of hearing him repeatedly and openly slam Kari, and then immediately tell about riding with her which forced me to ask myself, "Why suffer riding with with her if she's such a negative, angry, hostile shrew?" I may have been rude in telling Kari to “go fuck herself,” but at least she knew who she was dealing with! It reminds me of that quote that says the immoral man wrapped in the cloak of fake morality does more harm than he who's naked in his immorality. Again, I ignored it, instead hearing Chris's ghost proclaiming that it's best to "expect the best in people." I have since concluded that it's true: Hope floats. So does bullshit.
I paid attention, and slowly reconciled his biblical-proclamations with an increasingly inconsistent, and apparent reality. This duplicity showed itself while Azrael and Karen regularly gossiped like housewives about nearly everyone they knew at Slab City, so rest assured: I was not mistaken in thinking I was immune! After repeated tensions with Karen, I knew that I was certainly a target and could only imagine what was said! What was certain: The Chameleon assuredly played both sides. Being emotionally cold-blooded, chameleons will verbally snuggle up to whatever warm body is there; who they are depends on the company of-the-moment.
The wind picked up and the fog rolled back in but my spirits were high. I was glad to at least feel in control of myself again! We settled on a small dune directly overlooking the Bay, shared a shot-bottle, and chatted for a good while before dozing off to sleep.
Before falling asleep, I began processing and analyzing my intense impatience and allergic reaction to Karen. I could see why we frustrated each other: we were both stubborn, intense, and kept uninformed. While that’s true enough, there was also something troubling about my reaction to the situation in general: my inability to Sit Down & Shut Up; failing to just "go with it" The very thing I had just mercilessly chastised Chris for. I told Rael that I wish I were able to see Karen as part of the experience rather than impeding it.
Even inside the bivy and sleeping bag, the fog and unshielded mid-March winds off the chilly Pacific and Monterey Bay made for a frigid night. We defined Sunday as a day of improvisation ahead of time and was it ever! However, the simple term "improvisation" fails to cover what Sunday held. Combined, it was probably the most trying, enraging, insight inducing, chain-reaction day to date--all the way back to 2008, and would cement Rael into his place as, next to Dennis, the most significant character in this little extended drama, although it would take an eternity, some help, and a healthy dose of brutal honesty for me to accept why.
Sunday, March 21st was one for the ages; you’ll fuckin' LOVE it!