Ignoring the Fourth
There are holidays that offer up unexpected, refreshing surprises; then there are holidays that serve up only pressure and elevated expectations. Take, for example, the 4th of July. Second only to New Year's, the 4th is a potential nightmare of applied pressure. The question, "So what did you do for the 4th?" if you did not do anything, or anything short of wonderful, for the 4th, loses its innocence in a hurry.
In my adult life I've had two really memorable 4ths, occuring in 1989 and 1990, in Seattle, Washington, among friends I no longer see and women I no longer know. As a child I had several great 4ths. In fact, the 4th was the highlight of the summer social season for our small neighborhood in Clarks Green, Pennsylvania. That stopped abruptly and totally in 1976, when we moved West. That our first disappointing 4th in California was also the Bicentennial only served to frame the start contrast between the 4ths we had and the ones to come.
This year, I decided to ignore the 4th completely, to use the occasion of our nation's freedom to declare my own independance from the holiday that hung like an albatross around my neck for so many years. My family was 1000 miles away, my friends were in the rearview, and I was alone, driving half the length of California, from the Orange County of my past to the San Francisco of my present.
The 4th of July is a good day to drive. I began late, around 11, about the time the first burgers were slapped onto so many grills. I drove with the windows open and the music blaring, avoiding the intense heat of the Central Valley (I'd had enough heat, thank you) for the cool breezes of the coast.
In Ventura, I stopped to buy a sandwich, finding not only the nicest Vons checker -- not to mention a moustached guy who offered up his Vons card for me ("Sorry, we can't do that," said the nice checker) -- but also the largest focaccia sandwich in all of California. So large that it did double-time nicely, as both lunch and dinner.
In Carpenteria, as I have sought to, but failed at, in life, I veered from the main road, opening myself up to 40 miles of twisting, sun-dappled backroads. There I found the perfect home for R Hunt and Zeta-Jones, should they ever exceed the high power they now wield. Massive, acred, casual ranches sat behind gates and trees. It was like inland Orange County's big brother. This was Montecito.
By now I was in a backroads groove. I ignored 101 completely, crossing over onto Highway 1, which took me through Lompoc, where huge Hispanic families were setting up barbecues at churches, to Vandenberg Air Force Base, where a small, motley crew of protesters were set up outside the front gates.
I drove on. Next came Guadalupe, a mostly Mexican town near San Luis Obispo. Its main street seemed to offer up ten of the most authentic-looking Mexican restaurants in the country. People lounged around on benches wearing cowboy hats and boots.
In San Luis Obispo, after downing a Foster's Freeze ice cream cone, I returned to 101, where I rode out the rest of my drive in semi-consciousness. I returned to San Francisco at 8:00, just in time to notice a complete lack of July 4 festivities, which was no surprise. I thought about trying to catch some fireworks, but once you've seen them at a Mardi Gras celebration in some weird Australian town you've hitchhiked to, really, what's the point? And besides, with Peter O'Toole and Princess Grace gone, we've lost our July 4 home base.
So I stayed home and watched a very interesting show on PBS about Japanese high school baseball players. Quite San Francisco of me, I think. Then i went to bed and listened to the intermittent explosions all night. They could have been July 4 revelers or just the new gang in town, the Diamond Heights Boys, flexing their muscles. I'm not sure.
In the end, I remembered that July 4 is appropriately the birthday of my New York-based friend the Indie film guy, so I thought of him as I drifted off to sleep, very pleased to have neither eaten nor drunken excessively on this the most excessive of American holidays. Next year I'll celebrate.