Don Bauder 7:58 a.m., Dec. 13
For a dozen days before Christmas last month, I took a trip to Southern Florida. A native San Diegan and lifelong beach lover vacationing in Miami Beach is sorta like a hardcore biker renting a candy-colored Vespa scooter, but I had my reasons.
The South Beach area is full of posers and primpers. Embarrassingly uncool giant pink snails crop up randomly on street corners and public places as some sort of half-cheeked populist "art." Me-so-cool though, navigated the NY-with-short-pants environment with Southern Cal nonchalance. Much of the time I was in the seventy-plus degree water, listening to people tell me in various languages about how cold it had been just a week before. When on dry land, my long graying saltwater-molded hair, ragged sweatshirt, and baggy shorts suited me fine. Bare feet on the sand and flipflops on the sidewalks of the Art Deco District were all the footwear the circumstances called for, and all seemed good in the world as this pleasant little corner of it decked itself out for Christmas.
Through the wonders of social networking technology, my high school class of '73 is back together again in a more or less ongoing reunion. I always figured the folks from those days that I wanted to stay in touch with I did stay in touch with, but it's one of those fun things about getting older. I make no pretense that people I met in kindergarten and haven't seen much of for the better part of forty years are now my intimate friends, but we enjoy joking about things from time to time and marveling that we did, in fact, finally grow up and become more or less functional adults. Not everyone did, but those who didn't generally aren't part of this online equivalent of the noontime lunch arbor.
Over the summer, I got in touch with my high school sweetheart. It turned out we'd been looking for each other off and on over the years, but never felt like we had the right to come barging back into each others lives. She got married and divorced like most people do, while I never saw much sense in that and just stayed single. I was vaguely aware that she'd been in the Miami area for awhile and probably still was, and in the off-and-on times we'd been in contact until the early '80s she'd get carried away a bit, reminiscing about things that probably really weren't as great as she tended to see them in her mind.
Winter break and end of year 2010 loomed into the foreseeable future, and I decided to do what I'd done before with her though not in awhile: get on an airplane and fly to Southern Florida to see if any of this enthusiastic online spritz were capable of coalescing into something of substance. I'd been to Miami several times over the years, and had a few old acquaintances and distant relatives to visit with if my old sweetheart and I once again found that we were aggravating each other with this tendency of ours to hope for hopeless things.
The funny thing about it is that it worked. On the morning of departure, a good buddy and fellow alumnus of Crawford High School was in his last week of teaching before vacation was to start, and gave me an early ride to Lindbergh Field. I don't fly much, though enough that it's not a big deal when I do. I sat there in the departure area wondering what the heck I was doing, yet seeing it as something of an adventure and figuring, at least, that I was on vacation. It struck me as strange to think that this dumb airport of ours--which they've talked about relocating since before I was in kindergarten--is here every day, full of people running everywhere at such a speed while my own life, as a fifty-something adult, has become so comfortably dull.
Coming in over the ocean, I gazed down at the familiar strand of Miami Beach with its hi-rise beachfront hotels, and as the plane touched down I hoped to myself that we'd do things better this time. Though it was odd at first to be with her, I know my way around the area passably well and we never had the sense of being strangers. She still looks good, and I'm not too shabby myself either, I guess. She'd lost the Puerto Rican accent that I used to joke about in the early '70s at Crawford. She'd done alright in life.
Everything went well, as if God at last had decided to give me a break from the usual annoyances that plague my life. We did a bit of sightseeing, but mostly opted to... provide our own entertainment. She genuinely liked my friends and distant relatives when we visited them. Then, all too soon it was time to return to San Diego on the day before Christmas. We knew we'd stay in touch more regularly now, and that it would seem different now that we were familiar with each others' world and the patterns of our ways. I miss her, and think of her all the time. It's not a fantasy anymore, and somehow that's quite OK because we like the reality of who we are.
Nowadays I live along University Avenue, about a mile from the old family house. I can take the #7 bus right to downtown, or get on it there after catching the airport bus outside the baggage claim area, which is what I did this time after landing at Lindbergh Field. A planeload of people in a good mood flew in on a nice clear Christmas Eve day, looping around Mount Miguel on the final approach. As usual, I tried but couldn't quite pick out any specific landmarks in Rolando.
The bus rolled along University Avenue for the last leg of my return to the familiar neighborhood, and just before College Avenue it passed the apartment building where she used to live during high school days. I recalled how sometimes we'd sit out on the steps there and talk in the evenings, and tried to snap a photo of it from the bus to send to her later, but it was dusk and the reflection from the interior lights made it impossible to see the place clearly.
Yet I knew it was there, and it meant something to know that the place--and the person it reminded me of--was still relevant and vital in my life.