Sunday, August 1, 2010

Secret Beach

Shift #64

SUNDAY, AUGUST 1 -- Bay/Laguna to Moscone Center -- $10.30

FOR WEEKS NOW the number one topic of conversation in my cab (also in my neighborhood, and in the rest of my personal life, and inside my head) has been this summer’s freaking foggy weather. It’s a landslide -- the Giants posted the best record in the major leagues during July (during one stretch they won twenty out of twenty-five games), and although they’ve been the talk of the baseball world, they are not even close to pushing aside the weather.

People, including me for sure, seem to regard the fog as a personal insult. There is a collective consensus that some sort of “breach of contract” has been committed by someone, somewhere, and that some sort of class action lawsuit is undoubtedly called for. But no one really, after all, wants to get into a legal wrangling with God, and the more reasonable among us have been cautioning that we should just wait and see -- July often is a little iffy, perhaps August will be different. Yes, August should be different…

But here it is, August 1, the very time of year when blue skies are virtually guaranteed in San Francisco. But no -- overhead this morning we’ve got the same dirty gray blanket that’s been slung over the City for the past month. Plus, it seems as though an unseen hand has laid a heavy comforter on top of the whole mess -- maybe two comforters. Life here is starting to feel like the movie “Groundhog Day” -- the same dreary scenario repeating itself over and over and over...

FOR NEARLY AN HOUR AND A HALF I drive around empty, but seconds after I turn toward Noah’s Bagels on Chestnut Street to grab a second cup (a sheer boredom cup) of coffee, I am flagged by two early-thirties blond women who are here to attend the big annual Gift Show at Moscone. They met in college, at the University of Virginia, and a few years ago decided to open their own jewelry business. I eavesdrop halfheartedly while they discuss their competition, the level of foot traffic at the show (slower than they had imagined), and their strategy for ramping up sales, but when they start griping about the fog my ears prick up. And then one of them makes the mistake of asking me if it’s always like this during August.

Me: “This is my twenty-ninth summer in the Bay Area, and I promise you I have never seen any summer even remotely like this one. I live across the Bay, over in Oakland, and in Oakland we have always counted on having mostly clear blue skies from morning until night from April right on into November. From Oakland we often look smugly across the Bay at the fog hanging over San Francisco, but not this big fat heavy fog, and not every darned day. For the past month I’ve been stepping out the front door of my house about five-thirty in the morning and I have to strain to see the top of the palm tree at the end of my street. And forget about blue skies -- sometimes the fog doesn't burn off all day long. For days in a row!”

One of the women: “It’s been so hot and humid back East this summer. If I had to pick one or the other, I guess I’d pick the cool."

Me: “I probably would, too… But we’re all ready for some sun around here!”

The other woman: “I guess I’d rather be here than down in Louisiana skimming oil off the beach…”

And that shuts me up -- temporarily.

One woman starts talking about a warm, sunny trip to Hawaii that she and her surfer-husband took not so long ago. At the mention of Kauai, an involuntary whimper escapes me, and in a moment I’m telling one of my stories:

“There is a beach on the north side of Kauai -- it’s called Secret Beach, even though it’s not really a secret. About twenty years ago someone told my wife and me about it, and now I’ve been back a few times. You have to hike down a hundred-foot cliff to reach it, and that keeps a lot of people away. It’s about half a mile long, and the beach -- perfect white sand -- extends out from the base of the cliff for about a hundred yards. You’ve both been to Hawaii…? Then you know the colors and the light and the air and how intoxicating it all can be… When you’re sitting on Secret Beach watching people body surf, you see these huge waves sweep in and lift them up ten feet in the air, and the water’s so clear that you see right through the wave -- all you see is the shape of the surfer. Plus there are dolphins that swim into the bay every few days to play with people. They don’t come right up to everyone -- I swam out, but they never did come up to me -- but they’d swim right up to some of the people who’d been coming there a long time...

“At the base of that big cliff there’s a spot where water comes pouring out of the rock -- it’s rain water that’s filtered down from the mountains at the top of the island, through the layers of rock, and by the time it gets to you it’s pure, perfectly drinkable, and it comes out of the cliff at about shower-nozzle-height, at about shower-nozzle-speed. You can drink it, you can shower in it -- you almost never see anyone wearing clothes on Secret Beach. (Note: That’s me in the above photo, taken by my wife on Secret Beach sometime in the early 1990s.)

“If you climb back up the cliff, there’s a little market about a mile inland -- so you can live pretty simply there for a long time, for not very much money at all. Once I spent three weeks camping there, and I met people who’d been living in little shelters in the nearby jungle for two years… six months… eight years -- Europeans backpackers, dropouts from the States, or three-week guys like me. Even a few single women. One guy I met had been a high school teacher somewhere back East and when he found this beach, six years earlier, he just never went home...”

As we pull up in front of Moscone, under our dirty gray blanket and our pile of heavy comforters, I apologize for having gone off.

Both women: “Oh no, that was great…”

One of them: “I’d rather be there today than here…”

The other: “I wanna go, too…”

Nonetheless, I’d talked too much: Free Ride.


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