Wednesday, August 19, 2009

"Welcome Back"

At some point on your vacation, you have to come home. Otherwise, it’s not a vacation anymore. It’s living somewhere else.

We’re back in Santa Monica. Not a terrible place to live. In fact, some people come here for vacation. They’ll have a pretty good time in Santa Monica. Though they’re unlikely to spot any deer.

How do you describe going from Chickadee Trail to a city (L.A.) with millions of people in it?

You leave a place where maybe two cars pass every hour and you return to a place where your thoroughfare of choice is a four-lane freeway whose traffic flow in more like fifty cars a minute.

It’s different.

First day back, I’m waiting for my mail. Before we left, I had filled out a form, ordering a “vacation hold.” When the form asked if I wanted my “held” mail delivered when I got back or I wanted to pick it up at the Post Office, I understandably chose “delivered.”

Who wants to go to the Post Office if you don’t have to? Judging by their faces, the people working there don’t want to go there.

Our letter carrier arrives. She has only brought the mail for that day.

“What about my “held” mail,” I inquire.

“You have to pick it up.”

“But on the form I filled out, I requested…”

“There was too much mail. You have to pick it up at the office.”

“Vacation calmness” drops away a little at a time. A substantial hunk had just been subtracted.

I get in my car, and make my first post-Indiana drive to the local Post Office, not the main Post Office, but a nearby, “pick-up” building. I’m at a stoplight, commiserating with my favorite conversation partner – myself: “I guess what they should have said was, “’Held’ mail will be delivered unless…” The light turns green. I sit there, completing my internal thought…”there’s too much of it.” And what do I hear?


Another withdrawal from the “vacation calmness” account. In two weeks in Indiana, I was never honked once. I’m driving here less than five minutes… I thought Los Angeles was laid back.

I know what street the “pick-up” office is on, but I don’t know which block. And there are no discernible address numbers on the buildings to help. “How far can it be?” I ask myself. “I’ll park and I’ll walk.” “You do that,” I reply. “I will,” I respond, completing the exchange.

I park the car, and I start to walk.

It turns out the “pick-up” office is a long block away, on the other side of a busy thoroughfare. (This will be an important factor on the walk back.)

I won’t criticize the Postal Service. The internet’s making them look passé. Rubbing it in would be like going into a Pony Express office years ago and saying, “How ‘bout those trains!”

After showing my “pick-up” card and my I.D., a postal worker brings out a container, brimming with our “held” mail. I reach into the container, scoop the mail up in my arms, cradle it to my chest, and head out the door, hoping to reach my car, a long block away across a busy thoroughfare, with the entire bundle still my possession.

Why didn’t I leave the mail, return to my car, drive back to the office, and pick it up? You’ll understand a lot about me when I answer that question.

I didn’t think of it.

I am now on the street, struggling with maybe a hundred separate pieces of mail, some of them slippery from glossiness. At first, I’m progressing pretty well. I’m thinking, “Maybe I can make it.”

Then I spot the busy thoroughfare ahead of me, and the apprehension of crossing it with this unwieldy burden jostles my confidence. A new thought crosses my mind. “There’s no way I can make it.”

It seems to me, the moment that negative message flashed through my consciousness, my entire armload of mail suddenly slipped from my grasp, raining down onto the sidewalk, the catalogues staying put, but the lighter items, blowing into the distance.

I am now sprawled on the pavement, my hands holding down the stack of mail that has not yet taken flight, wishing very hard that I was still on vacation. I have no idea what to do.

Out of the corner of my eye, I spot this off-duty lady bus driver, who’d been leaning against her bus enjoying a “smoke break”, heading in my direction. The bus lady runs down my errant letters, gathers them up, and brings them back. I thank her for her kindness.

Not content with such assistance, the woman heads to her bus, where she reaches into a lower compartment and takes out a dry-cleaners thin, plastic bag. She comes back and offers it to me as a carrying pouch. Having second thoughts about its flimsiness, she returns to her bus, and produces a sturdier garbage-type bag, which she brings to me as a better second choice.

Thanking her again, I slide my prodigious stack of mail into the flimsy bag, and slide the flimsy bag into the sturdier one. Then I get up. Santa with a sack of mail.

I tell the bus lady she saved my life. I want to add, “But if you continue smoking, who’s going to help me with my mail next time?” I keep that comment to myself. It felt wrong rewarding her generosity with a lung cancer scare.

I’m back in the car, the mail nestled safely in the passenger seat, and I think to myself (sometimes, I think to myself, sometimes I talk to myself), “It’s complicated.” It’s not like one place is heaven, and the other’s a zoo. Yes, a woman in an Indiana supermarket had allowed me to go ahead of her in the checkout line because I only had one item, even though she only had three. But look was just happened. In a faceless megalopolis, a heroic stranger had extended herself on my behalf.

Sitting in turning lane on my way home, a spontaneous smile spreads across my face. And once again, I am talking to myself. “Maybe coming back isn’t so bad after all. It’s not the place, anyway. It’s the people. And the truth is, there are nice people…”

Four hundred posts. Thanks for bein' there.


Willy B. Good said...

Smoking bus ladies rock. Cheers and 400 honks !

MikeThe Blogger said...

Johnny Carson: "Scientists say they have discovered the shortest time period discernible, calling it the nanosecond. But I have a shorter one - the time between the light turning green and the guy behind you honking his horn." (It got a much bigger laugh in LA than it would have gotten in Toronto.)

Anonymous said...

I wanted to drop a line (wait that's for a phone isn't it? And 'drop an online' just doesn't sound right. Anyway...) In case you're wondering if anybody out here reads you, rest assured you have a new reader. Your stories are wonderful and, yes, funny. Why am I bothering with this? Well I saw "Julie and Julia"; I know what you're going through. Plus, for what it's worth, I was in the audience for 'Best Of The West' and it inspired me to write situation comedies. Thanks for this, thanks for that.