Joy and I became friends when I was 16. She was 18 and has forever filled the role of big sister in my life. She’d graduated from public high school in the adjacent city. I was still stuck in my junior year. I’d embraced punk and new wave early on; Joy drove a bright yellow Camaro with a hood scoop and racing stripes. Our crowds did not naturally overlap and the girl who introduced us would turn out to be bad news, but none of that mattered. We were fun, wild and and utterly unstoppable together.
For the past 21 years we’ve lived at opposite ends of the state, me in Humboldt and her in San Diego. I’ve been fortunate that my work takes me to her part of the world a few times a year and I’m able to crash at her house because I love her so. Getting Joy up north, however, has been nearly impossible. She drove her then-young children 17 hours to visit back in 2000, had a great time, and hadn’t been back since. Now that all our kids are grown and she has some time off work, I saw a chance to swoop her up. “I’m coming down for some meetings,” I told her. “You should come back with me and then you can fly back.” Of course she said yes.
Saturday, Oct. 12
I drive the 277 miles from my house in Humboldt to my place in SF.
Sunday, Oct. 13
I drive the 450 miles from my place in SF to my friend/coworker Angela’s in San Clemente.
Monday, Oct. 14
Angela and I surf, then go to work at Surfrider HQ. I leave in the early afternoon to avoid traffic, drive 40 miles to Del Mar, have dinner with my friend Samantha and her family, then Sam and I go for a night surf. I drive 24 miles to Joy’s house. Happiness overwhelms.
Tuesday, Oct. 15
I have to work and also drive 16 miles to the hotel where I’m staying during the three days of Coastal Commission hearings. I spend a beautiful San Diego evening adjacent to the waterfront in my room with the curtains drawn because I can’t not watch the Democratic candidate debate. Joy arrives and rescues me. We get dinner, see work friends, join them at a tiki bar that, we’re told, can be tricky to get into. I remember all the situations Joy and I have gotten into that were tricky to get out of and laugh.
Wednesday, Oct. 16 and Thursday, Oct. 17
I go to meetings and work. Joy’s preparing to move from El Cajon to downtown and spends her days on that. She stays at the hotel again Wednesday. We wander around Little Italy some more. Everything is delicious.
Friday, Oct. 18
Meetings survived, I check out Joy’s about-to-be new place, then head back to El Cajon (16 miles).
Joy has pulled out old photo albums and we reminisce about how cool we were over photos of parties we threw at her mom’s house – when her mom was away, natch. In particular, we threw a party for these popular twins, Brent and Brian Baker.
They don’t appear in any of the pictures, so we’re not sure if they ever actually came, but what the 20 or so photos (a roll’s worth!) do show include: a house so jammed that people were climbing through the kitchen window to get in; a DJ that Joy said I somehow knew; a cocktail menu made of Sharpie and cardboard perched on top of the refrigerator complete with prices (we also charged a cover at the door – we were making money off these parties); a lot of fine dudes and ones we thought were sexy, but in hindsight left much to be desired (“I never thought he was cute,” Joy says); so much big hair. I remind her of the party when someone fell through one of her mom’s tables and we rearranged the furniture before her mom returned home to hide that fact.
Saturday, Oct. 19
We drive 576 miles up the coast to San Francisco. L.A. traffic is hellacious. We listen to old new wave and current hip hop to see us through, make it to Pismo Beach for dinner, catch the sunset over the ocean along the way.
Sunday, Oct. 20 through Wednesday, Oct. 21
We drive 74 miles back down to Santa Cruz – getting caught in the Half Moon Bay pumpkin festival traffic along the way – where we spend three days working (me), lounging (Joy) and hanging at the beach (both of us).
We walk a total of 9.4 miles one day, strolling from the house to West Cliff to Natural Bridges to New Leaf back to the house. I try to convince Joy to take Jump bikes, but we never see two, only single ones strewn about.
She watches me try to catch waves at Steamer Lane. I want to impress her with my surfing, but as always I’m unwilling to fight the crowd and fail to put on much of a show. I remember that I’m shy and that Joy is one of the reasons I learned to pretend that I’m not. I remind her how guys used to complain that the two of us together were “too much.” They resented how we didn’t need them, didn’t make them the center of attention, I remembered. We were having way too much fun together to care. We drive the same 74 miles back to SF Wednesday night.
Thursday, Oct. 22
I take Joy to a Daybreaker party at the Museum of Ice Cream, a mere 12 miles away. She’s in a pink tank top with multi-colored swirls and matches completely. The DJ plays old school pop, funk and R&B. We dance. It is the most fun in the world.
We leave the party and drive 53 miles to Martinez, where I’m due at a State Lands Commission meeting. I change from a crushed velvet minidress into something more suitable, make the meeting, deliver my remarks and then it’s 64 miles to Sacramento, where I’ve arranged to sell my camera to a colleague. Once there, I wilt in the heat. Joy revels in it.
We get lunch at Cafeteria 15L because Joy and I love watermelon and they make an amazing watermelon-tomato-burrata salad. My guy shows up to buy the camera, looks it over, Paypals me and boom, deal’s done. I can now pay for lunch and the rest of this trip. We cross the park and tour the Capitol building briefly – Joy’s never been to Sacramento – then it’s back to the car, 293 miles home.
Friday, Oct. 22
I still have to work, but my family entertains Joy – she’s known them forever, too. We pull out my old photo albums and look at the same photos we did at Joy’s house (double prints back in the day!), plus more from later years. We have to recreate some of these, we say. I show her the path from my house to the beach and we walk out. My heart hurts from happiness.
Saturday, Oct. 23
I must show Joy the redwoods and so we load up Bobby, Chelsea and Lu, Chelsea’s dog, and set off to Prairie Creek (45 miles). It’s epic.
Of course. Joy and I giggle about how we used to buy weed from this guy Teddy, a total hesher who lived with him mom and would have one of his friends stand guard in his room to make sure everything stayed cool while we did bong rips sitting on the bed.
Joy is scheduled to fly out of SFO tomorrow night, but with the Kincade fire burning in Sonoma, we’re concerned about 101 closures preventing us from getting to the airport, so she changes her flight home to out of Sacramento Monday morning. We wait for the power to go out and it finally does.
Sunday, Oct. 24
The power’s still out as expected. I have about three-quarters of a tank of gas, which could get us to Sacramento, just barely. I’m hoping to fill up at Coyote Valley if possible. Turns out not possible – the lines in both direction must be a mile long and even as we pull in, people are pulling out hollering that the station’s running out of gas. Go to Ukiah, they cry. At this point, we’re still good, so I opt to skip searching for fuel in Ukiah and just to hit the 20. Unfortunately, another fire had broken out as we were driving, so firefighters had closed 20 from 101 all the way east past Clear Lake.
This means continuing on to Hopland, where for a brief minute we think we’d found an open gas station, but the cars assembled alongside the tanks turn out to be just drivers parked, texting and searching for options. Our choice now is to turn back to Ukiah or to take 175 around the south side of Clear Lake. True to form, we decide to go forward. I’d never taken 175 before and while it only added 20 miles on the map, the highway curves up, down and around the hills, which means we’re burning through gas faster than anticipated. I have no idea where gas stations might be – this being an unfamiliar and lonely stretch of road – or if any would be open.
In Lakeport we find another gas station that looked open, but wasn’t. While I try to get enough cell service to figure out where the next possibility would be, a guy pulls up and tells us we can find gas in Lower Lake, 21 miles away. The car warns us that we have only about 45 miles left before the tank will be dry. Don’t worry, I tell Joy, even when it says zero, you can go probably another 20 miles or so. I’m pretty sure that, worst-case scenario, we can make it to Williams, where the 20 hits up with I5 and they still have power. Or you know, get close enough.
With the music blasting, the lake unfurling alongside us and the gas indicator dropping before our eyes, we plunge on through Lake County wine country. Not a bad place to run out of gas, I joke, secretly thinking about how we’d escape a fire if one were to break out – not a far-fetched scenario in these parts, in these days. At some point I forget to tell Joy to make a turn where 175 meets the 29, and we wind through a neighborhood before rejoining the highway, more gas lost.
At last a stoplight indicates we’d arrived in the tiny town of Lower Lake. We turned left and cheer – a gas station, open! Cars coming the opposite direction line the road as far back as we can see, but in our direction, only one car stands between us and a pump. Joy tucks right in and I hold my breath until the gas is flowing into the car.
Filled up, we continue on, completing the 304-mile journey at my friend Jenn’s house. She greets us with relief and dinner. My gratitude for my good fortune fills every cell of my body.
Monday, Oct. 28
I deliver Joy to the airport. She makes it home safely. I sob for a bit, sad that this particularly journey has ended, and drive to San Francisco. Today’s 117 miles lack drama. I’ll take it.
My car traveled 2,480 miles over the course of two weeks, with Joy and I alternating at the wheel. The happiness, gratitude and love accumulated between us over this lifetime is a gift beyond measure.