California Island-Hopping

From the Ranch, which is wild and isolated, we went south along the coastline under cover of 4AM darkness. When I awoke we were going past the gray skyscrapers of downtown LA; I fell again into a restless sleep, and then we were in Santa Ana, Orange County, hot, sprawling, everything made to the scale of the car, nothing at all human about the wide-laned boulevards and the parking lots you could lose yourself in, if you aren't careful.

The next day we took a train, then a subway, then a taxi, from Santa Ana to West Hollywood. Along Melrose, the city transitioned in fifteen minutes without us even knowing how: first it was gas stations and Subway Sandwiches and a funky little shop with candy and soda behind a counter, and then it was Hip Boutique This and Hip Boutique That; we sloped up a hill and arrived at the shaded house of a weathered hipster-art dealer with Rolling Stones hair and a striped boating shirt and skinny jeans and a cigarette slumping out of his animated mouth.

Then my cousin picked us up and drove us to Santa Monica, and we settled into her little apartment, tucked behind a house and a hotel, across the street from the beach. I had a bowl of cereal. We all walked down to the 3rd Street promenade; we had a beer and some tapas and enjoyed the sea air, which cooled a hot day.

The next morning we pushed our way through the Farmer's Market and got a bus back to Union Station--an hour and a half along Santa Monica Boulevard, straight shooting but slow going along a desolate span of city. By the afternoon we were in Santa Ana again, with its thick, oppressive heat. I stood in front of the hotel air-conditioner to get cold beneath my skirt. We sloshed our way through the faint humidity and the overbearing sun to the mall, artificially cold, for a lemonade and a helping of gelatinous food-court Chinese.

By evening we were in Irvine, with its Stepford streets, its emptiness, its frightening placid air. We had dinner in the depths of an enormous Persian restaurant with our friend, an immigrant from Iran, and went back to her place for tea and to look at photos of her family, coffee-table books on Persian art through the ages and the Iranian mountains. We fell into a dense sleep at the hotel with the hum of the air conditioner in the background and awoke to a telephone ringing that called us each back from our respective dreamlands.

California is one big dreamland; populated not by cities but by islands, built not to the scale of the human condition (which would require downtown areas, and walkable distances, and a shrinking of the broadness of it all) but to the scale of industry, of the ultimate machine--connected by freeways and emptiness, full only of one thing: an unspoken ennui, a longing-without-knowing, a perpetual sense of the surreal.