We are on a Greyhound bus and you are asleep, a square of light from the tinted window falling across your face. We’re passing through towns named after saints on the highway from Monterey to Los Angeles, and I finished my book hours ago. I bought it in San Francisco, the first stop on our trip down the California coast a week prior.
I watch the landscape as it hurries by my window. California is a different world where everything comes in strange colors—all of them shades of tan. The mountains that pass us on the left are sparse, covered in yellow grass that looks coarse like a horse’s coat. Every so often I see a small pathetic-looking shrub. These are not the mountains of home—tall and cool and thick with trees that change color in the fall. Here they pick avocados (five for a dollar) instead of apples. In New York you and I go apple-picking every year; it’s our tradition.
It’s June, and back at home the temperatures are climbing and everyone’s putting on shorts. We camped for three nights in Big Sur and completely underestimated the cold; we ended up intertwined inside double-layered sleeping bags wearing every piece of clothing we packed. The threats are different
here; we’re looking out for snakes and coyotes and mountain lions instead of the bears and harmless raccoons of the Northeast. We passed a sign on a hike that warned families to keep small children close as mountain lions “seem especially drawn to them”; I laughed when you said I should be careful (since I am child-sized) but then sang aloud for the rest of the hike to scare the lions away. You rolled your eyes but you kept me close by.
You stir in your sleep and I shift to see the other side of the bus where the highway shoulder drops off into the ocean, a view that has amazed me ceaselessly for the past seven days. The water dashes violently against the pointed cliffs. It takes my breath away but somehow I still prefer the sandy, rolling beaches of the east coast. Traveling can do this—it can make you love what you already know. I think you understand this too.
“You know what?” you say, blinking groggily out of your slumber. “We’ll get to see the sun set over the ocean here.” You’re right, of course, and the orange glow of sunset has already begun. We watch soundlessly as the sun dips past the cliffs and into the sea, the view filtered by the dirty windows of the Greyhound. Just before the light’s gone completely I spot a structure on the water, backlit by the dramatic sky: a giant white floating construction that I didn’t recognize.
“What do you think that is?” I ask you. You always seem to know the answers to these types of questions.
“Not sure. Maybe some kind of oil rig,” you respond, placing your hand in mine unconsciously. I stroke your palm.
“I think it’s a pirate ship,” I say.
“Yea, you’re right. It’s definitely a pirate ship.” You smile and give my hand a little squeeze before settling back into your sleep, the sky around us darkening as the Greyhound hurtles towards the lights of Los Angeles.