Early Sunday morning, the Santa Monica pier is almost deserted. A few old fishermen sit bored by their poles; a small family takes photos against a backdrop of blue. S spots a sea lion that disappears the moment I try and take its photograph. I compromise with close up glamour shots of fat gulls, birds with no reason to ever leave a place of such plentiful food and roosting spots.
The pier, if you squint your eyes and suspend your belief, is a bit like a portal into a different time period. There’s a rickety ferris wheel, a Zoltar machine, a small aquarium and a wooden building packed front to back with arcade games. A man shows off a small collection of brightly colored tropical birds. I’m sort of enchanted by it all but I also understand how quickly a place like this becomes unenchanting—as soon as the crowds pour in and the carnival rides fill up and the breeze off the waves ceases being comfortable and starts being invasive.
There’s just a small window where everything is quiet. Vans pull to the side of the road and men in dirty jeans and oversized hoodies unload dozens and dozens of bags of pink and blue cotton candy. One of the birds—a red one—hangs from its beak off its owner’s bottom lip. The Zoltar machine keeps screeching: Want to see your future? Come, step right up, I’ll tell you what you most want to know.
If you stay here long enough, it will all get old. The birds will get too-loud, the cotton candy will turn hard and crunchy under the sun, Zoltar will scream himself hoarse. But in the morning, it’s nice. When your next stop is the airport and when you truly, earnestly, do not want to leave, it’s nice. It’s like maybe time can stop. Maybe I won’t have to leave. Maybe I won’t have to deal with it all again: the distance, the miles, the time, the silence, the space, the cold and the wind and the grey grey skies.
After two weeks in California, Connecticut is frigid (despite an unseasonably warm spell) and conspicuously devoid of palm trees and the now-familiar gradient of blue skies to blue sea. I wish I was back on the pier during those forty-five minutes of time to kill between brunch and LAX.
I start crying in the car. Ugh, I say. Just ignore me. Or better yet—say something mean.
Can you stop being such a bitch? he asks.
But it is half-hearted and still somehow sweet.