The peace and quiet of our seaside life, days where hardly a word is spoken, has been disrupted by the noise of power washers and sanding, spackling, and grouting. My husband, who knows my disposition for the mess that has consumed our kitchen, has encouraged me to head north to Los Angeles. It is a spur-of-the-moment indulgence of the photographic kind and a welcome respite from the construction site that is our home.
Carefully, I place my Rolleiflex in my camera bag and walk to the refrigerator to choose which rolls of film I will take with me, knowing that this choice is tantamount to having a crystal ball. Will I want to shoot in color? Or will conditions be better for black and white? How blue will the sky be? Or will there be rain? Will I be indoors or outdoors? After running through the litany of options, I decide that the most straightforward and direct route will be the best and pack my kit with black-and-white Kodak Tri-X film, dependable and reliable.
My Rollei is a work of art, the shiny silver lenses of the twin reflex, the polished hand crank, and the periscope-like pop-up top known as the 'sports finder.' The first of its kind was made in 1927, and I am not sure of the nascency of mine, but it is unquestionably imbued with the spirits of the light catchers that came before me. I am merely the shepherd pointing it in the direction of the early morning sun rays that peek over the horizon, casting contrasts across the lobby of my hotel.
This place of white stucco walls, richly patterned tile floors, and deep velvet cushions, in the colors of how I imagine 1920's LA, has become a home of sorts, and it feels right and proper that my vintage camera hangs from my shoulder and that I am shooting in film. The hotel stands at the intersection of style and substance, where I can as easily reach the boutiques that tug at my commercial side as I can the museums and art galleries that speak to the artist emerging within me. Standing on the black and white squares of the inner courtyard, I am reminded of all the days and nights spent in rooms emblazoned with the letter P, surrounded by lush green palms and ferns against the light and shadows of the endlessly unbroken California skies. The chill mix I associate with home and him, the soundtrack of our life together, plays on repeat in the background as memories confront me. These walls tell the story of my monumental moments. The corner suite where I hung my dress for the Oscars on the floor to ceiling picture frame filled with polaroids of LA life. The Penthouse Suite where we watched the basketball championship with my mother on our road trip up this western coastline different from the one she knows from a lifetime spent living in the east. My sincere desire for her to understand why this state is a state of mind has become my barometer for life's goodness. That picture of you standing in front of the stark backdrop of bicolor striped awnings with the brightness of the afternoon's high sun bouncing off of unblemished white walls, while Little a. threw her arms so tightly around you, her Tio, and smiled broadly with that mouth of metal. The photographic road trip is where, before dawn, I brought my Pollito her morning coffee and marveled that two people could serendipitously meet and have such a profound connection.
It is kismet, fortune, and a synergy that precedes me this trip, and I feel the wind push me the 45 miles that separate me from Los Angeles, 45 miles that are as unpredictable as anything I have ever known. Rarely in the years since moving back have I made the trip in under an hour, but today, the fates smile upon me, and soon I am walking up the driveway of the Chateau Marmont to meet Angie for lunch. I acknowledge that had we tried to schedule this, calendars spread out in front of us, it would have been an impossibility, but today, the wind is at my back, and anything is possible.
Our friendship, now comfortable and familiar, is the kinship of two Californians navigating a foreign land known as Texas. Our relationship was steeped in sweat and sweet, devastatingly hot morning runs, evenings of ice cold margaritas. Once, we decided that tennis was our calling, and before our evening margarita, we would head to the neighborhood court where we would use all the green real estate as our personal playground, hitting yellow balls regardless of white lines. There was never anyone with whom I could get my giggle on in quite the same way as with her, and when she would approach the courts all Margot Tenenbaum, I would dissolve into peals of laughter that heralded the end of any serious play. She and my mother share the same birthday and, I imagine at one point, the same wackadoodle sensibilities. When my mother was in her early 40s, she took tap lessons with a bunch of her girlfriends and would practice her shuffle ball chain in the kitchen while making dinner. This is the type of thing I see Angie doing. Somewhere between Dallas, Santa Barbara, and Philadelphia, they have forgotten their shared birthday despite going together to Paris eight years ago to celebrate it. It was a trip where we walked around St. Germain each day, where we picked accessories for Angie's impending nuptials, spilling champagne all over Louis Vuitton, lunching in the Eiffel Tower, and laughing until it hurt. This was when Angie began calling my mother Mama Shirl, a moniker that has unexpectedly stood the test of time. We sit in the Chateau lobby at a small and intimate table because the beautiful garden I so treasure is under renovation and eat shrimp and spinach while we catch up on everything—husbands, friends, and family—before saying our goodbyes and heading in different directions.
I drive along Sunset, turning left on La Cienega and heading down the hill where I once stalled my 5-speed sportscar and rolled back on an unsuspecting and not very happy driver who no doubt thought that I had more money than brains. I cannot approach this intersection without remembering this story from my life. I am driving to the hotel where I will meet Lisa, who works and stays downtown. She decided an afternoon of shopping and dinner in West Hollywood was appealing enough to leave her office in Vernon and ride 45 minutes in an Uber for a playdate with me. Shopping in West Hollywood is one of the more sublime experiences of our shared work history, the consumer-facing life I used to live, and she still does. We have spent, literally, so many years in boutiques that the cadence of walking up to a store is as natural a rhythm as my heartbeat. It is a routine developed over 20 plus years. We approach in lockstep, size up the storefront and the windows, walk the perimeter, discuss the founder, compare styles, try a few things on before decisions are made, and packages are tied up in pinstripe cotton wrappers like they do in Japan. She is married to Chuck. I am married to Chuck, albeit a different Chuck, and this has always been something wonderfully quirky between us. I'll say how is 'your' Chuck, and she will talk about my Chuck and, at some points, we will talk in the plural, our Chucks, the latter being most often used when we are scheming. And, as we walk and look and touch, we catch up on all the things in between our last visit that have, in equal parts, inspired and troubled us. The final store is that of a dear friend, a trusted collaborator, and the object of immense admiration and affection, with whom we share an uncommon but unique bond. In the end, we will cajole him to come to dinner where we will plot trips to the El Rey hotel in Santa Fe, the vintage shops along the way, Palm Springs, oh, and yes, Laguna. If any of these come to fruition, it will be not just a surprise; it will be a miracle, but our hearts are so full by the sheer joy of being together that we cannot fathom the sadness of the evening ending without a plan for next. Sleep beckons, and she is off to New York, and he has wireframes to write, and so, we say our goodbyes, and I head up the slight incline to my lovely hotel on Holloway.
The nights we spend apart, so infrequent now, are always restless as I reach across the sheets to gently lay my hand against his back. I do this now as a confirmation that all is right in this life of mine, forgetting in my half sleep that I am not at home, and he is not on the other side of the bed. The black night sky turns blue with the first light that casts across the bedroom from the crack between the window and the shade. It is time for this light catcher to leave the comforts of the bed and greet the sun as it begins its arc across the sky on its way to the western horizon. I want to catch it in my camera before the blue turns to pink, which then becomes hot, white, bright, and blinding before reversing as it slides into twilight and then darkness. It's the gift of another day. This one holds the surprise of an unexpected and unplanned encounter with the lovely Tessa, a spirit so pure and good that each moment with her infuses me with a blend of joy and maternal regret.
I can't remember the exact moment she appeared on the periphery of cocktail hours and dinner parties at her parent's home, but she was there, soaking in the madness of our martinis and the shenanigans that invariably ensued. She watched me, us, the group that would gather nearly every weekend, and I, from the sidelines, watched her with intrigue, a sympathetic understanding of what she could become. It was evident even then that her heart was oversized, deeply ingrained with a capacity to vigorously grab at life.
Our history is long and covers geographies from the coastal shoreline of Laguna to London, Texas, and then Laguna again, returning to this place so fundamental that it beckons us back each time we try to break the bond. I consider this now as I sit between worlds big and small, lives of then and now and perhaps then again. He and I search for answers that don't come and wander through this beautiful state that is in our blood, as much a part of our DNA as anything could be, and ask ourselves if it would pull us back again if we were to leave. She is my barometer for this as I watch her go and return over and over to this coastline of endless summer.
When we meet, it will be only for an instant, every hour of her day planned and committed, but that is the thing between us. We are touchstones. She is the one that always reaches out with messages of love and longing, more so than even my closest friends. I understand the role I play in our relationship; with doubt, she grasps the importance of hers, but that will come. With time, she will realize the joy she has given me just watching her grow into the incredible human I first saw tucked in the corner of that house at the top of the world. As I settle into the comfortable seat of my car and point it in the direction of home, I consider the joy the universe delivered me in the last 24 hours, all of which came from happenstance flowing from a newly found trust, love if you will, in being a seeker.