Live from the Golden Coast, Part 6: Up in Smoke

I wake up the next morning feeling woozy and headachey, writing it off to a whiskey hangover from the previous evening, even though I barely had one drink’s worth. Later, it dawns on me that it isn’t the whiskey but the smoke from the California fires that is the cause of my headaches.

Regardless of the reason behind my feeling unwell, I decide that I have to cancel some of my plans for the next two days, only seeing a few people for barely an hour here or there. I hate saying no to people and flaking on plans, but I’m feeling anxious and tired instead of energized and relaxed on these final days of my vacation. All I want to do is stay in bed, but I don’t let myself. I cull the list of rendezvouses I had planned and conclude that I’ll meet up with three friends from college (an a cappella friend, a co-op friend, and a kindred career-spirit friend), my old manager an fellow intern from Sephora, and one of my friends from Boston who moved out to the Bay Area about five months ago for a job at a startup.

Wishing there were something more positive or joyful I could share as we catch up, I end up regressing to the mean of my mental state: a ‘2’ on a scale of 1–10. The common theme in these catch-ups is how soul-crushed I am at my job and how much I want to leave Boston for a little while. Especially when half the people with whom I interact in San Francisco have recently quit or are about to quit their jobs, most of the time in these conversations is spent encouraging me not to settle and asking if there’s anything they can do to help. I appreciate the positivity and support, even though it probably doesn’t show through the frustration and dejection that’s written all over my face.

Somewhere between the following two days of Greek food, Thai food, cheese, wine, coffee, and ice cream, I take an interview for a company that had reached out to me by way of a recruiter. I later learn that they don’t consider me a cultural fit, which is disappointing because I fall in love with their product, get all sorts of dreams in my head about how great it would be to work for them, and envision a whole life for myself in Los Angeles working for this direct-to-consumer jewelry company. After cursing the slow, old school reputation of the place where I currently work (at least relative to these scrappier startups), I tell myself to snap out of the fantasy of somewhere new and try to enjoy the rest of my vacation because it’s only a matter of time before I have to be back in Boston and grinding in the role I have instead of one I want.

Trying to take my mind off of my inner turmoil in the final two days, I do a few fun things: I treat myself to a new pair of work casual sneakers from Sports Basement and a silver leather travel bag from the AWAY store that steals my heart. I visit one more jiujitsu class and drop into a gym around the corner to stay somewhat on track with my strength training. I power myself up on a coffee at Philz, a cappuccino at Four Barrel, and a coconut cold brew from La Boulange and get one last meal at my favorite restaurant in the city to take with me to the airport (arepas from Pica Pica Arepa Kitchen at 15th Street and Valencia). I take some final photos of the smoky skyline in San Francisco to remember this trip and obtain a ton of chocolates from See’s as souvenirs for friends back in Boston.

Wearing my Coffee for Sasquatch shirt from Los Angeles with my new shoes and silver bag from San Francisco, as I walk onto my plane, I know that California has claimed me from head to toe. It’s only a matter of time before I’m there in body and spirit.

Of course, as was true for my trip to Peru back in March, I’m flying back into a snowstorm in Boston. Unlike my trip back home from Peru, my flight out of San Francisco doesn’t get canceled — it leaves only 40 minutes late. But because I fly back on a redeye, I am physically and mentally shot by the time I arrive at Logan. My patience dissolves as quickly as a Listerine strip on the tongue when I learn that my baggage claim carousel has been switched and merged with the baggage of two other flights, and then the carousel itself has broken down. I get my luggage over an hour after the flight arrives and decide that I’d rather spend the money on a cab and be home in a half hour than be cheap and spend up to an hour on the Silver Line and Red Line in morning traffic. The highways are backed up, meaning my cab fare exceeds $30, including tip, even though I live barely 3 miles from the airport. Once I get home, shower, and snuggle into bed for a short while before I have to prep my item for our Office Thanksgiving and head to work, that $30 becomes worth it.

The day is uneventful, but I am so tired in the office that I take a nap in the Wellness Room for a half hour in the middle of the day. Somehow, I find the will to go back to my gym in the evening and then pack for the family wedding I’m attending tomorrow night.

I get home from training, walk toward my gray couch, and collapse into it with a sigh, finally allowing myself to enter the present moment and relax. After a day of moving to the next place or thing, from a flight to a baggage claim carousel to home to the office to the gym to home again, the second to slow down and pause is a luxury. Even though it was only six days ago, it feels like a small eternity since I was eating breakfast at Blu Jam cafe, being encouraged to take my time with the menu, with the meal, with the moment, and not rush.

Reflecting on the trip, it both feels like it’s been forever since I went away but it also feels like I went away for a very long time. Perhaps it’s because so much has happened in the last week (six blog posts’ worth, apparently). By interacting with so many people and visiting so many places, it’s impossible to feel as if my vacation felt like anything less than a year of lived experiences.

Usually, I have the luxury of delaying the unpacking of my suitcase, getting to hold onto the illusion that I am about to go away or still am away, but not this time. My train leaves for New York City in a mere nine hours and it’s time to trade in the chino shorts and anorak I wore around Beverly Hills for black tie apparel and a heavy winter coat. It makes me sad to unpack my suitcase so soon, because it means I have to come to terms with the end of my vacation and return to the life that I live for the other fifty weeks of the year.

It’s like an autopsy, laying the suitcase flat on the table, the well-worn wheels like outstretched, callused feet, and precisely clicking the TSA lock numerals into place. I open the lock and release it from tiny hinges on the suitcase zippers, then gently tug the zippers until the suitcase’s nylon body opens its abdomen in a clean reveal of its insides: dirty laundry, souvenirs, and a quart-sized bag filled with vessels of liquids and gels in under-100mL quantities. Cause of death: most likely natural causes (the simple passage of time from November 9 to November 16), but possibly heart attack (from the arresting beauty and magnetism of the California dream, or from waking from that dream to the cruel shock of the cold, unrelenting, grey reality of the East Coast).

I pull out the casualwear from the body of my red Samsonite, put it in the washer, add detergent, and start a cycle. I fill the void in the suitcase with formalwear and comfortable clothing for the train ride. Before I go to sleep, the washing machine chimes, the happy noise a sad reminder letting me know that the evidence of my travel to California has spun around and rinsed away.

My alarm goes off — it’s 5:30AM. The last leg of the trip has arrived.



Quitter of the corporate grind in favor of the open road, a writing career, and a whole lot of jiu-jitsu. Currently writing from San Diego.

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Erica Zendell

Quitter of the corporate grind in favor of the open road, a writing career, and a whole lot of jiu-jitsu. Currently writing from San Diego.