It's been ten years since I visited my
friends in California. Ten years! And now, after just five
days I'm sitting in Los Angeles International Airport awaiting a
plane back to Boston.
I've been on an extended trip out here in the U.S, taking in places
such as Seattle
and Portland, with other destinations like Boston
and New York City still on the agenda. It's turning out
to be a truly great vacation. I'm jetting from place to place in
First class on Delta flights, lapping up my air miles earned upgrade
and pretending like I always travel first class! Rather than waiting
till the last minute to get on the plane, I'm one of the first,
if not the first person on the plane. I take my oversized seat early
so I can be one of those smug bastards sitting there in first class
sipping Champaign while all the 'poor people' traipse past me on
their way to cattle
The Californian leg of my trip
is coming to an end here in Los Angeles is international airport.
I flew down here in a propeller driven aircraft full of suit wearing
business types all reading the early editions of broadsheet news
papers, leaving behind me a rather bleary eyed friend, Anthony,
who had very kindly driven me to Fresno airport at some unearthly
hour of the morning.
As the plane droned across the sunrise I looked out of the tiny
window trying to soak up every last minute that California had to
offer me. Below me pierced the tops of mountains that cast long
early morning shadows across a cotton wool bed of clouds. I felt
like the odd one out, the random guy dressed casually and actually
enjoying what was someone's else's morning commute to the office.
Five days ago I was flying over the Nevada desert on my way to Fresno.
The flight was pretty spectacular, I was entranced by the landscape
below, a landscape far removed from anything I'm familiar with back
in England. I'd had a great time in Portland and was sad to leave,
but the excitement of returning to California and seeing people
I haven't seen or had much, if any, contact with for ten years
was almost overwhelming.
Meeting me at the airport were my two old 'best friends' from my
time in Fresno, Kevin and Josh. I haven't spoken with Josh since
the day I left. We were young guys and hopeless at writing letters
to one another. Kevin and I had briefly spoken once on the phone
and emailed one another a handful of times. Ten years is a long
time, and in that time they've both married and had children. I
wondered, would they be with their wives and kids? Would I recognize
them? Would they recognize me? Would we get along like we did before?
As the plane started to descend over the swimming pools in the back
yards of the duplex carpet below, I knew I wasn't going to have
to wait long for the answers.
"Welcome to Fresno" announced the pilot as we taxied along the runway. "The local time is 8:41AM and folks, it's already a hot day here. We sure hope you enjoyed your flight and look forward to serving you again."
I stepped out of the plane into the Californian air and was hit by the expected wall of sheer heat. Portland had been hot, but boy, this was something else! I put my sunglasses on and threw my bag over my shoulder then stopped there for a second, smiled and said to myself, "California."
As I emerged through the public gate at the airport I could see
people waiting for friend, relatives and business associates. There
weren't a whole lot of people waiting. The plane was very small
and seated just a handful of people, most of whom looked like they
would simply disperse into the parking lot to their own cars. This
is a local airport and as such it lacks that big international feel.
As I scanned the few gathered faces I saw my old friends immediately.
First Kevin, then Josh. Kevin was looking carefully at the faces
of everyone walking through the small gates, no doubt thinking to
himself that maybe I had changed and that he might not recognize
me anymore. We'd forgotten to exchange recent pictures when we arranged
to meet up over email. In the end though there was no confusion,
I smiled and waved, they then smiled walked over and greeted me
like the long lost friend I suppose I was. They were alone, just
the two of them, and now with me we were a trio once more, just
as we had been all those years ago.
Ten years had been added to their
faces in the same way it has been added to mine. But these guys
began joking with me just as I remember, it was as if I had not
been away at all. Kevin commented that they had been looking out
for a guy with long curly hair wearing all black, just as he remembers
me. Josh started talking in his fake English accent almost immediately,
just like he always used to do. It was a great moment of reunion,
nothing over the top, just old friends clicking back into place
as if a day hadn't passed.
We hadn't made any plans for the day beforehand, so as we chatted we headed over to our old, and now not so familiar, territory of Fresno Pacific University to walk around the old campus we once knew so well. It hadn't really changed all that much. There were new buildings and more under construction, and the name had changed too from Fresno Pacific College, but it still felt very much familiar to me.
As we walked we exchanged the first of what was sure to be many
recollections. We laughed about the people we were back then, and
at the stories of adventures we had enjoyed in Josh's old blue Chevy
truck, a truck that he famously informed me didn't "stop on a dime"
when I was getting cranky about seeing "the wrong kind of Palm trees"
in Hollywood one fine weekend. Ten years had mellowed the three
of us I could tell.
The funny thing is that I felt like I had been in a time warp. I
didn't feel older or different, though of course I was. Around me,
in what seemed like the blink of an eye, my friends had gone from
being young guys at the beginning of their adult lives, to becoming
Husbands and Fathers. It was as if time had moved forward ten years
in just a few moments while some aspects were just the same as they
ever were. I can honestly say it was one of the strangest feelings
of my entire life.
That night my friends Paula and Anthony threw a party and invited people from 'back then' who I knew and they were still in touch with. Once again I met people I hadn't seen or had contact with in ten years and once again felt like I had jumped forward and back in time all at once. I suppose it must have felt the same for them in some way, but for me there was more than just one new 'old' face.
It was for me a stark reminder of how fast time moves, almost without
us noticing. Just like everyone else my days turned into months
that soon became years. I hadn't expected to feel quite like this,
like an astronaut returning from a far off space mission, having
to familiarize myself with the world I had returned to. And although
I felt like I hadn't changed, my friends around me pointed out that
I to have come a long way too. It was a sobering lesson, magical
and yet almost frightening in some ways. Like a wake up call perhaps,
but to wake up from what?
Over the next few days I got to hang out with, and once more get to know, my old friends. I struggle to find a more eloquent way of saying that I simply had a great time. Meeting my old friends and seeing old familiar places had shown me something of who I was and who I had become. We had all changed so much, but still somehow fitted together just as we used to.
The shadows of yesterday had been given a rare opportunity to speak,
or maybe I had just been given a rare opportunity to listen? Whichever
it was, California had once again endorsed itself as a marker point
in my life.