Monday, January 18, 2010

Nine days in Baja

I left San Diego for Baja two weeks before my return to the East Coast. I struggled for six months prior to my departure and still kept sinking further into debt, so I gave up on SoCal. The benefits of living there began to be overshadowed by consequences and homesickness.
This was going to be the end of my nine-month journey down the Pacific, so I decided to forget money. "Breaking even" in Cali wasn't going to happen and playing the credit game was only becoming more complicated. That said, I picked a departure date and things began to get good as I found a light in the tunnel.

The entire time I lived in San Diego, everyone liked to refer to the city as "paradise," which was difficult for me to swallow. To me, "paradise" means more to me than daily sunshine and waves, even if that's a pretty good start.

It wasn't until I decided to leave town that I really started to San Diego. I couldn't see it through the haze of pot smoke, incense, frustration and poverty that surrounded me until my visit had an expiration date, and when I left the country entirely and headed south to visit a friend in Baja I finally felt it. For a few short moments, I found paradise.

Not every moment was golden. I actually spent a considerable amount of time crying. I got terribly lost in a country where my language skills were insufficient. Men requested sexual favors for aide and I was grateful to escape and find one who only wanted money to help me find my way. The sun became a broiler as I searched the cliffs for a spot of shade that never arrived until early evening. As the days passed, I got scraped by lava rocks and became freckled and leathery. I was surrounded by strangers from strange lands with whom I believed I had nothing in common.
None of it matters. When it was good, it was great.

I'm not sure if its possible to live in Paradise. I don't think Paradise is something with staying power.
For a couple days during a trek across the peninsula, I found paradise with a motley crew of travellers from two hemispheres, three continents and four countries. On any given day, three languages would flow among us and I would only be able to fully participate in one.

Part of the reason this trip was so good is because I knew I was leaving.

Part of it was being forced to stay.
It wasn't just the place. It wasn't just the people.
My story of Baja will follow in installments.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Cocktails, Bicycles and Cueballs

Most days, I wear my Phillies ball cap. Yes, I love the team (and yes the World Series was depressing this year) but even after I have curled my hair in rollers for at least an hour and painted my face like a tart, I throw the hat on my head as I go out the door.

Not long after, I put my bicycle helmet on. The baseball cap makes my $10 helmet rest more snugly on my head. I travel roughly 10 blocks to work on the evenings I am a cocktail waitress in Pacific Beach, California and though the distance certainly isn't too far to walk, I take my beach cruiser each night so I won't be stuck walking home at 3 a.m. when everyone is drunk and the leather-faced homeless beach bums are high and cold.

Tonight, I dropped my bike light. This will be the 4th bike light I have demolished in nearly as many months. It wasn't really a bike light anyway, just a cheap LED flashlight I picked up at CVS one evening after I remembered my previous light met a similar fate the night before. My first bike light got stolen, then returned by my neighbor several weeks later. Water damage. It still doesn't work.

The replacement light I acquired next was pretty great. Basically, a mini MAG light with a bike harness. The light was phenomenal, but someone at my old apartment complex decided I didn't really need the harness to be in working order, so they broke it. Since the bike shop didn't have anymore of those lights, they exchanged it for the same model as my first light. Though I got the first light back, it never worked again and the second light died after six weeks.
My rear reflector got stolen when I let an Australian I was hanging out with borrow my bike to get back to the hostel he was staying at. My sweet flamingo bell was already gone by that point, so I am coming to terms with the fact that with this bike, nothing is forever.

I still have my basket. I still have my bike lock. And my helmet. I am the only girl in Pacific Beach who wears a bike helmet and I wear mine religiously. Even though deep inside, I don't want to, I must. I can't trust these California drivers. In all likelihood, I would get struck by one of them, and they would find a way to sue ME for their negligence. Or drunkeness. It seems as though that is sort of the way it works out here.

And so, I faithfully put on my ballcap. And my helmet. I try to kick up the kickstand, but in all likelihood, it is stuck, so I just scrape my achilles tendon instead. I get off the bike, use my other foot to dislodge the kickstand, and head out for my evening of cocktails and cueballs.

The night is slow. The owner of my pool hall has cameras hidden all over the establishment. There are 3 blind spots. One is right in front of the bar, surprisingly enough. The other two are on the left and right front corners, underneath the 16inch televisions that Cueball, the Israeli business owner is convinced people actually watch. Not the case. Instead, each time a patron buys one of us a shot, if we choose to take it, we go to the secret spots. Even though CueBall is rarely at his Billiards Cafe, he monitors the video like a hawk.

And he watches our sales, real-time, from his computer at home.
Many nights, bartenders and cocktail waitresses receive a call from Cueball.

"Sooo, how are you doing tonight?" he inquires.
"Not bad, but the night is slow," I reply.
"Well, have you been trying to sell?" he asks.
"Yes, I have, but many people are getting their drinks from the bartenders when they get their pool table and balls, they are still drinking those drinks," I say.
"Well, you need to sell more. Have you been trying to sell the more expensive liquors? You haven't sold any doubles,"
"No one has asked me for a double, no one has asked me for anything,"
"You need to get back out on the floor. Have you been talking to them? You need to talk to them and get them to drink more," he says. "I have to go, goodnight. Sell more."

And so, I head back out on the floor and try to find the most gullible looking boy so I can sell him a double of whatever. Often it works. Fair enough. I probably spent nearly 2 hours curling my hair and applying makeup so I could do this. At least it means I am getting some return on the investment.

Some nights are better than others. One night, a customer even bought me flowers from the flower lady after I quoted The Goonies to him. Sweet boy.

At the end of the night, I realize that I am probably not getting such a lucrative return on my investment. The pool hall and its outdated computer system and mean paperwork is usually a nightmare and after the bartenders, who, in fairness, do a lot of work, give me my share from the tabs we split, I turn around and pay them the money right back. Along with the doorman and cook. If I make $100 in a night, I will be paying everyone else at least $25 of it. I am used to tipouts and I always try to invoke the gods of tipping karma by doing so generously, but it is more than a little frustrating to work every angle I got, all night long, and pay someone else the money because they carried back a bus tub.

Most nights, I make around $60 to take home. Usually its less and occasionally its more. I go outside to retreive my beach cruiser from the outdoor walk-in cooler that doesn't work (I am always terrified of being locked in!). That's how I lost the flamingo bell. One night after work, I tried to steer the bike out and the bell got knocked off.

Clearly, I still miss it.

Once I have the bike, I put on my headgear again and get started on the now-uphill 10 block journey home. Everyone is drunk and I'm always a little leary of any cars approaching me. Now, I will have to get ANOTHER light tomorrow, before I work at 9 because I am afraid of getting struck and would put a strobe light on if it meant people and their cars would stay the F* away from me.

As I pedal up a slow incline on the way to my house, I don't feel like I've gotten anywhere until I pass Haines Street. Only after that, the sharpest, most PITA incline is past, can I relax.

And then I come home and pour myself a glass of $2 Chuck.