My new hubby took me on a road-trip to Central California . Soon, the weather turned ugly on us…The roads went slick. It was I who suggested that we stop and buy new tires at Walmart.
Our car was high on the Walmart Express rack, and I was in the photo department, scanning our wedding pictures. I heard scurrying footsteps. I looked up to see the store emptying rapidly. Urgent voices….
“Two officers were killed at a bombing, yesterday. And now we’ve got a bomb threat, here!”
What? Officers killed! Bomb threats…?
I snatched my digital card from the photo machine and joined the other folks heading for the exit.
I found my husband in the parking lot. “Look!” I said. “Everyone else gets to drive away…And our car is stuck on the tire-rack. We should’ve never come to the City!”
Michael took me by the hand and walked me to a nearby Mexican restaurant. We ate Chimi-changas while the world outside teamed with cops and sirens and flashing lights.
It seemed to last forever, but eventually the yellow police tape came down and the All-Clear was given. Relieved, we went to fetch our car from the tire shop.
I was sure we should make our escape, now, but not my husband. He took us even deeper into the asphalt jungle, driving us to the state capitol building in Sacramento .
Michael steered me past the prattling tourists and the VIP’s. Through the metal detectors…Past uniformed guards who eyed us narrowly.
“Years ago, I had to come here to testify before the Senate,” Michael said. “It wasn’t like this, back then. No metal detectors and guards.”
We climbed shiny staircases, and walked the long corridors—passing pompous statues and marble-heads. Michael pointed down a hallway. “That’s where I had to give testimony,” he said.
I stared down the hall, trying to imagine Michael in the Senate Chambers, talking about greedy lumber companies and the clear-cutting of ancient Redwood trees. “Oh my,” I said. “I hope you taught these city-slickers a thing or two!”
“Well, I tried. I had to address both the Senate and the State Assembly.”
“Both of them?!”
He nodded. “It was aired live on TV monitors throughout the capitol and on National Public Radio, too. Ten million listeners across the country.”
“Michael!” I said. “It makes me sweat just thinking about it. How did you do it?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “Just acted confident, I guess…” Michael’s steps slowed. “You see, darling…” he said. He paused, and stood looking at the ornate doors in front of us.
The gold lettering above the doors said: “Arnold Schwarzenegger …Governor of California.” An armed guard stood there, preventing anyone from entering.
Soon, the officer got distracted, turning to speak to someone. It was then that Michael stepped past the armed guard and walked through the double doors, disappearing into the Governor’s office. The ornate doors closed behind him.
My chin dropped. I almost hollered after him, but caught myself just in time.
The officer finished up his conversation and returned to his military stance. A moment later, my hubby reappeared.
He walked past the startled guard and handed me one of the Governor’s gold-embossed business cards. “A souvenir from Arnie’s office,” Michael said as the two of us walked away. “…And that’s how you do it, honey,” he added. “You assume an air of confidence, and you can go anywhere in the building.”
“Insanity!” I said. “That guard had a loaded gun.”
“Aw, darling…” Michael said. “I’ve been in Arnie’s office before. You have to understand these folks. That’s all.”
I just looked at him. What kind of a guy had I married, anyhow? I’d never catch up with this man. Never in a lifetime.
We left the capitol, and went on to Berkeley—-or “Beserkley” as the locals call it … We went to one of Michael’s childhood haunts…the old Main Street of town. It was a place of strange contrasts. Old and new all mixed together.
We stepped into the Beanery Coffee Shop—an old refined café that had a futuristic look, as well. It could’ve been a scene from some Sci-Fi flick: robotic people sitting silently at long rows of tables…Each of them half-hidden behind the screen of a laptop. Brows knitted, fingers tapping. They sipped their lattes and espressos, their eyes glued to computer screens.
Not a word was spoken between them. Not a glance exchanged. An occasional murmuring broke the stillness, but it was only a one-sided conversation on a cell phone….One of those Blue-tooth devices.
Bizarre. It was an alien world to be sure.
“When I came here as a boy,” Michael said, “People actually talked to each other. They laughed and joked. Now they just come here for a caffeine-fix and to go online.”
Michael took me outside and pointed at an abandoned building on the corner. “That used to be Ozzie’s Soda Fountain & Pharmacy.”
“Ozzie’s!” I laughed. “You’re kidding.”
“It was the hub of life here,” Michael said. “Old folks got prescriptions. Kids drank sodas and bought penny candy. It was a wonderful world—far removed from the modern mess of today.”
He pointed at the robotic scene in the Beanery Coffee Shop. “That’s a pitiful substitute for the happiness of yesteryear. A real sad commentary on life today.”
We stood staring at the odd contrasts of Main Street . The cobwebby depths of Ozzie’s store…and the strange innards of the Beanery.
At last, we turned to go. It was time to head home…To leave this alien world of Blue-tooths and laptop cults. Metal detectors…armed guards…bomb threats.
Time to go back to the country where life was simple. To the land of sunrises and sunsets…where the Meadowlark warbles and the little Grosbeak sings his one-note song.
The hills were beckoning us and we were glad to go….
Very glad, indeed.