Four and a half hours worth of Saturday driving brought me to the little town Jacinda lives in. I left early in the morning hoping to dodge most if not all of the wine country sightseers that plague my county; it usually results in below the speed limit tourist traffic jams. My route out of town took me just North of Calistoga on back roads towards Clear Lake. Passing through the bottom end of Lake County I headed East out of the hills. It was a somber road trip, the sky was a soft gray overcast from horizon to horizon. There wasn’t a speck of blue to be seen anywhere. As I dropped down out of the Western foothills to central California flat land the trees gave way to endless farms growing everything from almonds to rice. I had the volume up on my car’s stereo and I cruised along single lane roads without seeing another soul for long periods of time. I wondered what Jacinda looked like after thirteen years, all I had was my memory of her when we were both in our early twenties.
Eventually I crossed over I-5 at Williams. Further East my planned route would take me over lonely farm roads named only with a number. Out there the land is a simple grid of interconnecting roads with no real designation of any kind, farmers hauling out their produce or bringing in supplies to the ranch are the only people one would run across. Time passed slowly as the miles came and went. I was looking for an intersection at highway 99 where I would turn North into Jacinda’s home town.
Arriving at her address I parked my car and killed the engine. I sat inside for a few minutes thinking of what to say when she opened her apartment door. She was expecting me, but I was ahead of schedule by a couple of hours. Realizing I was somewhat nervous and unsure of how things would unfold I sat in the car watching one of Jacinda’s neighbors. She was an old black woman dressed in light blue sweatpants and sweatshirt. The old woman walked about the single story rows of apartment buildings mumbling to herself as a lit cigarette barely hung from her lower lip. Her hair was jet black, cut into a page-boy that reminded me of numerous characters from a 1930′s swashbuckling adventure movie. Perhaps she was a Musketeer that escaped from an insane asylum. When I got out of my car and locked the door I decided to steer clear of the old woman and not invite any conversation. Her dialog with an invisible friend would hopefully keep her plenty busy until I was long gone anyway.
Walking between two rows of run-down first floor apartments I began scanning each door for Jacinda’s number. Figuring out the ascending order on Jacinda’s building I headed straight up until I stopped at her next door neighbor’s concrete steps. Piled high on the final step was a large mound of half-burned and visibly wet blankets. There was also a couple shattered glass candle holders with melted wax remains mixed in with all the broken glass. It appeared as if someone had almost burned down their apartment the night before and got very, very lucky that the whole building complex did not go up in a firestorm. I had to wonder if this whole place was filled with fuck ups and meth freaks.
Knocking on Jacinda’s front door I backed away and waited. There was no answer. A calico cat sat in the window peering at me silently with light blue eyes. I waited a moment and then knocked again a little more loudly. Still there was no redhead at the door. Was she asleep? Maybe she was in the shower. Maybe someone kidnapped her and tossed her body into the Feather river? I had no idea. I did get there early after all so I decided to drive around town and see what there was to see. Kill some time and then come back later. As I walked back towards the parking lot and my car the old black woman was meandering about near the street mumbling to herself in a loud tone of voice and smoking a fresh cigarette.
Nearby I found a few blocks of gold rush era buildings that housed antique stores, a thrift shop, and a book store. Most of the frontier town buildings appeared to be vacant of any businesses. I spent some time browsing in the shop windows as a slight cold breeze kicked up. The day was much colder than I would have expected, I was not wearing a warm enough coat so the chill was becoming uncomfortable. I stepped inside one of the few antique shops to warm up for a few minutes and see what they had for sale. Walking through congested aisle ways I didn’t see anything interesting or worth having. The vast majority of this store’s wares were junk if anything else. And severely overpriced at that. I speculated how long they would be able to survive before going out of business.
As I headed back towards the door I spotted a small collection of glass telephone pole insulators. Laughing to myself I remembered that was my vote for one of the all-time dumbest things to collect. On swing shift at work someone came up with the bright idea to hold a contest for the most useless hobby. Each of us had to make a vote before the end of that night’s shift. During my lunch break I did some generic web searches for things that people liked to collect, and I stumbled across people who were into glass insulators. Some folks were so obsessed with this particular hobby that they had amassed a large photo collection of each year and manufacturer of the damned things. Other people created web sites posting insulator “sightings” on top of old crumbling wooden poles in the middle of the desert. It seemed so pointless and retarded that I made it my choice for that evening’s contest. I could not remember if I won the contest that night or not.
There was a single, battered pay phone on the edge of a nearby parking lot. I pumped a couple of quarters into it and dialed Jacinda’s number. Her answering machine kicked in. Guess she really wasn’t home. She knew I was making the effort to drive all the way over here to see her. We planned the visit last week. Over the phone she sounded excited about the weekend reunion and told me she couldn’t wait to hang out. So what the hell happened? Evidently I had a lot more time on my hands with nothing to do. Getting back in the car I drove around Jacinda’s town with no destination in mind. I passed the time driving around neighborhoods getting lost and seeing if I could find my way back again. I had a greasy lunch at an old run down restaurant called The Cornucopia that back in the Seventies was most likely a Denny’s. My guts weren’t taking kindly to the sandwich and fries I ate. Later on I would experience an unpleasant brown cornucopia atop a toilet thanks to their bad cooking.
Afternoon hours drifted by slowly like the low hanging gray clouds above my head. I was bored out of my fucking mind. Concern for Jacinda faded as I became angry with myself for making the effort to drive all the way out here. I could have been doing anything else with my time off from work. I felt like a chump. There was no one to blame for that except myself of course. Driving back to Jacinda’s place for one last try I knocked on the door and got no response. I wrote a quick note to her and placed it under a rock on her apartment steps. I wanted Jacinda to know for certain I showed up as planned. She really screwed this up by pulling a no-show performance. Then I started the four plus hours drive homeward, with luck I could get home before dark. I felt entirely stupid and somewhat depressed.