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VENICE – This is as exclusive as it gets: boutique shops, macrobiotic protein-powdered food and women, new fast cars, manicured lawns, hair-sprayed dogs, six-pack torsos and accessories for the accessories. No two people are the same on the Venice Beach boardwalk where entire sections reek of medicinal marijuana stores and people ride their bikes and rollerblades the same way they drive –like unheeding laser-targeted missiles. I feel suddenly small and slow. Literally, I’ve entered the land of the bionic giants. Does anyone actually work here? I wonder to myself, thinking isn’t the heat supposed to make people slower? This has been my operating theory on why coastal people in Latin America tend to be less rushed about things.
In Phoenix there was space, large expanses of desert and cacti to somehow let the spirit wander; the people were older, nicer and quieter, curious, but not unbounded and unhinged in your “space” like you were in their way or had just entered their narrative without being asked. It appealed to my Guatemalan sensibility of considerateness and politeness. At 7 AM we leave our friend’s house in Phoenix after watching them prepare for their own journey to San Francisco Bay Area for a wedding, but this time with their three-month baby. That’s the second couple on our road trip that has gone from two to three. It’s always instructive to see good friends make that shift and enter a different phase of their lives.
In many ways it’s like window-shopping and seeing if it’s a potential future for us. On every occasion we’re always happy for them and happy we can share these moments in our lives where we can our adventures overlap and we welcome a new member to the family who we’ll also be sharing and growing with us all along the way.
The verdict is still out for us on the babies and parenting, but we both trust that when and if and if ever things go in that direction for us, it’ll be evident and we’ll feel it is the right thing for us and the world. Yes, the world. It’s more my own concern over social responsibility and my love for children that I couldn’t reconcile having a child knowing how many children are in orphanages in Guatemala and if it’s a matter of ego, well, most of them look like me anyway, so no loss there. Brad just likes his freedom. And I like mine, too, and we’re both married to our work, so it’s good we’re honest and clear with each other and others about that. The only pressure we feel from time to time is the change of lifestyle we stop sharing with our friends. But we find places to connect, at least if it’s a genuine friendship with some depth. We grow older; we start to appreciate the differences in paths chosen.
We arrive in Venice, a ten-minute bike-ride away from Venice Beach, chat on the porch with our friend Robert who’s sitting outside reading his new soccer referee manual, before he goes to pick up his son. “Take the bikes,” he tells us. “They’re in the garage.” So we unload our bags and head to the beach on the most janky bikes that have seen plenty of ocean salt and have survived being stolen simply by being so ugly, but practical. In an instant our reality for since Sunday is drastically changed. Wind blowing in our hair from our proximity to the Pacific Ocean, we use our legs for the first time to move us through scenes of eclecticism, narcissism, lifestyle vendors and niche entertainment spots with clever names and slogans. Nothing is real except the appearance of things.
The fatigue caught up with me in the car where I fought off a migraine with three Aleves, but this is really the antidote. We spend a couple of hours biking up and down the beach, stop to watch the skaters at the skate park and then park the bikes and plunge into the soft, cold sand. The sandpipers are out rushing quickly from hole to hole that bubbles when the tide pulls back and there are children throwing buckets of sand around them as they prepare for the best castle ever. Women jog by in bikinis and gay male couples walk hand in hand while one talks on his cell phone. We relax into our skin, free from the anger, the frustration, the fear and the knowing that the random is near. Perhaps it’s because we’re just passing through, perhaps it’s because there are different fears and frustrations associated with this life in the US that we have not yet adopted. As I’m reflecting on this, mi mama calls. “¿Ya llegaron?” Are you there yet? Yes, we’re on Venice beach watching people, I tell her. “¿Se siente bin ester aquí verdad?” It feels good to be here right? I pause because I know mi mama’s leading questions and I can either step into her perception that Guatemala is hell on earth and the USA is God’s gift to immigrants or I can just passively agree with her. I tell her in some ways it feels good to be here, in other ways it doesn’t. How can that be? She retorts. “Porque Guatemala si tiene cosas y gente bonita, pero muchas veces no puedo uno apreciarlo.” “Yeah right,” she says to me in English even though I just spoke to her in Spanish. It’s true, I tell her, has she gone to Monterrico, Sipacate, climbed the volcanoes, seen Livingston, what about Petén and the Mayan pyramids? I feel ridiculous having to convince mi mama that her country is not “una pura mired.” Pure crap.
I am disappointed in myself for letting myself play this game. This is not my battle, it is hers. I have baggage when it comes to living in Guatemala, but mi mama has trunks when it comes to living and leaving Guatemala. I take the exit strategy and tell her Brad wants to say hello. It’s easier that way, to deflect, to just let Brad deal with the assumptions she wants to confirm. Brad goes along with it, tells her about the skateboarders, tells her, yes, he’s ready to go back for three years to Guatemala, he’s got work there, friends and another life. I can hear the pause when he shares this with her.
“But it’s still better in the US right?” She continues not dissuaded. Brad laughs and I’m getting annoyed just listening to her insistence. “Oye mi suegra,” Brad finally ends the conversation. “We gotta go and keep biking. But everything is good! No te preocupes, suegra.” They both laugh and thank god we’re off the phone.
We keep riding until he have to head back to meet our friends for the gourmet taco truck dinner that is a phenomenon on Venice Blvd every Friday. We love these folks, their children, their home, their lives and their commitment to both their work and family. They are active, intelligent, loving and warm. They are the best-grounded combination we’ve seen of careers, family and economic stability. One day, we both say to ourselves, one day, we’ll do it our way. We already are, but the path is still unfolding.
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