Goin’ back to Cali
Well, I’m not exactly GOING, but I did GO! And it was awesome!
One of the perks of my profession is that I (usually) get to travel…a lot. Before the dreaded plague became our new normal, I was on the road approximately 50% of the time. And when I’m on the road for work, I always stash my cap, goggles, Duo, snorkel, and highly technological Ziploc baggie full of workouts in my suitcase. I hate to lose ground in my training, especially during spring when I’m full steam ahead on building kilometres for my summer swims. And my job often involves eating in restaurants and raiding the mini-bar late at night when I can’t survive without Pringles. Damn you, Pringles, and your crispy, salty, crunchy stack of freeze-dried mashed potato goodness.
Whenever I’m traveling, I search out open water swimming groups on Facebook to figure out if I can make a group swim happen, since it’s always nice to meet new fish. And failing that, I try to find a reasonably nearby pool where I can crush some laps. Swimmer’s Guide is a great resource that uses your geo-location to find nearby pools.
So I was very excited to learn that my new-ish job would take me to California for 2 weeks of meetings. And also that MY MUM (and MY AUNT and other family/friends) would be in Palm Springs during the weekend in between the 2 work meetings. I avoided the plague like the plague leading up to the trip, and was transported in a tin tube in the sky all the way to LAX where I promptly rented a convertible (a Jeep was all they had) and made the drive up the 405 to Ventura. And even though it was mostly freeway, I could smell the briny ocean air and felt the salt water in my bones. I turned right and jeeped past Casitas (apparently Johnny Cash lived there for a time) until I came to Ojai, and the beautiful Ojai Valley Inn which would become my oasis away for the next week. This beautiful complex is whitewashed adobe with stunning green spaces, surrounded by the Topa Topa and Santa Ynez mountains. It has several pools, but my favourite was the lap pool at the Spa. With 2 lanes and just under 25 yards, I had the pool all to myself all week and treated myself to a daily post-meeting swim under a palm tree.
At the end of the week, I air-kissed my colleagues goodbye and set off for Palm Springs. The first part of the drive through the mountains was thrilling and scenic, with the remaining 2 hours a bit of a drudge, especially getting through San Bernardino. I’ve written previously about the year my family spent in California when my Dad did his Masters’ degree. My sister and I were 10 and 7 when we drove south from Saskatoon to San Diego, complete with a UHaul and my Mum, of course. After a long day’s drive, we pulled into San Bernardino and searched for a place to sleep before the last push to our new home. Upon seeing a motel sign that said “WATERBEDS!” (and the motel had a pool right out front) my sister and I lost our shit in the back of the Dodge Aspen and pleaded with my Dad to get us a room. We’d never slept in waterbeds, but we were both swimmers, so we knew we’d like it. At this point in our lives we had no way of discerning between a decent but affordable hotel and a complete shithole, but into the office went my Dad (he was so awesome) and we waited for him to come back with the room keys. In the meantime, an altercation of sorts broke out on the balcony above the swimming pool. The man and woman involved appeared to be more permanently entrenched at the hotel than regular old overnight guests, they weren’t wearing much (this may have been due to that lovely California weather but I don’t think so), and they communicated their frustration with one another with colourful language of the sort we’d only heard at slowpitch games. Our eyes grew as wide, and I think my Mum told us to cover our ears. The fracas culminated with the man’s final expression of displeasure, a deep, rumbling, back-of-the-throat conjuring of a giant ball of yellow phlegm which he spat from the balcony into the pool below. And it didn’t just pop from his mouth and straight into the water, but rather oozed its’ way south in a satisfying string. My Mum gagged as only she can, and just then, my Dad came running out, grinning with the room keys clutched triumphantly in his hand.
I don’t remember if we just drove away or whether there was an effort to return the room keys, but the story has become legend in our family and I couldn’t resist telling it here. I’d never seen a loogie horked so meaningfully before then, and I haven’t to this day.
Another awesome thing about our year in California was that we got to attend swim meets in exciting places, including Palm Springs. Our Palm Springs meet took place sometime in the early summer, I do believe, and it was so blisteringly hot that we had to be pulled out of the pool and carried to the grass after our races so we wouldn’t burn our feet on the scalding pavement. I don’t remember much else from that trip, so when I pulled into town on March 11, 2022, I was almost seeing Palm Springs for the first time. Using Swimmer’s Guide, I’d located a few options and was very much looking forward to cranking out a workout in the morning sun. But when I stepped on the deck of the Palm Springs Swim Center, I knew that I’d been there before. I knew that I’d been pulled out of that exact same pool over to that exact same grass, under the exact same shady palms. My exact same Mum was even right there on the deck! It all came rushing back to me in a flurry of memory, nostalgia, synapses firing, and missing my Dad. And I had a great swim, a refreshing outdoor shower, and a delicious smoothie.
On Day 2, we ventured in a slightly different direction and headed for the Palm Desert Aquatic Center. The drive into this beautiful sports complex is lined with palm trees and makes one feel very fancy indeed, despite the very reasonable $6 USD admission fee. Having not swam in a 50 m pool since March 2020, I was overjoyed to do a 4km long course workout as the sun shone down on the sparkly water. It was very warm, but I was able to get out of the pool without being carried, even though my Mum probably would have if I’d asked her. She took some video – essential as I’m working out a few major stroke issues – and most of her photos only have half a thumb creeping into the frame. Still, what’s better than driving around to swimming pools in a convertible Jeep, WITH YOUR MUM!??
I had to leave the desert and head to Los Angeles for further meetings, but I wasn’t as successful in finding lap pool times that would coordinate with my work schedule. It seems that March is just a wee bit too early for the outdoor pools. I did get close to the ocean, at least, and I did indulge in catching a few rays at poolside at my next hotel, the Sunset Marquis. No-one horked off the balcony at this place, thank goodness.
It’s all in the balance, but it was good to be out in the world again, in a top-down Jeep with my Mum in the passenger seat.
I just want to see some palm trees.
I will try to shake away this disease.
(Santa Monica, by Everclear)