Monday, September 12, 2011

Welcome to Arcata

“Can I have one of your cigarettes?” asked a girl wearing a blue zip up sweater that bulked up the top of her body. She had long dark hair and an anxious look on her face as if she’d just taken a gulp of spoiled milk.

“Ah sure,” replied Jeff reaching into his pack for a camel 99.

I offered her a light and tried to be polite with small talk. “Are you from around here?” I asked.

“Naw. Kentucky. You?”

“Canada,” I said, not being specific assuming that she wouldn’t know details anyway.

“Oh wow, so far. You drove here?” she asked.

“Yeah,” I shrugged not thinking anything of the question. I had assumed that she was in her early twenties on a travel with some friends or something and I was eager to meet some inhabitants of the foreign land I was wandering. We had parked in a stall along City Square and decided that wandering on foot was probably more efficient. We hadn’t planned on drinking due to the fact that we were driving. We searched the scene for a coffee shop or something to give us somewhere to chill for a bit but the entire city square was nothing but loud music, alcohol, drugs, and people shoving through each other to get to the next place. We walked across the two-lane one way that circled the perimeter of the grass island that created the center square. The area was filled with nicely trimmed grass surrounded by flowerbeds, benches, and paved pathways surrounding a center manifold of well designed floral patterns of vibrant patterned colors. There were palm trees lining the area with a unique stone pattern wrapping around a central flowerbed and benches. When we gave up on our search for coffee the center island seemed like the only reasonable spot to rest our feet. We walked to the inner center and sat down on the concrete edge. It was at this spot when we met Katy.

“I came here with my boyfriend and some friends,” she told us as if warning us to not make any moves, “but they’re getting food. Wanna meet ‘em?”

I replied, “Sure,” even though I was slightly nervous of being introduced as a foreigner to a bunch of locals. The worst ideas always ran through my mind. Friends called me sketch as a joke and always made sure to remind me of my frequent paranoia.

“There they are,” she burst out as the group submerged from the bustle of the streets. She introduced Jeff and I to them. “They are Canadians,” she added, while all of her friends warmly welcomed us with handshakes. Two of them were carrying grocery bags, which they unpacked revealing a bag of twelve bread rolls, sandwich meat, and a pack of processed cheese.

“Want a sandwich?” a tall skinny man asked. He was wearing a unique grey suede cap with a button on the front that attached to the brim. It reminded me of something my grandpa used to wear but he gave it a vintage sort of appeal. I politely refused his sandwich and continued trying to introduce myself to everyone welcoming me. Jeff seemed thrilled to have so much attention and I went with it not wanting to bring down his mood.

We were in a town called Arcata, in California. We drove my 92 Ford ranger from Alberta, Canada with hopes of discovering new opportunities. Jeff and I worked together for Parks and Recreation of our town. We were as low on the hierarchical system as you could get, and we were there for far too long. We both had aspirations, talents, and dreams beyond that mindless, unsatisfying labor that we pushed through for nearly three years of our lives. There were old men in their forties and fifties who had been working their for decades, still at the bottom of the hierarchy, and everyday they shared their desires for a new life. We were both still in our twenties, barely, free of debt, and we were single. Jeff had broken up with his girlfriend about four months before I was dumped by Julie. In a way, that trip was therapeutic for both of us. It was through Jeff’s influence that we ended up in California.

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