My trip to California was a business trip. I am used to such trips. Typically, I spend very little, if any, time at all seeing the area where work takes me, opting to focus on the "matters at hand" and assuring myself that I will take time to enjoy the "places" later in life, when I am not under pressure of the "corporate world." I do usually try to have at least one "fun" evening with someone I know from the area, or with one of the other attendees.
This business trip though, I had already decided was going to be the first of my "new" approach to business travel. I was going to see what there was in the world outside of the confines of my hotel. And a friend attending the same conference provided the catalyst for this new approach. Not a San Franciscan, but a Californian, my friend was also exploring during the first week of the trip. Days and nights we used every waking hour, not spent in seminars, walking and watching the "life" of that city of cement. How very alive that place is, seemingly despite the rigid lines that define the newer structures, leaving to deteriorate the softer lines of architecture of times gone by.
We decided the city could easily be renamed the "City of Fire Engines" for they seemed to be a constant, so too the motorcades of limousines and motorcycle cops escorting important non-San Franciscans through the city. And we watched and "invented" the stories of the precious human cargo, whose identity and person had to be protected from the life of the city they were visiting. And I thought, how sad. And then I reminded myself that I too spend a great deal of time protecting MYSELF from being "touched" by the realness of the city. Protesters, homeless men and women, addicts, hookers...these people are not of my world, in little old Gloucester, and I realized I spend a fair amount of effort to ensure they do not enter into my world even when I am in theirs. But this time we looked and we engaged in conversation the "locals" just a little...baby steps.
One night we took a drive to Berkeley where my friend had friends who I now feel I could call friends. They welcomed me into their home, gave us a tour of their town and took us out to eat. And then, with appetites for food fully sated, we returned to their home and enjoyed the first of several "jam" sessions that tied this trip together for me. Music is the language in which I feel most fluent, and I find that the fact I am a complete hack on the guitar is no deterrent to participating in musical "conversations" with others, no matter how, in any other ways, our walks of life differ. And that night in Berkeley was no different. Songs I played and sang, the others knew and joined in, and I with them on songs they played. And instruments were added to complete the experience...a six string guitar was located and given to me to play whilst another made due with a guitar sporting only five strings. Harmonicas and even an accordion was part of the "ensemble" that night, and it was, to my knowledge, the first time I had ever played with an accordion player. And, as seems to be the norm, another friend "dropped by" and added his voice to the mix. We laughed, we played, we harmonized....and we finally took our leave very late, knowing full well we would be dragging in the morning, but not regretting one minute of our time spent there.
Friday afternoon, after the final keynote speaker had delivered his message, we jumped in the car and headed out of the cement city to the land of softer lines though arguably not softer living. We explored the area around Yosemite and we visited the park itself for a couple of days. But mostly, we just relaxed and let the spirit move us. We drove and took pictures (loads of them). My friends invited other friends and again we spent days "exploring" and nights "jamming." I met family members and friends of theirs and all welcomed me unconditionally. I found the people very "real" and delightful. I don't think there was a time when I felt uncomfortable or "in the way."
For me, seeing Yosemite for the first time, there was something there. Something truly inspirational. True, much of the park was closed for various reasons including rock slides, snow at the higher elevations, construction and such, but we still saw a lot. I had the added benefit of a "personal" tour guide who knew the area intimately and through whose eyes I was able to experience more than I am certain would have been possible bumbling around on my own. And the fact that we were in such an inspirational place did not deter us from being children at heart. We laughed, we played and we lived.
When I flew home on Saturday it was with a bit of sadness. I will miss that liberated feeling, that "let the spirit move you" pace and the excellent company of friends who share not only of themselves but of their world. And I will miss, most assuredly, the music....for we could, and did, "jam" for hours each night.
Thank you friends, George, Olga, Bill, Barry, Lida and all the others ... I look forward to another time, another adventure, another laugh, another meal, another song.