There was a conference going on for a company I formerly worked at and the guy I was seeing at the time (who worked there) convinced me it would be a great idea to tag along so I could see everyone. That trip was possibly the one good thing that came out of our relationship so I will forever be grateful that I went.
My flight, after an unplanned overnight in New Jersey and subsequent upgrade to first class, arrived a day after the conference began. I missed the company shuttle service to the hotel.
At the time I was twenty five years old and in the furthest geographical point from my home that I had ever been alone. But it was an area of the country I had wanted to explore for eleven years and I could not contain my excitement!
I stepped outside the airport, lit up a smoke, and pulled on my sunglasses, mentally recording every millisecond of my experience in the most wonderful city on earth.
Moments in my life that carry some kind of nostalgic meaning always stand out. I can recall even the strangest details related to the experience. For example, I'll never forget what I was wearing that day - a business casual outfit screaming “soccer mom” long before the term had been coined as a thing.
My taupe, ribbed, sweater paired with khaki pants and brown boots. The pants had a skinny ankle and the sweater had three mock, mother of pearl buttons just below the v-neck. To complete the look I tied a peach, floral scarf around my neck, wore small pearl earrings and the one piece of jewelry I always wore when traveling solo – my huge fake engagement ring.
As I stood there, looking like a flight attendant from 1988, smoking a Marlboro red, and way too young to have a fiancé, I took the first breath of air in my life.
Upon extinguishing my smoke I had to find alternate transportation to my hotel and there were plenty of shuttle vans available. The van I settled on was white and I don't recall the company but the driver is another detail of the trip I'll never forget.
He was loading luggage for a few passengers so I approached and asked if he could get me to my hotel. He glanced into the van at the other passengers and asked if I would mind taking the ride to Poway first. Not knowing what Poway was I said sure and climbed in.
Everyone started chatting before we even left the airport and I was shocked, but excited, by how friendly everyone was. A far cry from the guarded personalities back in my hometown of Boston.
One couple just got back from an anniversary vacation and a single guy, who was dropped downtown first, yakked our ears off the whole way. Poway, I quickly discovered, was a town a short distance away and would be where we dropped the couple.
To get there we exited the city and headed into more mountainous regions. The drive was amazing, I wished I'd taken my camera out of my suitcase to snap some shots of the breathtaking views and scenery we rode through. Even after this many years I can still see those vistas. It makes me smile just to imagine being there.
We dropped the couple at their house and I remember thinking it would be hard to navigate through that neighborhood after a night of drinking. Every house looked exactly the same. Another thing my nor'east 'hood was lacking. The driver asked if I wanted to hop up front instead of riding in the back alone and I said sure.
Before pulling away my driver introduced himself and extended a hand for me to shake. I smiled, shook his hand and introduced myself. He smiled back and we were on the road.
This man had a name I always associated with girls, not boys, but since I don't have his permission to use it, let's call him Casey.
Casey had sun kissed, shoulder length, brown hair, and was wearing a white button up shirt in thin cotton that only had a couple buttons done at the bottom. Like he ran out of time getting to work and just said screw it.
Tight jeans and a funky necklace completed his distinctive California look. He had a sweet and genuine smile, a warm laugh and a killer tan. The moment I laid eyes on him I pegged him as a surfer and there was no question he was a hottie.
Moments in my past involving adorable men who had that much confidence usually all ended the same way – I was too shy (or too monogamous) to do anything about it no matter how much I wanted to try to flirt.
On my way to meet up with my then boyfriend meant it was one of those monogamous times. I decided to just enjoy his cuteness for as long as I had him and filed him away in my memory bank of guys I didn’t screw it up with. He'd thankfully remain tan and perfect forever.
Once we were safely away from the couple’s front door, Casey asked me if I wanted to get high.
There I was looking more straight-edge than a pot head but he pegged it dead on. A nice pull off a joint was exactly what I needed at that moment. I mean, how could I possibly have said no? I was in California, sunshine as bright as my scarf, and a van with a super cute surfer-slash-shuttle bus driver.
After we smoked we chatted away about our wildly different coasts until, seemingly too soon, we pulled up to the front door of my hotel.
This is the part where bold, single girls ask the cute surfer to hang out while they check in so they can spend the afternoon riding around town, seeing all the sights, while he shuttles back & forth before ending the day in a perfect California sunset. But as I already established, I've never been one of those girls.
Instead, I settled for a business card, a hug and a promise to “totally” look him up the next time I was on the west coast.
The conference went on and I spent hours by the pool during the day then evenings with my boyfriend and friends. We hung out at bars and made a trip to Tijuana, Mexico. It was nothing like I would have expected my first trip to SoCal to turn out, which made it just perfect.
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