It was early on a Sunday morning when I pulled up to the ramp outside of an assisted living community in Huntington Beach, California. As I was waiting I thought perhaps I was picking up an elderly man or woman for a ride to church or a breakfast. Instead, a younger, middle-aged African American woman appeared at my door.
“Oh, it smells good in here,” Mary said as she strapped the seat belt across her lap.
“Thanks,” I said, “Lavender.”
Mary was just getting off of an all-night shift that she works twice a week at the retirement home.
“The map is going to tell you to take the 405,” she said, referring to the freeway that runs through Orange and Los Angeles Counties, “But take the PCH [Pacific Coast Highway].”
A sucker for the spacious scenery that such a route provides, particularly as it runs through Sunset and Seal Beaches, Mary did not have to tell me to change trek twice.
As we drove along the oceanside highway, a grand vista of the Pacific panning out beside us, a view of the Long Beach ports in the distance ahead of us, I learned that Mary is passionate about providing companionship to an overlooked population.
“I really respect your vocation,” I told her, “especially given how little we care for our elders in this society.”
She agreed and then asked about whether I drive for Lyft full-time–a question I am asked often.
I gave her my usual spiel: I’m saving money to move up North to Humboldt County with the hopes of establishing myself as a writer.
“Oh,” she said, “My mother is a writer.”
Available on paperback and digital copy, her mother’s book is a spiritual memoir of sorts that engages the Christian Bible for inspiration to live through life’s tough conditions, treating them as opportunities for healing and growth. Right now her mother is in the process of writing a second book that she won’t say much about. “You know how writer’s hold their ideas close before they publish them,” Mary told me.
She asked where up North I’d like to live.
“Eureka,” I responded without hesitation, “A sleepy coastal town a few hours south of Oregon.”
“Wow,” she said, “that’s way up there.”
I told her that I’m drawn to the quiet of it, though it is a well-established city with roots in the lumber industry. There are a few newspapers up there to which I have applied, as I explained to Mary, but I will pick up a job doing menial labor as I attempt to make an inroad in print journalism. In the meantime, I will continue to write on my own.
When I asked Mary if she had traveled anywhere, she said she had been to Ensenada, a coastal city in Mexico, south of San Diego on the Baja California Peninsula.
“But I haven’t really been anywhere else,” she added. A native of North Long Beach, Mary said that she wants to see the world.
“What is stopping you?” I asked.
“That is a good question. I don’t know. I guess it’s just a matter of doing it.”
“Well,” I said, “You can always start with Eureka!”
She laughed, but I was serious. I have two close friends up there, married, one of whom is a church pastor, who live in a large Victorian home that functions in part as a retreat space for travelers. There is a big wing reserved specifically for guests on the front side of the house. I told Mary about this and asked if she would ever want to stay there.
“Yes,” she said, “Sign me up.”
Upon dropping her off outside of her apartment complex in Long Beach I jotted down her e-mail address and told her that I’d be in touch, that I’d just have to be in contact with my friends and get back to her.
Tired and ready for sleep, she exited my car. Later in the day, after I notified my friends up North who said it would be fine to pass along one of their e-mail addresses, I sent word immediately to Mary, imagining a soul-empowering journey that might work to refresh her spirit, convince her that seeing the world could start with a simple road trip along the California Coast–this time to a different coastal town.
Mary may never take me up on that invitation, but at the very least a seed is planted. Within me, if not within her. Stay the path, a still, small voice told me, and you will find a home in which God can abide. Eureka!