I can still hear it...the roaring crash as wave hits wave and the understated surrender of foam swishing against the sand. It will never leave me. It can never leave me. The moment I saw it, the ocean beckoned, called my name, and I was forever claimed and enslaved by its wild beauty.
I can’t even imagine myself without the wonder of having seen the reckless power of the ocean. But at one point in my life, I never had.
Kansas City is a huge, smokey, sooty, unkempt place, full of bustling people, homeless people, people on buses, in cars, on bikes, on scooters, on foot...constantly moving to and fro. You never have a moment’s peace in Kansas City. Ever.
And I was caught right in the middle of it. Like a grave digger on death row.
“Ashley, I need that report done by 4 pm...sharp!”
“Ashley, there’s a call for you on line 5.”
“Ashley, you missed the deadline - again! Don’t you remember, I told you about it yesterday…”
My head spun. I was just a humble secretary guys! Give me a very tiny small break! I’ve barely finished my first year of business in college, and am in the middle of my finals of the second year! Don’t any of you remember being an overworked, under-appreciated student?
I was typing a memorandum with one hand, writing on a sticky-note with the other, and trying to explain to someone over my headset that no, Mr. Lannery was not available right now, yes he had received their message, yes I realized I was a lazy, stupid person but that yes, he would call them back as soon as possible.
I looked up to see Maken, my co-worker and good friend, peering down cheerfully at me through her pointy-rimmed glasses. I put my finger up to motion her to wait, wrapped up my call and sighed. “This has been a DAY! Thank goodness it’s half hour to quitting time!”
Maken’s face was glowing, with something more than just post-shift relief at the thought of a steaming cup of coffee and an outrageously delicious brownie at their favorite cafe hangout.
“What?” I asked.
“Guess what??” Maken squealed.
I nodded impatiently.
“My grandparents just gave me two tickets to a tropical cruise! They told me to bring a guy, but I just broke up with Chad, so...I’m bringing you!” Maken almost shouted.
“Sshh!” I waved her to be quiet, glancing nervously at the door of my supervisor’s office. “Wh-what do you mean you’re bringing me? How long is the trip? I don’t even know if they’ll let me get off…”
“I already talked to Dana” (our supervisor) “and she said you just have to send in the request off and she’d approve it! You never get time off work, and they work you like a horse around here! You’re gonna love it!” Maken started to walk away hugging herself with joy.
“Wait, wait, when?!” I shouted after her.
“Next week, Tuesday we leave!” Maken answered before disappearing around the door to the break room.
My head spun the entire weekend. The night before we were to leave, I sat in my room, packing and unpacking then repacking my suitcase, talking to my cat Meowssolini. (What can I say? My cat is the definition of a fascist dictator - egotistical, believes himself to have complete power, and will tolerate nothing but his highest standard of deserved.) I nicknamed him Benito.
“Benny, you really need to think about your beach bod. This is a crazy trip you’re taking and you really should have thought of an excuse not to go. What do you know about ocean breezes and palm trees and crazily hot shiny-bronze-skinned guys with no shirts on and...well, you really should know better…”
Meowssolini looked annoyed at me, as if I’d lost my mind.
“But when will you ever get another opportunity Benito? Really! You can’t pass this up. I mean, why let 3 weeks of paid vacation go to waste?”
Meowssolini licked a paw and snuffed contemptuously.
I stuck my face up into his and stroked his ears. “Really, I’ll miss you a lot, you know that right?” Meowssolini leaned into my hand for me to scratch his particularly hard-to-scratch spot behind his head. “But I’m really glad Mrs. Marino agreed to look after you. I couldn’t bear the thought of you getting lost or being alone in some germ-infested cat daycare, whatever they are called.”
Maken’s excited pounding at my front door made me look up. “It’s her,” I told my cat. “Prepare yourself.”
The red tornado that was Maken took complete possession of my one-bedroom apartment. “I’m here, I’m packed! Are you packed? Oh my goodness you’re not taking those are you? Here, I bought you some new bling and a few outfits for you to choose from! I know we wear the same size, so I ordered several things from my Hesperides Garden app, where they pick out cute stuff for you and mail it to you, you know?”
I rolled my eyes and glanced at Meowssolini. “I told you, didn’t I?” I muttered to him, patting his head. His face mirrored my sarcasm.
“You really need to get out more!” Maken exclaimed. “To look at both of you, you wouldn’t know whether the cat gets his critical attitude from you or the other way around!” She pushed a light-weight, flowy sundress up against me with one hand and pinched an earring onto my ear with the other, shoving me at the mirror. “There! Don’t you love it?”
“If you want me to look like a beach Gypsy, absolutely, I love it!” I answered.
“That’s the spirit!” Maken giggled and started shoving clothes into my suitcase.
“Not that way or I’ll look like I got dressed at the Salvation Army!” I exclaimed, taking the clothes away from her and folding it neatly with calculated pleats, stacking each piece of clothing together into my suitcase. Like a good Navy brat always does.
Maken ignored me, sighed and plopped onto my bed. “Just think about us - walking down the beach, brown as a buttered dinner roll, flirting with guys and listening to the waves crashing behind us…have you ever been to Carmel-by-the-Sea?”
“No, I’ve only ever been to Chocolate-by-the-Lake,” I replied sarcastically.
“No! That’s my grandparents’ home, Carmel-by-the-Sea!” Maken looked annoyed for the first time today. “You mean you’ve never actually heard of it? It’s a really well-known resort place where millionaires live. My grandparents will meet us there and go with us to O’ahu.”
“Actually, although this may shock you, I’m not that familiar with rich people resorts. Amazing isn’t it? I just have such a lavish place,” I continued in my sarcastic tone, waving my hand around my 500-square-feet of apartment.
Maken laughed. “Then you are in for the time of your life girl!”
The flight went well enough. Except the takeoff and the landing. This was my first flight too, so that was a bit scary. I left permanent nail marks in Maken’s hand.
The layover was in Houston, TX. As the plane skirted to a stop, Maken and I rose on stiffened legs to walk to the mouth of the jet bridge. Our layover was only supposed to be 45 minutes. Maken and I pulled our luggage over to the nearest coffee shop and treated ourselves to a mid-Saturday morning coffee with blueberry scones.
“Mmm...aren’t these so good?” I murmured with my mouth full.
“The best, especially with icing,” Maken replied. “Can’t wait to get to California! We are supposed to land in Los Angeles at 4:10 pm and my grandparents will pick us up. We’ll spend the night at their place before heading out. It’s been too long since I’ve seen them!” She beamed into her coffee cup. Come to think of it, I’d never seen Maken frown or cry. She is just a perennially happy person.
Forty-five minutes flew by, and we listened to every single crackling announcement over the loudspeaker. Finally at 12:35 pm, a gravelly voice said, “Flight headed to Los Angeles will be delayed due to technical difficulties. We apologize for any inconvenience and will notify you when your flight becomes available.”
Maken and I looked at each other. “How long delayed?” she wondered.
We made our way to the information desk. “Hi, we have a flight booked for Los Angeles that was supposed to leave at 12:15 but it’s been delayed. Can you tell us please how long the delay will be?” Maken asked sweetly to the young woman at the desk wearing a uniform.
The desk attendant looked through her computer system. “Looks like your flight will be delayed...possibly by 2 hours. Please make yourselves comfortable and we are sorry for the inconvenience. Go ahead and check back in here every hour for updates! Can I help you with anything else?” She smiled pleasantly.
“No, thank you,” Maken replied.
I turned around and sighed. “Oh well. I guess this means….”
“Airport bomb!” Maken burst out.
We’ve airport bombed before when we had unexpected delays. An airport bomb is when two best friends run all over the airport, pretending you’re there as a tourist and generally spending more money and getting more stuff to cram in your suitcases than you should.
Maken texted her grandparents. Then she and I took selfies next to a cutout of an astronaut holding a Texas state flag. I posed beside a statue of a cowboy with spurs, feigning a kiss on its hard, cold, germy lips. Maken took a masked selfie with a good-looking guy who so happened to need her phone number for information on a computer system (I grimaced). We toured the Lone Star Flight Museum and finished our exploration off with a satisfying Tex-Mex taco salad lunch in one of the eateries.
Glancing at the time on her cellphone, Maken panicked. “It’s 2:50 pm already! What if we missed the flight??”
We hurried back to the information desk.
The same desk attendant looked up our flight and a frown crept across her face. “Looks like your flight has not left yet...but it isn’t supposed to leave for another 45 minutes due to extended mechanical issues...I’m sorry about that.”
Both of us plumped down into the waiting room seats. “Well...what should we do now?” Maken asked.
I shrugged. “Make Snapchat faces?”
So the next 45 minutes we giggled over Snapchat. I really have no idea how many photos we posted.
The gravelly voice came over the loudspeaker again. “Flight bound for Las Angeles will not be departing tonight. Passengers intending to take this flight, please make your way to the front desk to receive your compensation. We apologize for the inconvenience.”
Maken and I looked at each other again in horror. Not departing tonight? Were we going to be stuck in Texas forever? Sunny Maken looked so downcast that I had to think of something.
“We’re going to hitch-hike,” I announced.
“Yeah, right,” Maken scoffed.
“No, really! People do it for fun all the time!”
“Yeah, and get mugged and robbed and probably murdered!” Maken exclaimed. “Besides, where would we stay? It would take days and days to hitch-hike all the way to Carmel!”
I grinned. “Not with The Golden Pass,” I said. I don’t know why it worked every time. It was just a fake pregnancy belly but when the car broke down on the way to Thanksgiving at my uncle’s, my sister had tried this. The rest of the family hid behind the stranded car with the dead battery while she stood on the side of the road and looked very pregnant.
Maken’s eyes widened. “You didn’t...! Ash, you’re a genius!”
We spent the night in a Comfort Inn the airport paid for, enjoyed our free continental breakfast and set off. Taxiing around Houston to pawn off valuables, we made travelling easier by packing backpacks, tarps, water bottles, hiking boots and bungee cords. The last item I needed before we got the show on the road was a loose-fitting maternity peasant dress that looked like it could fit twins in the 8th month.
Maken looked the more likely candidate for wearing it. “Oh no, you’re not making me pregnant!” she exclaimed when I looked at her with devilish glee.
“You better believe I am!” I said. I stuffed the fake pregnancy pillow into her jeans, and pushed the maternity dress over her head.
“Ok, but on one condition!” she grinned, pulling lipstick out of her backpack. She dolled me up in skimpy shorts and a tank, hoop earrings and gobs of anti-smearing makeup. Cautiously we popped our heads out of the women’s bathroom. “All clear,” I said, and we exited out the back door.
We took a bus out to a lone strip of road on the highway. It was a dumb place to put a bus stop, to be sure - hot, dusty, with lots of cars zooming past.
It only took about 10 minutes of Maken waddling and me sauntering down the road for a very slick sports car to pull up alongside us. “You ladies need some help?” a 20-odd year old asked us. He stuck his blond head out the window and his blue eyes sparkled. His muscular arm flexed as it rested on the open window. Beside him, his clean-cut, curly-haired, dark-complected friend grinned at us.
“We’d appreciate that,” I answered.
“You need to go to the hospital?” the second young man asked.
“No, I was just trying to get back to where we need to be,” Maken answered, giggling.
“Where would that be?”
“We are actually headed to California to be with her grandparents,” I said.
The blond whistled. “Wow, long trip! Well, we could probably take you as far as White Sands,” he said. “By the way, I’m Hunter, and this is Lamarcus.”
Lamarcus held up his hand to say hi.
“Thank you gentlemen very much. We’ll be glad to provide any kind of food or drink or gas that you need…” I began.
“Nope, not hearing it...that is unless it offends you if we don’t accept,” Lamarcus answered.
Maken smiled. “How about we strike a bargain. We stop in Caverns of Sonora, take in some sights and get some sleep - Ashley and I will pay for the rooms and cavern tour.”
“Deal,” Hunter nodded.
The double date was a hit. I really liked Hunter; he was down-to-earth, funny, and had the biggest heart I’d ever seen. Lamarcus and Maken seemed to be very attracted to each other...she wasn’t one for blushing but she kept pinking up like a schoolgirl. By the time we got to White Sands she had ditched the pregnancy pillow and exchanged numbers with Lamarcus.
I laughed as I watched them talking, close enough to feel fireworks but too shy to kiss.
“Just kiss her already,” I heard Hunter stage-whispering before he headed over to me with a grin. “Those two. Lamarcus looks like a tough guy but he is really bad at losing his heart to a pretty girl.”
“Well, maybe they’ll keep in touch and I’ll see you again,” I remarked.
“You know I have a phone number too,” Hunter said.
“Oh...ok well I just naturally assumed you are back in the 90s and only use payphones…”
Hunter chuckled and handed me his number on a gum wrapper. “Give me a call. You don’t have to be in trouble. I’d just like to hear from you.”
The greyhound bus screeched to a stop and the guys bid us goodbye. Lamarcus finally stole a kiss from Maken before stepping back on the platform.
A sigh escaped Maken’s lips as she waved goodbye. “I wish they were coming,” she muttered.
We finally reached Carmel-by-the-Sea and immediately soaked up the sun on the beach with Maken’s grandparents. Stretched out on a beach towel, I breathed in the warm sweet-spicy air. “It tastes like salt, sugar and cinnamon…” I said softly.
“Yeah...just think what O’ahu will taste like!” Maken agreed.
Two days later, we were headed for O’ahu by boat. I had never experienced such luxury. I could order anything I wanted, whether it be lunch, or a drink or the hottest singer from the band on the main deck! It would never be mine in real life because I could never pay for it, but having rich grandparents is definitely a perk for Maken.
A storm cut our cruising joy short. We had to stay below decks while it rocked our ship to and fro, causing Maken to swoon greenly. “When are we gonna be at the shore?” she moaned.
“It’ll be about 10 tomorrow morning, sweetie,” her grandfather replied.
I chatted with Maken’s grandmother and we passed the time pleasantly, except for Maken heaving.
When we finally got to shore, we made a horrible discovery. The hotel reservation Maken’s grandparents made had been cancelled because there was a tropical storm the previous night. The poor hotel with its charming thatched roof looked shambled and dismal. So did we.
“Well, now what?” Grandma asked Grandpa.
Grandpa raised his finger. “I know just the thing.” One town over, he rented a small beach shack for us to stay in. We enjoyed the five days of our stay, sunning and swimming in an albeit more modest fashion but no less pleasurable.
Getting back to Carmel-by-the-Sea, we bid Maken’s grandparents goodbye and headed to our plane flight returning to Kansas City. Like the last one, we were in for a wait. We sat down and flipped through magazines quietly until we heard a familiar voice.
“Hey girls! You sure look brown!”
Maken saw Lamarcus first and flung her arms around him. Hunter sat down next to me. This flight home was gonna be fun.