July 23rd 2014
Prior to Tom’s arrival I came out of a successful interview and two days later landed myself a paid internship at a local publishing company. I don’t start for another four weeks so I figure now’s the perfect time to take that road trip home to Bixby Canyon. It’s a big step to take Tom home but I want to show him and my folks just how serious I am about him.
Neither me or Tom usually do mornings all that well but today were making an exception much to his initial dismay. After several prolonged attempts at prying him out of bed we are finally up and on the road by 6am. It’s possible to make it to Bixby Canyon in about 28 hours (an estimation that Tom still struggles to get his head round) but we’ve decided to break it down over a few days that way we can take our time, see the sights and enjoy the journey. The initial plan was to borrow Justin’s car but as it turns out he needs it this week however Justin’s cousin Theo is willing to let us borrow his VW camper van. Granted it’s a touch cliche, but it’s kinda fitting and besides it saves on rental fees and it can double up as cosy accommodation. The rule we’ve established is that is when your in the passenger seat you pick the music and seeing as I’m first up in the drivers seat for the last hour or two it’s been nothing but Kate Bush filling the airwaves. Whilst back home he found a newly sprung affinity for her music and in particular her songwriting. He tells me how he loves the viewpoints she adopts, how there unexpected but inspiring and how despite exploring off kilter scenarios that are alien to most she somehow gets deep under the skin of her subject matter. Personally she isn’t for me not in the slightest but despite the disconnect I love to hear to him talk about her. I love to hear him talk about anything he feels passionate about. He does so effortlessly and with a kind of a conviction that couldn’t be replicated.
Shortly after entering North Carolina we stop for a while, stretch our legs and grab some lunch at a roadside diner. There is a statue of a brown bear stood on its hind legs outside, its carved completely from wood and stands easily at least seven foot. On the way into the diner Tom playfully pets it and even attempts to tickle it before heading inside. We quickly find that the entire establishment is loosely themed around bears, the adjacent museum and gift shop (which Tom insists we check out) next door especially so. Amongst all the bear books, key rings, mugs, hats and figurines there is a small collection of bear centric knitwear. Before I can even fully register what’s in front of me, without a word Tom has already pulled an item from its hanger and is storming towards the checkout desk. By the time I catch up the woman up front has already rang it through and it’s too late. Tom is now the seemingly proud owner of what I can only describe as the worlds ugliest sweater. It is a clash of pink, brown, green blue and yellow and in the centre it features a bear dressed up in a sailor suit paddling a boat downstream. “Why on earth did you buy this, it’s horrendous!” I declare. Tom smiles without restriction and counteracts my claim ” what are you talking about its beautiful!” “Ok as both your girlfriend and a fellow human being the fact that you find THIS to be beautiful concerns me !” “But it is. See this little bear?” He points to the woollen creature sailing across his chest. “This little bear has set out into the world in search of adventure but on his travels has become lost. What you can’t see and what Patrick here can’t see…” “Patrick?!” I interrupt. “Patrick” he confirms. “Patrick the bear. What Patrick the bear and you yourself can’t see is that further down the river after a series of stormy currents and a few troublesome spots there is another bear waiting for Patrick” “what’s that bear called” I tease “I don’t know, we haven’t met her yet. But when Patrick does meet here he will know her name and everything there is to know about her. He will fall in love with her and he won’t be able to continue his adventures without her by his side. So despite the jumper looking like shit, what we see here is truly beautiful. A lost soul who unbeknownst to himself at this moment in time will not only find his way but will also find everything he never knew he wanted.” I won’t lie for all it’s silliness and despite the ugly aesthetic of the thing when he puts it like that, when his faith reflects into the most obscure of surfaces, I can’t help but see something beautiful. Smiling up at him I say to him with earnest “you know you’re crazy right?! But I hope you also know how much I love you and the way in which you see the world.” He smiles back at me, leans over and kissed me on the head.
As we leave the diner and head back towards the van (which at his point we’ve officially named Isabella) we pass the big wooden bear only this time besides petting it Tom wants to pose for a picture with him. Unable to refuse I run over to the car pull out the Polaroid from my bag and take a quick snap of Tom hugging his new best friend. Once the image develops I can’t help but laugh out loud as I put it in my purse for safe keeping.
After a day and a half of driving we decide to take our first legit break in Miami, Little Havana to be precise. Upon arriving we initially find a place to store Isabella. Besides the joy that comes with stretching our legs after driving so long, there is something naturally wonderful and endearing about just being here. The atmosphere is calm and peaceful yet it is thriving with charm. Although he dosent say anything aloud the look on his face tells me that Tom is somewhat moved by the number of family run establishments and the overall sense of community within the neighbourhood. He has such a keen sense for these kind of things and observing him and how he engages with the world has become so fascinating to me. To just watch his face light up with awe at the mere sight of something as simple as a faded political sticker in the window of an equally faded 71’ Impala brings me so much happiness. It’s like seeing the inner workings of genuine appreciation come to life. We ask the owner of an open air fruit market where we should we visit for dinner and he points us towards a bustling restaurant on 8th street. Once there we continue the trend of local recommendations and on the basis of this we all but devour a serving of Vaca Frita. A dish I’ve never had before but fall in love with instantaneously. Before heading out on our grand excursion Tom bought me a blank journal, much like the one he has. It was bought specifically to document our time together on the road. Upon finishing dinner I pull the journal from my bag and underneath a picture of Tom beside a beautiful mural we found earlier in the day I note down Vaca Frita for future reference. On the way back to the motel we stop by a little store we noticed on the way down and after browsing through the owners wares I decide to pick up a couple of trinkets as souvenirs of our time here. As we stroll leisurely back to our accommodation hand in hand I tell Tom how I could envision living here. A sentiment he warmly echoes. A couple of blocks away from where we’ve stored the camper van we encounter a lively venue named Vivir Para Esta Noche. There is a live band inside pouring out into the streets surrounding them a blend of cuban music and latin jazz. My face lights up and despite another day of driving ahead of us I take Tom by the hand and lead him inside. We grab ourselves a drink and marinate in the almost tangible atmosphere. Once inside Vivir Para Esta Noche the very concept of time dissolves, everybody is so warm and welcoming and the music…the music is to die for. The only time we break away from it is to document the experience via my camera or grab another drink. By the time we finally manage to move back into the street and away from the infectious rhythms which attracted me in the first place nearly three hours have past. Had we not had more sights to see and treasures to uncover come the morning I could have happily danced all night.