"Wow! So you're a local; a rare breed here. What's that like?"
It's a 17 minute drive from the home I was raised in, if I don't make the lights. It can be 14 minutes if I do. The signs say 35, but no one will cop you for going two to three ticks above forty. There's a small hill at the base of the diverge and if you take it quickly something in you smiles a little. Parking was once a pick-up game; now it is professional football. Eyes scan lots and space size and time limits. Elsewhere I'd pay closer notice to the location and surroundings in order to find the where the hell I 'd parked. Here it doesn't matter much. I'll get back to the car eventually. The knowledge that I'm keeping the space from someone else is only negligibly effective in quickening my departure.
I decide to take a lap.
I've always preferred the left side of the street. It's against the flow of traffic, and I'd rather be a salmon than a tuna. Down the side street the movie theatre has gone corporate. I tried, I did. I bought the inflated ticket. I sat in the upgraded seats. Yes; the bougie chocolate called to me from the sparkling display case. But no amount of placatingly salvaged aquarian mural will contend with munching Junior Mints during a 4pm showing of "Juno," clutching gum-wrapper tickets.
Some one has soaped the fountain again, but looks like a few nights ago. Remnants of bubbles still erupt playfully at the blowholes. Here we waited for friends to converge and migrate. To brunch, to dinner, to drinks; lithium powered geo-location was entirely laughable. It was always: meet by the Green Egg.
Over there we feigned adulthood for a highly suspecting bouncer (not all of us successfully). Here someone kissed me. Held me a little too long, and a little too hard.
Up ahead is the pub where trivia was lost (again). There's the sports bar, where we've nearly all thrown up. Here I sipped hot chocolate on one of the very first of these solo sojourns, after a birthday party where I didn't fit in.
Perhaps one of the only frozen and yet enduring magnitudes of old, The Varsity, playfully lights up oaks. Presented using 35mm prints, with refreshingly unequalized sound, the films are as golden as the atrium's art-deco embellishments. There's a fair crowd at the larger showings, but the sparse patrons of afternoon black and whites make me nervous.
If this one goes, so do I.
Smells begin to filter outside of the ice creamery, the asian fusion place, the gyro spot. Some of these crop ups are like rotating taps; restaurant after restaurant cycles in and out, served to an of-the-moment crowd of 30-somethings. Others are steadfast, despite seemingly pinnacle-less rent. A few have their shutters closed in reverence to an old curfew. The last were seated at 9:30 sharp and they have long since left the air to chill their seats. Other spots seem to spill out of their boundaries, sound billowing out through the french windows. Raucous with an inimitable crowd of coeds, buzzed dads, and palpably awkward first dates who mistakenly thought "this place looks good for couples."
The summer cool has finally set in. I could don my jacket, but I like the shimmer that is currently teasing up the hairs on my shoulders. Another glass of wine and I'd need no coat at all.
Exhaled smoke wafts past. Those who smoke in this town are either too old to pretend they'll quit or too foreign to recognize the irony. It is vibrant and exclusive to hear a different language from each of the couples who stroll by. Though sometime I wonder:
if nearly everyone I see is really not from here at all?
Each intersection pings the database of memories; the edges of specificity rubbed opaque with time. But the corners of these recollections are still sharp, still clear. Here my friends busked for hours to a transient audience of passers by intermingling with glances of passengers in passing cars. There we sat in puffed recliners, dreaming of what we'd invent in order to afford such luxury.
I continue down the well-lit road. Now a pretentious excuse for rented time; then a sprawling bookstore. We sat on the floor here, in the sexual health section, reading out loud from the dirty parts. Kicking each other's laughing forms in attempt to not let the other literary parishioners hear.
Across the crossing is construction (always, construction). My heart pangs for a moment for the feel of tule and silk combed between once tiny fingers. The smell of freshly built wooden castles and toy frogs to leap over comfort completely; like the draping of a soft blanket or the breaking of a warm biscuit. The iron rebar splashed with mud and paint is a sharp affront compared to a child's play store.
I have returned to my car. This part isn't much different. I still press "on," as I did nearly ten years ago, though then with the little blue "alien car." I shift to "D," check the mirror, pull out, drive on.
I head east, as always, to escape the crowd. It's hardly my first time pulling away from a night that I'm not yet ready to end. But I'll try for a new route this time. This time; on the long way home. Kipling, to Addison, to Cowper.
Here Tesla's line sidewalks where once there were station wagons. Ornamental bamboo threatens to overtake the last vestige of a chainlink fence; the one octogenarian holdout on the block. A little laugh catches something sharp as I reflect on how much they must have paid and how much it is now worth.
The homes here are an amalgamation of decades, demolitions, and designs. A wooden shackled two-story is encircled with decomposed granite walkway and cascading trumpet vines. A geometrically pleasing spread of treated birch, insulated glass, and angular metal rise to a circular master suite. A deck that's about as used as a first-generation iPod extends from it's exterior. Dwarfed by juxtaposition, an original 1920's single-story sits in perfect center of the lot. It is quaint and perfect; I resist the urge to guess the multi-million price tag. I dream that it is a resisting relic, uncomplicated by time. Completely unideal by today's standards (who would waste such square footage on front yard?), but entirely refreshing.
Another block south, another turn right. A left when I realize this is one of those funny little pieces that is "NOT A THROUGH STREET." A right again, towards home.
Waverly. Somehow, I always end up on Waverly.
Currently Listening To: "Waverly." by me, from my car.
A curated driving playlist for late nights on the long way home.
I don't think it needs too much explanation because the range and variety speak for themselves. I just simply invite you, next time you're driving home from an evening in Downtown Palo Alto (or Downtown wherever home is for you) to put on this playlist and opt for the scenic route.