By Peter Rajchert
(I recently visited Venice for the first time and found myself immediately drawn to its community. I live in Canada, but hope to return with my fiancée some time soon, whenever that may be. – Peter)
It wasn’t the last stop for the 704 but everyone was getting off and I did too. Maybe it was societal pressure. I did need to urinate after all that soda on the ride from Hollywood. I had my heavy pack of books and clothes. It tired me out, made me thirsty all over again.
“This is Santa Monica,” I thought. “It’s clean and neat with a promenade of dinosaur fountains, stores and folks meandering worry-free and not a public restroom in sight.”
So, I drifted toward the ocean with the other crowd, the crowd that didn’t have shopping on its mind.
This was big. I had never seen the Pacific before and there it was below Palisades Park, enormous and different in temperament from its Atlantic cousin. Here I also found a restroom, just across Ocean Avenue at the edge of the park. Now relieved, I took in the varying rich hues of green found in the leaves of palms, bushes and lawns. The men resting on the lawns wore old clothes, older than mine. They weren’t in Santa Monica on vacation. Together we inhabited two different universes. Although, that’s the wrong way of looking at it, isn’t it? If someone lives in another universe, it’s much easier for me to ignore him.
Four pretty women in shorts, sandals, and loose tops walked past me and turned down the nearby staircase, their slowness a result of the measured way of life in Santa Monica. The broad beautiful beach below waited for them. The women would have a lot of space to rest. Summer was months away and with it the promise of thousands of near-nude bodies, some only inches from one another, others touching pleasurably skin to skin.
I listened to the excitement in the women’s voices as they moved down the stairs and across the bridge over the Pacific Coast Highway. They were sharing the joy of the moment with one another. The only way I could share my joy with my fiancée was through a text message, which I sent to her English mobile phone, hoping that my digital words would convey the saltiness of the air and the warmth of the California sun.
I had to taste the ocean, feel it on my feet and hands, take a dip in it if I could; although, there was barely a soul bathing in the water. But the sand was warm and soft. I sat in it and luxuriated myself, removing my sneakers and letting the waves tenderly caress my feet. That’s when it occurred to me that I was relaxed. I had entered another frame of mind; I was at peace, unworried and without a bother.
My trip wasn’t finished, however. Mom and Dad were a few miles away at a hotel in Venice Beach. I began walking towards them with my shoes off, dangling from pack. Every so often, I ran into people – parents with overweight kids rolling in the waves making sand-pies, a slender teenaged girl in a white bikini jogging for the life of her, and a few others. Mostly I was alone with the Pacific and its steady purifying breeze.
At one point, it occurred to me that if I kept to the ocean, my ocean, I would end up missing my parents’ hotel. Thus, I started to cut across the beach and into the arms of humanity. Its unified life-affirming pulse began to pound harder and harder. This was Ocean Front Walk in Venice Beach. I knew right away – as unbelievable as that may sound – that I had entered a real community. And I don’t mean people simply living together in one place. This sort of setup exists wherever one goes. On Ocean Front Walk every person, be it a tourist or local, belonged to Venice Beach. This belonging created unspoken relationships between all the people in town, but placed no pressure on them to conform. Knowing this was delightfully liberating. The muscular man in black briefs, the reggae band, the tourist with a camera hanging from his neck, and everyone else – including me – was a member of a happy collective, nonjudgmental and welcoming.
My parents’ hotel bore witness to this scene of humanity gone right. In the hallway on the second floor just down from our room, I could sit by the open window, feel the presence of the ocean and take hope that maybe in the future humanity would turn out all right.