the nothing whatever...

Couch Surfing Diaries Part Two

As soon as I stepped off the train there was a feeling I got about San Clemente. I am not one for the supernatural, but there is something about arriving at a place for the first time that kicks off some primal alertness within me, as though my body and mind are enhancing the senses to work out if it I am in danger or if I should relax or if I should be happy or whatever. I know it is not the case, but the feeling it creates is as though the place itself has an aura. Sometimes this aura is deceptive, like in Da Nang, Vietnam, where the place initially gave the aura of a dangerous town, and then we went on to have a fantastic seafood soup with the most accommodating of Vietnamese families. With San Clemente, as soon as I stepped off the train I felt this relaxed vibe wash over me, like I had just been dropped into a vat of warm honey. And everything that has happened to me in San Clemente since my initial impression has reassured me that, in this case, I was correct.

I arrived here at about 11am in the morning knowing that CSH-2 wasn't going to be finishing work until 7pm and that I had a full day to fill. I had anticipated this, and before I left Santa Barbara I had gotten on to the Google and found a place that did surfboard repair, also giving the guy a call to ask him how long and how much etc. Having a day to fill wouldn't usually bother me except that it also looked like I would have to be a snail the entire day, lugging around everything I owned from place to place any time I wanted to see or do anything. Also, if there was surf, it would mean I would have to leave everything I owned lying on the beach, which was a less than enticing thought.

But first thing was first, and that was getting to the ding repair shop, which, of course, was a mile and a bit uphill. San Clemente, unlike Santa Barbara or LA for that matter, has no separation between its hilly, tectonic terrain and its coastal terrain. It is a series of levels bored into the side of a gradual hill that keeps rising, street after street after street. The architecture of the place is extremely Spanish, white concrete villas with red rooves everywhere, with CSH-2 later telling me that they wanted to model San Clemente around Santa Barbara's Spanish influence. Call me crazy, but it feels like they went to the next level here. In order to get to the ding repair shop, I had to go up Avenida Del Mar, turn left onto North Ola Vista, turn right onto West Avineda Palizada and turn left onto Avenida De La Estrella. I might as well have been in Spain.

After what felt like about an hour I finally arrived, sweating, exhausted, and obviously a strange sight judging by the way the ding repair guy was looking at me. We exchanged some dialogue, the typical stuff when you look and sound like you are not from around the place, and he said that he could do a same day repair for $100 bucks, which was fine by me. By my reckoning, if I played my cards right, the same day repair offered two services; the first being the fixing of a surfboard, the second being the temporary custodian of everything I owned. I asked him when it was likely I would be able to pick the board up and he said around 6pm, and then I asked him if it was OK if I left all my shit there until then. He said yes. Well played, Ben. Well played.

I spent the next 4 or so hours in the surf. San Clemente pier serves as a breakwall for the sand-bottomed beach, rebounding the swell back into itself and peaking a section earlier than the rest of the wave. I paddled out to the right side of the pier where the left-hander was breaking and surfed the hell out of it. It was tiny, but with time to kill and a foreign break, it was meditative, it was new, it was fun. After, I found a random free WiFi spot for some lounge that I'll probably never actually go to and sent a message to CSH-2 letting him know my plans and asking whether the offer to give me lift to his place was still on the table. We arranged for him to pick me up from the gas station 20 metres from the ding repair shop, and everything was golden. The funny thing with traveling is that in most cases it feels like a red carpet is just rolling out. Granted, it is never rolling out on its own and every now and then you have to give it a few prods and pushes before it does, but usually if you have patience and perspective, the rolling will feel like destiny unfolding in front of you.

CSH-2 and I got along from the moment we shook hands and he helped me load my shit into his car. I could just tell he was one of the good guys; the banter was great, and he was one of the most accommodating people I have ever met, offering lifts and putting himself out of the way just to help me out. He asked me if I had eaten, and I told him no, and he said that was good because we were going around to his friends place for dinner that night. “Fucking awesome” I said, “Fucking awesome.”

CSH-2's friends are modeled from the same mold as CSH-2 himself. Some really cool people, and I don't mean cool in the “too cool” sense like I might have in the last blog, I mean friendly, smart, well-adjusted, funny people that are just content to share around their own happiness. They surf. They home brew. They have traveled. They have a half pipe in the garage. I know I only just met them, and lord knows I can understand the importance of internalizing drama or anxiety from people who's business it is none of, but from what I can see, they essentially just live the good life without being pretentious enough to preach about how fulfilling it is.

The surf has been close to completely flat for the last couple of days, so my days have entailed waking up late, taking a Lonely Planet book or my Kindle and just chilling at some bar/cafe for a few hours until happy hour kicks in. I will get the lunch special. I will get a beer. I will pay less than $15 US dollars for it. Then, I will contently wander down to the beach, lay around and read until the sun loses its warmth to the chill of the sea breeze. It is not as though I am living the life of Action Man at the moment, but I have found that having the ability to occupy myself is one of greatest attributes I have got when it comes to solo travel, as it means I am not relying on a third party to escape my idle mind. There is also something to be said for saving some cash by managing those instant gratification impulses, and I feel that it is just going to make me a more appreciative person. Self betterment for the win.

CSH-2 host's couch-surfers the same way that I would if I had a couch. From what I can tell, he and his friend base have a set of weekly routines that constitute as the break-ups of the working week, and on Wednesday's they will usually go to Pizza Port, a gourmet pizza place that doubles as a craft brewery, followed by a trip across town to an Irish dive bar to watch some stand up comedy. CSH-2 does not change these routine's for the sake of the couch-surfer, instead he integrates the surfer into the group with the understanding that the novelty of his routine is fresh to them. I had always wanted to see some stand up comedy in America - you may recall me getting into a dispute with an obnoxious New Yorker over some comedy show tickets in Times Square a few years ago - so I naturally jumped at the opportunity to go along.

Driving to the bar I began speaking with CSH-2 about the caliber of comedy I should be expecting. He laughed, explaining that even though the show is free, usually the comedians are bought in from Hollywood or from the greater LA, so you get a fairly mixed bag as far as caliber is concerned. Some comedians do the gig as a means of research, literally bringing notepads on stage and writing notes about the crowd's reaction to certain jokes mid-set. The amount of analysis that goes into comedy has always interested me, and I have often been guilty of mentally laboring over a joke that I have said in some social situation and working out how I could have made it better, a pretty geeky thing to do if you are not a comedian. It is like a science, comedians themselves being at the forefront of discovering the perfect formula to generate humor, their raw objective analysis of sets providing a much needed distancing between their profession and their own integrity as a human being.

CSH-2 and I also discussed hecklers, and how insanely stupid you have to be to try and humiliate the funniest guy in the room when he has a microphone. We arrive at the bar, order a beer, and the show starts with the MC (a comedian himself) riling everybody up and telling us to “get ready to laugh”.

“Do we have anybody who has never been here before?”

I tentatively raise my hand, the only one in the room to do so. To my dismay, my anonymity has already been unmasked.

“Ahhh, fresh meat! Where are you from sir?”

Great, I thought, just be as passive as possible and eventually he will go away.

“Australia.”

“Australia! Wow! And what brought you here?”

“A plane.”

Whoops. Ben, what the fuck are you doing? Don't try be funny! You are not funny! Passive you idiot. Passive.

The crowd laughed. I immediately winced, waiting for an onslaught.

“A client? What kind of client would hire an Australian? I thought all you guys did was drink beer and fuck Kangaroo's.”

Through some majestic stroke of luck, he misheard. Somebody in the front row informed the MC of what I had actually said.

“Ooooh, a plane. Funny guy, funny guy. Round of applause for the Australian.”

And that was it, the attention had already been forwarded on to the opening act. My own smart-arsery nearly backfired, but I got lucky. Thank god for his aging eardrums.

I am not sure if it is the case week to week (CSH-2 did mention some excruciating shows that had happened in the past where the proverbial crickets were blaring) but every comedian that night was worth seeing. There was a really diverse array of styles, some having the storytelling approach with a heavy punchline, others being the more stand-and-deliver one-liner types that keep a long hum of laughter over the entirety of their set.

“I went to eat a box of Animal Crackers the other day and on the box it said 'Do not eat if seal is broken', so I open it up and sure enough...”

“I used to be in French club in school. French club...who here was involved in French club, you? Its so silly isn't it don't you think? You don't really do much aside from surrender to the German club.”

Ahhhhh......classic.

On my final night, CSH-2's girlfriend hosted myself, CSH-2 and a few more of their friends for an enchilada dinner. Again, good people, good conversation, good food, good home-brew. Their brew setups are something to be envied. I want to invest in something similar when I eventually stabilize somewhere. I talk the talk, but these guys walk the walk. They have everything from Nitro Milk Stouts on tap to two Flander's Red Sour's aging in the cooler. CSH-2 bought over a bottle of his new English Mild Ale for everyone to try, and he was so hard on himself.

“Hmmm, its a bit dark, a bit too much body as well. I think next time I won't put as much of the darker malts in.”

Yep, OK, you do that and I'll drink the rest of this nectar of the God's. It was better than anything I had brewed and probably will brew. I remember the days when I used to get furious at my brew buddy, Pete, for having the same uncompromising, self-deprecating mentality, but maybe it is a necessity to truly become a quality brewer. I'll have to stop being so easy on myself.

CSH-2 insisted he drop me at the station in the morning, even though it was the day he is meant to be working from home and would usually sleep in. The time had flown, and a big part of me was weighing up staying another night in San Clemente. CSH-2 and his friends hospitality and good nature made me feel as though I had stumbled onto somewhat of a rarity, a circle of acceptance, a little gem in Orange County. A sort of home away from home.

“Yeah, this is the part of couch surfing that sucks, you meet these people and you get along and then before you know it, they're gone. But it just means you'll have to come back.” he said as we unloaded the stuff from his truck and onto my back, the mid-morning sun already beading some drops of sweat on my forehead as I watched surfers scrambling for a set that had just bounced itself off the pier.

Maybe one day I will.