In the spring of 2014, I found myself travelling cross country for a job opportunity in Santa Rosa, California. Flying via Virgin Airlines from Orlando, Florida into San Francisco, the change of scenery was agreeable and I was excited at the new prospects ahead. Yet, my love of experiencing new destinations and adventure has always been marred by an equal hatred of air travel. I mean, let’s face it, a dark haired, foreign-looking man with facial hair and a name like Demosthenes is the perfect example of the types of “guests” the TSA loves to have. They take one look at me and Photoshop negative stereotypes on my face in their minds. “It is him!” they rejoice. “The one we have been waiting for! The bearded guy with the unpronounceable name! Our quotas have been met!” They pull me out of line and molest me with wry smiles on their glum faces.
Despite the invasiveness of American airport security, the very nature of flying has always bothered me. I begin each trip trying to purge my memory of previous travel horrors such as the time my flight nearly lost control during a take-off in London, or when my plane’s engines died twenty minutes into a flight out of Frankfort, or even the time we had to take a 45-degree dive into Athens during a blizzard. The stock movie sound effects that prelude a plane crash are usually the last thing you want blaring through your ears during the onset of a supposedly relaxing trip.
I had never traveled with Virgin before. The thought of an airline associated with media megastores gleefully advertising the latest One Direction album did not exactly fill me with confidence. Primarily I was interested in any other direction that did not involve going down uncontrollably. The good prices and non-stop flight, however, were enough to convince me otherwise.
The inside of the plane was aglow with purple, pink, and blue lights that evoked a cross between 1950’s Americana and a jukebox on LSD. I was half-expecting a disco ball in place of my emergency oxygen mask. When it was time for the usual safety instructional, everyone’s monitors lit up with an over-choreographed music video featuring break-dancing with life vests. God forbid that someone took it literally in the case of a real emergency and would try to head-spin their inflatables on. There would be a sea of badly dancing drowning people.
Despite the showmanship, the flight was actually quite pleasant. I arrived in San Francisco on time and caught a bus heading to Petaluma, a city just south of my eventual destination. I had initially hoped to explore San Francisco a bit beforehand but the very thought of lugging two suitcases and a pair of backpacks through the crowded, trolleyed Frisco streets persuaded me against it. I could barely cross a road without looking like a man in desperate need of a cart or camel.
The bus ride was quick and painless. As we rounded through the Presidio, the thick fog that had blanketed San Francisco Bay momentarily parted to reveal the Golden Gate Bridge standing majestically like a magnificent red beacon amidst a bright blue sky. The mountains that surrounded the hill sides were inviting and instantly reminded me that I was not in the flat, swampy land of Florida any longer. Having been used to living in a state where the tallest topography was a street-side curb, even the smallest of hills was a welcoming sight.
Sitting in front of me was a young couple in their mid-twenties. I could easily tell from their accents and disposition that they were from New York and had not really traveled much before. When we passed billboards and banners in San Francisco proclaiming, “Go Giants!” they remarked that it was incredible that Californians loved the New York Giants as much as they did. I didn’t want to dash their illusions by introducing them to the world of baseball.
About halfway through the bus ride, we passed a storefront advertising Brazilian Jujitsu. The guy, almost to himself, remarked that he had always wanted to learn Jujitsu. This, somehow, offended the girl quite a bit. “How can you say that?” she yelled. “I thought you were Catholic!” The guy, clearly dumbfounded, echoed the same thought that ran through my head, “What are you talking about?” “Why the hell would you want to be Jewish?” she demanded. The guy’s face palm was choreographed to my own. The American education system had succeeded yet again.
The hotel in Petaluma was cheap but decent. Thankfully, I did not find any blood on the sheets or cigarette burns in the curtains that had tainted some of my past hotel experiences so I unpacked and relaxed. Having learned that the hotel did not offer a continental breakfast, I eased my dashed hopes of a morning waffle by exploring the surrounding venues. It was high time for a haircut so I dropped into a local salon where I received what is quite frankly the most sensual haircut of my entire life. The girl spent about forty minutes styling and detailing my hair in ways I had never sought out or had thought possible outside of a film shoot. This wasn’t some swanky establishment after all – it was a mere SuperCuts but this girl seemed intent on adding the “super” to the cut. She followed it up by washing my hair and massaging my head for about twenty minutes. If this was the way Californians got their hair cut, I could very well see myself living here and going back for checkups every two weeks.
Indeed, life in California would bring on many such surprises. If Texas can be described as “a whole ‘nother country,” California would be “a whole ‘nother sense of being.” There is honestly no other place in the world quite like it nor could I think that the world would be able to handle it if there was.