In three days I packed up my life in San Antonio and moved back in with Nolan in California. The West Coast has some magnetic pull on me, the way water always run down to the deepest crack in the tile. The way the black mould builds around it, the deep doubts that went into my decision to ever leave my home in San Diego.
In three days, we tore down the home I had built for myself, broke book shelves into splinters. Unhooked pictures I had hung to hide holes I had punched into the wall. I lost a set of keys and found them in an old shoe. I tucked my passport in a folder with pictures of my mother. Things I valued made their way into suit cases, things I could replace found their way into trash bags that were advertised to hold 40 gallons of dead grass, debris, springtime detritus. Everything I owned could fit in my Nissan and we stopped by coffeeshops to say goodbye to the friends I had made. We promised to be different in our return, I'm holding onto that promise.
I am iron-fisted and yellow-bellied. I didn't want to make it on my own anymore. I didn't want to have my pride in the way of a life shared with someone. The bravest thing to do is to love someone, the hardest thing I've ever done was drop Nolan off at the airport and wave goodbye, smiling. In three days, I quit my job and left the Hill Country I tried so hard to romanticize. I'll miss the white-walled sanctuary of a creative space to call my own. I'll miss the train that screamed its presence like a mockingbird. I'll miss the way the asphalt smelled in the post-rain break in the humidity. I'll miss a lot of things, but I'm a different person now.
I'm older now. Six months can do that to a person.
We left when we wanted to and hit El Paso by dusk. We chased elements along the way. We hit fog in some mountain range that I couldn't tell you the name of. Everything I had and loved was in that car, I didn't want to lose it all to the fog and my lack of depth perception. In the gossamer veil that covered the mountaintops. Deadly, smokey. Miscarried clouds that threatened me, I woke up Nolan from his nap and had him drive through it. He was confident, comfortable. I know I can't do some things on my own, and that solidified why I made the decision to go back. His calming presence, his reliability. His ability to save me when I'm white-knuckled and shaggy-breathed.
We chased the rain, too. Big puddles. Giant puddles. We hit them on the way to his sister's house. We saw Las Cruces in the distance and passed signs that advertised authentic Native American goods. We saw Las Cruces in the distance, we took an exit that advertised a new Wendy's opening.
The two days' drive out to California was punctuated like that. Element diverting. Pointing to distant towns, they had words like Halcyon and Sunshine in their names. They promised things, artifacts of the manifest destiny that led the founders on their journey. They had probably never felt a sun so hot. It all felt like hell sooner or later and a lot less like paradise. And up close in those small roadside towns, we saw boarded up windows, dogs on chains, billboards to buy 2,000 acres of land for $13,000. We stopped at a gas station where the coffee pot had been on so long the remaining brew was scorched and sticking to the pot. We stopped at another where the bathroom was to the side of the building and didn't have any soap. We got some spiced gum drops, the kind our grandmothers used to eat, and some cold ginger ale and left soon after in a dust cloud. We continued on out west and never shook anyone's hand along the way.
The car rides were silent sometimes, we held hands sometimes. Milo came along, too. We took turns holding him, we took turns napping. We took turns paying for gas or food or the odd scratch-off to break up the monotony of one road and a thousand miles ahead of us. We didn't eat well those few days, we slept even less. We never talked about the future, because the future was right in front of us on the I-10, merged with us onto the I-8. And when I could taste salt in my mouth, I didn't know if it was from tears, sweat, or my imagination running wild at the thought of the ocean.
The desert can play tricks on you sometimes like that, but I beat the coyote at his own game. I left Texas, left the desert, left the southwest altogether. You can find me in San Diego now, at coffeeshops and Chinese restaurants, having the life I was supposed to when I moved into this house for the first time a year ago.
Homemade Ginger Ale and Spiced Orange Peel Candies
Inspired by our road trip snack choices, a refreshing ginger ale and spiced orange peels. Pair with a scratch-off and you're all set for your next road trip.
For the Ginger Ale
- 1 piece ginger, 6-8 inches by 2-4 inches (hard t gauge, but the more you put in, the more gingery it will taste), peeled* and cut into small rounds a quarter-inch thick
- 3 1/2 cups water
- 2 cups sugar
- Pinch of salt
- Squeeze of orange slice
- 1 liter tonic water (pref. Schweppes)
- In a medium saucepan, combine water and sugar. Over medium-high heat stir until sugar is dissolved.
- Add ginger slices and bring mixture to a boil
- Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 5-7 minutes. Watch so sugar does not caramelize.
- Turn heat off. Mixture should be syrupy and fragrant. Add a pinch of salt squirt of orange juice.
- Put lid on saucepan and allow to steep for 30 minutes to 1 hour
- To assemble drink:
- For an individual drink: Pour ginger syrup in a glass about a quarter way full, top with tonic water, then with ice
- For a whole bottle: Use a decanter (for immediate use) or a hermetic bottle for later use (recommend within half an hour). Add all of the syrup and top with tonic water slowly with a funnel. Chill in refrigerator. Enjoy with the spiced orange peels.
Spiced Orange Peels
- Peel of one orange, cut into strips
- 2 cups water
- 2 cups sugar
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ginger powder
- 1/4 teaspoon chili powder
- 1/8 teaspoon cumin
- pinch of black pepper
- In a pot of boiling water, simmer orange peel strips for 15 minutes. Drain water and rinse with cold water. Rinse again. Set aside.
- In a medium saucepan, combine water and sugar and heat on medium-high until sugar is dissolved and begins to boil (watch again carefully for caramelization).
- Lower heat to medium-low and add peels and simmer for 15-20 minutes until tender and gummy.
- Put on a baking sheet with a paper towel underneath to drain some of excess syrup off.
- While peels drain, mix remaining ingredients on a shallow plate with a fork. Lay down parchment paper.
- Dip peels in sugar mixture with fork or fingers and dip on both sides. Lay on parchment paper to dry 8-12 hours or until dried.