So I was flying through Seacliff at about eighty miles an hour when the universe suddenly and spectacularly decided to align in my favor. An unseasonably glorious sun shone down on the 101 freeway, and as I threaded the California coastline’s spine on my way north to Santa Barbara, I felt the soft and deadly tentacles of contentment wrap themselves around my decaying cerebrum-and I was okay with that.
Yeah, because the combination of dramatic scenery, agreeable weather, a fast car, and an adorably earnest song about the collapse of Antarctic icebergs erupting out of the stereo was quiet a potent one, yo. I mean, you try to be a cynical asshole when the coda of “Larsen B” dumps you in its warm bath of epic Euro-echo right when the Rincon headlands loom up ahead like inverted Cliffs of Insanity. It’s virtually impossible-or at least that’s what I told myself in that giddy moment-so I just let it happen, you know?
That’s right, dude. I was returning to the scene of many delightfully depraved episodes that occurred during my wild and hairy youth, but today wasn’t supposed to be a nostalgia trip. No, I had a Vital Role to play in this dawning Age of Hope and Change. Indeed-even if the whole “crashing the gates” trip proved to be a silly bait-and-switch; even if I now belonged to the Party in Power, and even if I was now, effectively, an Arm of The Man-I had my own unique contribution to make for The Cause today. This had nevertheless proved difficult to explain to my wife the night before, however-a weird conversation that had gone something like this:
“So… what is it exactly that you’re doing in Santa Barbara tomorrow?”
“Um, voting for…let’s see…the ‘A.D. delegates for the Democratic Party.'”
“You know, the people who are more into the political party stuff than me-the ones who’ll go to Sacramento and bitch out the Governator and all the rest, so that I don’t have to.”
“Oh. You mean, other politics nerds?”
“Yeah, that’s about right.”
“Okay…well…have fun, honey. Just tell ’em to make those yoyos in the Assembly get that budget crap together. I need to stay employed.”
I cringed inwardly at the time-even though we’ve long since accepted each others’ obsessive foibles-but this morning I jumped out of bed full of Purpose, because I knew I would be doing Important Shit today. I mean, the Facebook group email had said so, right? Right. Anyway, I slithered off the freeway into Santa Barbara without incident-unless you count the screaming drivers at the stupid Milpas roundabout-and dutifully presented my credentials at the East Side Library where the A.D. delegates had convened to meet and greet their rabid supporters.
“Hi there,” I said to the official-looking woman at the desk outside. “Where’s this votin’ place I’ve been hearing so much about?”
She smirked at my affected cool and handed over the ballots, but before I could fill them out I was accosted by another woman who was actively politicking for a delegate seat. I cut her off right away-“sorry ma’am, I’m here as part of the ‘Ventura Axis of Youth Insurgency'”-and she smiled blandly, but her eyes were full of fear as she moved away.
“Did you say Ventura?” asked a balding old man who wandered over. “When you walked up I was sure you were one of the UCSB crowd, myself.”
I smirked. “Maybe ten years ago, but not now-it’s the acne, right?” He stepped back, puzzled, but seemed to accept that I was sane enough to merit an introduction. I don’t remember anything about him or his wife, though (who ambled over soon after) except that they drove up from Pasadena for some reason. I made my excuses and retreated quickly once I saw the targets of my support, Katherine and Dave, plow through a crowd of Genuine Youth that had just arrived from campus. I scrawled my vote onto the ballot, stuffed it in the box, and went to introduce myself to The Candidates.
I didn’t get far, however-a guy who called himself their “communication director” stopped me and asked if I’d be attending a Young Democrats meeting in Camarillo next week. “You fool,” I laughed. “There are no Young Democrats in Camarillo. Get out of my face with that craziness.”
I shoved him aside and aimed for the Power Couple on the ballot, who were of course all smiles when we got the opportunity to finally meet each other. “Good to see you,” smiled Katherine. “I’m surprised-we all thought you were a recluse who hated actual activism.”
“Yeah,” added Dave as he gave me a manly handshake, “what brought you up here on a beautiful day like this?”
“Bribery,” I replied. “What else? I only have so much time to make my influence felt before you take office, right?” I pressed a copy of my band’s CD into their hands, and they laughed politely. “Well, we have to actually win first,” said Dave, tactfully keeping me from falling socially flat yet again.
“See,” Katherine said, chucking him on the shoulder playfully, “I told you he wasn’t a complete chickenshit. It’ll be great to have a genuine local rock star in the fold.”
“Ho ho,” I chuckled. “You know better than that. I’m not famous around here at all, and I only said all bets were off when it came to that stage-hog Hanna-Beth Jackson. I’m good for anything else that’s non-solicitous, you know?”
She waved away my ancient prejudice with a flutter. “Never mind that-we’re happy to have your vote today. Here, take a picture with us, won’t you?”
I agreed, naturally, but promised myself I wouldn’t smile. I mean, I’m happy to be used, but not taken advantage of. Who knew what would happen with an image like that? It might be photoshopped into a hideous caricature and posted on malicious blogs within the hour. The candidates roped in a passing student photographer, though, so I was trapped. “Come on,” said Katherine, “smile!”
But I didn’t-for some reason, it all suddenly felt weird. The photographer moved in, Dave continued crushing my hand with his mighty grip, and I resolved to look grim and constipated in my first-ever photo-op. And then something totally unexpected happened: Katherine leaned into my ear and whispered a fluent string of curses so vile, so hilariously off-color, that I burst out laughing in spite of myself, et voila: the camera snapped, instantly creating a good-timey photo of three fast friends.
“You’re in it now, man,” said Dave. “You’ll be coming to Camarillo next week-you have no choice.”
I hung my head, knowing his words were true, but Katherine said something nice about maybe getting the band a gig at a local rally this year, as well as other blatant appeals to my massive ego, and before too long I was happy again and full of Purpose, glad-handling with the best of them at the beginning of a New Vibrant Era, and the good vibes stuck with me the rest of the day.
Yeah, so much so that when I finally made my exit, I couldn’t help but take a victory lap around Santa Barbara and re-visit the anarchic scenes of my Gauchoholic days of yore, back in that Wild Party for Rich Kids known as “the late ’90s.” I drove like a bastard around the hairpin curves of Alameda Padre Serra, cruised down State St. like I used to, powered up to the Mesa like a conquering hero, and wound my way through this Gorgeous Nucleus of the Central Coast Riviera for the next two hours, high on the fumes of Transferred Youth.
I never found out if they actually, you know…won the vote, but it didn’t really matter, because it was Sunday afternoon in Southern California, baby, and I felt like a native son.