Venturing out: the exhilaration and melancholy

by John Pixley

A group was making its way through the crowd seated on the lawn in the darkening, warm summer evening. The guys had glow sticks around their necks, and the young woman had one crowning her head, like a string of daisies. Others walked past with hamburgers, ice cream and other treats from the concession stand as the band played into the night.

Suddenly, I was in Grass Valley, on the beautifully grassy, wooded Nevada County Fairgrounds. The band was playing, and the night was coming on noticeably earlier in July. I was laughing, remembering the time my friend gently guided me toward the parking lot where our campsite was when I was going the wrong way after getting a contact high. My friend was laughing at me as I awkwardly navigated my wheelchair through the dispersing crowd.

Except this wasn’t mid-July, and it wasn’t the California WorldFest, an annual festival featuring bands from all over the world I went to for about five years before spinal surgery in 2017 left me far more disabled, making traveling far and camping much more difficult if not impossible.

No. This was late last month, and I was at Memorial Park for the Monday night concert. Not only was it the last concert for the summer, but it was also the final performance by the Ravelers, the Claremont-based cover band that has been playing gigs for over 35 years. To celebrate, a friend bought and fed me a Häagen-Dazs ice cream bar with chocolate and almonds from the Kiwanis Club concession stand.

Summer has come and is going — yes, fast. The college students have been back, and school is underway. This year has gone by so fast. I think it’s because of all the rain and cool, seasonable weather we had, with the hot weather not arriving until, literally, July 1. The year didn’t drag along as usual with sometimes long periods of warm, even hot weather starting in February or even January.

Maybe it’s the unusual weather — weather we should always be having — but these memories, these flashbacks, keep popping up, like sudden shifts in a movie or a novel. It’s also likely because I’m venturing out slowly, ever so slowly, after the pandemic (not that Covid is done with), which came on just as I had been venturing out after my spinal surgery.

Last month, for example, shortly before the last Memorial Park Ravelers concert, I ventured out farther, more boldly, than I have so far, driving four hours up to San Luis Obispo. In the last five years or so I have been flying to the Bay Area to see family and friends. This was easier after the long drive became too difficult for me, but it rendered the Central Coast a flyover zone.

This was unfortunate. I have always enjoyed stopping or staying in San Luis Obispo on my way to and from the Bay Area, but I forgot how lovely it is. San Luis Obispo has gotten to be quite a place, quite a hot spot, not unlike the trendy Bay Area but laid-back (“SLO”) and also reminding me of what I love about Claremont. And everyone talks about up north, and, yes, the coast up there is spectacular, but the Central Coast has its own more subtle beauty and charm.

I stayed in the hotel I always used to, ate at favorite restaurants and visited old haunts, but I also had new adventures, like having breakfast at the Madonna Inn, which was, as I’ve always heard and imagined when going by, a real trip. I returned very satisfied and, again, with more appreciation for what we have here in Claremont.

I was also sad: sad I can no longer go camping as I used to love, including at Morro Bay State Park; sad that I can’t travel as easily, as far and as often as I used to; sad that I don’t have the crazy adventures that I did — at least not as crazy and not as many.

For sure, this hurts like hell, but it means my life has been sweet and rich. And, unlike the seasons that go by faster and faster, these sweet, rich memories stay.


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