Chapter 6

THE BUS LEAVING San Diego was only half full, and Maria had the seat to her self. She looked out the window and watched the landscape and the towns go by.

The land itself was much like that where she had grown up in Mexico. It was mostly flat, hot desert land. But here, clearly, there was much more water, for right in the midst of the hot, dry desert there were many green cultivated fields; and the towns or cities--almost one after another--were also much greener. Each looked like an oasis, compared to the towns, separated by miles of empty space, where she grew up where only the very rich had gardens of any size. Then she remembered what Margarita had said: that the state was running out of water now, that the water came from other places like Colorado, and that there was a big battle going on in the state over who got it. Still, for a place that was running out of water, it was far more lush than anything Maria had ever seen.

Then she remembered that Margarita had spoken of other "battles" in the state, one over the cutting down of all the trees in the north. "Have many people been killed?" Maria asked. Margarita explained that it was mostly a battle of lawyers, though she said she thought one woman had been blown up with a bomb placed in her car.

"Did she die?" Maria asked, looking alarmed.

"I don’t think so," said Margarita.

Maria looked relieved.

"And why do these people want to cut down all their trees?" she asked.

"Most people don’t," said Margarita. "It’s the big companies, the corporations," she explained; "they make money cutting down the trees and selling them."

Maria thought for awhile. "What do you do when there are no more trees?" she asked with the naivete of a child. "What good is all the money then?"

Margarita shrugged her shoulders, as though to say, look, honey, I’m not the one who’s doing it. Thinking about corporations, Maria thought about SafSys--it would probably be lunch time there now. She took a moment to thank the Holy Mother, whom she seldom addressed, for her deliverance from that "dark place of so much strange white light."

Her ticket took her as far as Los Angeles, but by the time she got there she was sure she did not want to stay. It was not a City of Angeles, nor did it appear to be a City of Saints; if it were a City of Something, then perhaps it was a City of Cars. Los Autos, that could be its name. Los Autos or Muchos Autos. It was so big, she had never experienced anything like it; not even in Mexico City, which she had once visited with Miguel. And the air did not smell like air. Oh, she was used to bad air, a stink, a dark plume of exhaust belched from the vertical exhaust pipe of a truck, but here the air you could not get away from; there was too much of it to blow away.

So at the Los Angeles terminal she got out, went to the rest room because she was feeling sick, then purchased another ticket, this time for San Jose. Back in the bus she closed her eyes and said good-bye to LA.

She fell asleep as the bus passed through Santa Monica, and several hours later as she was passing through Santa Barbara she opened her eyes, feeling much better as she looked out the window at the hills to the east, bluish-green with vegetation. She could see the ocean now, and approaching Gaviota she could smell the salt water and feel the wonderful coolness of the air.

Gaviota, the sea gull, a lucky spot for me, Maria thought. The bus had stopped there for a break. I will write a song about you someday, she told herself. A place of refreshment, "un refresco natural." A place where birds fly like free spirits over the water. A place of relief and release.

She liked the little beach there at the end of the valley that came out of the hills, just where the highway turned and headed inland again. She liked the steep rock bluffs to the south that were cracking away, the little pier, and the uninhabited hills to the north. The little stream spilling into the ocean made it all complete. A trickle of clear water flowing back to its source. Everything seemed to come together right there. There was a feeling both of intimacy and holiness to the place that was so powerfully real to her that she did not try to explain it, even in song. It just was. Like she was. Like Miguel had been.

As Maria sat in the sand on the beach by Gaviota Creek and watched the snowy-white gulls on the little pier, she heard a voice behind her ask:

"Continuing onto San Jose? We’re about to go."

It was the driver of the bus, a short young man with a mustache. Though dressed in a Greyhound bus driver uniform, he somehow managed to look casual, almost to the point of sloppy, an effect achieved by unbuttoned buttons, wrinkles in the material of the uniform, and a tie that was tied but was worn loose, as though it were about to be removed and permanently discarded.

"Oh, yeah, I’m--how do you say?--continuing, I’m going on," said Maria.

"Well, it’s pretty here," said the driver now standing beside Maria where she sat. "This is one of my favorite spots. I’m gonna miss it."

In fact the beach at Gaviota was not an officially designated Greyhound stop.

"How is it you going to miss it?" asked Maria, now turning and looking up at the man who was staring out over the glinting, blue-grey waters.

"Last run, babe," he said, "laid off. Not enough passengers on the route to make it profitable. Now if they’d just quit trying to make money I’d have a job," he laughed.

"Well," said Maria, "maybe you can come back here and--what’s the expression?--’camp out.’

"Oh, I done plenty of that," said the driver as he picked up a small smooth stone and skidded it across the water. "No, I’ll probably just look for another job. But jobs are not easy to find these days, kiddo. The times, they are tough!"

"They’re what?" asked Maria.

"Tough, hard--dificil," said the driver who remembered the word from a Spanish class he took while at Soledad.

"Ah, yes," said Maria, "dificil. Well, I thought times were always hard. Are these times more hard?"

"Yes, ma’am, more hard, more ‘dificil,’ definitely! Job-wise, anyway," said the young man.

"I’m just kidding you," said Maria. "I have heard of the recession. My friend Margarita told me about it. It made her nervous. But you see, in Mexico it is almost always a recession. So maybe I am not so nervous."

A small fishing boat was slowly throttling up to the pier now, and the hoist operator was lowering the cable over the side of the pier to bring up the catch. Sea gulls began to circle nervously overhead.

"My name’s Michael," said the young man.

"Maria, I am Maria," said Maria, now standing up, brushing off the sand, and watching the cable being lowered to the boat that was bobbing in the water by the pier.

"And what will you do now?" she asked as they turned and walked back towards the bus.

"Oh, look for another job, I guess. How about you?"

"Oh, I am going to look for a job too."

"What do you do?" asked Michael.

"I play the guitar," said Maria, "and I sing and write songs."

"Not too many job listings with that description," said Michael.

"Well, then I will wash dishes or whatever. But I won’t assemble."

"You won’t what?" asked Michael.

"I won’t assemble," said Maria, "I won’t assemble alarms. That’s what I did in San Diego, and I almost went mad. You are crazy here for alarms, I think!" said Maria.

"In San Jose it’s computers--computers and ‘semiconductors,’" said Michael. "‘Semiconductors’ are chips. You know what they are?"

"Sort of," said Maria. "We put them into the alarms. They are the ‘brains’ of the alarms, said a video we saw at the plant. We were told to be careful with them. ‘Don’t drop the brains!’ the video said."

"Well, that’s what they make in San Jose," said Michael, "brains, lots of ‘em. And they put the brains in cars now too, and in San Jose," he continued, growing somewhat animated, "everyone drives around in these smart little cars trying to pass each other before the next freeway exit, either coming from or going to the brain plant. You can have it!"

"It sounds like alarms," said Maria as they approached the bus parked at the end of the parking lot by some oak trees, partly to keep the bus cool and partly to keep it out of sight.

"The same thing," said Michael as Maria boarded the bus in front of him.

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