written and photographed by Mario Rodriguez
photos by @_marzzz19 (x)
Stock photos provided by Pexels (x)
#BigBear #Snowboarding #Beer
About Binging on Reality:
This story was inspired true events during a stay out in Big Bear Lake, California.
Martin, a young struggling writer, takes a trip with new friends he hardly knows in search of inspiration and some time away from the city. He’s forced out into the discomfort of chance and the unknown, his shy sensibilities tested by unfamiliar faces. The tension is eased by the great equalizers, drugs and alcohol, and before he knows it the walls of his self-conscious insecurities deteriorate as he picks mushrooms from his teeth. But the group can’t hide away in their incubated utopian cabin all day. There were trails to explore and snow to be balled up and thrown! So they venture out into the bright mountain city. All is going well until they are confronted by a growing forced that’s as foreign as it is disturbing. Each member of the group is forced to examine themselves in the light cast by bigotry and closed-mindedness. It then becomes up to them; do they ball up and raise the flag of the victim or do they strive passed the baseless muck and come out the other side cleanly pristine?
The alarm woke him up. It was still dark and he could feel the chill through the open window. A couple blankets covering, keeping him warm but not too warm. He thought about going back to sleep. It was the first night with his new mattress and he wanted more time to get to know it. Drank more last night then he thought he did, headache banging away letting him know. Happened to parked his car just a couple hours ago; the engine probably still hot. Eyes close, he could feel the hatred of the early morning grow as the alarm danced ‘soothing’ noises to bring you up calm and relaxed, or at least that’s what it’s supposed to do. He swung his leg with force and the blankets flew with it. Shut off alarm, nasty face, boxers riding up, feet bare and hairy. The screen’s glare hurt his eyes with its bright reality, squinting through it. There was a message: “About to leave.” His whole body shuddered and sighed tired sighs of regret. Fuck that, he thought. He could feel the fatigue in his back and in his legs. His head was groggy and complaining. He looked around his dark room and begged for the courage to cancel. But he couldn’t. He couldn’t cancel life. Life was always there, waiting. Waiting for us to wake up. Waiting for us to shut off the alarm. Waiting for us to stop waiting.
So on came a lamp and he started to pack. He looked through his drawers, knowing it was going to be cold. It had rained all night and there was more to come. His one pair of black pants happened to be clean, to his surprise, but all his jackets were dirty. He threw some stuff in a faded blue duffle bag with his name engraved on the side, Martin Rojas, in block gray lettering. Socks, boxers, three shirts, two pairs of pants, a leather jacket, a fluffy Cosby cardigan, a beanie. Only shoes he had were old low-top Vans with rips in the creases where his foot bent when flexed. They were smooth on the bottoms and flimsy like rubber. They’ve been through alot together, his vans and him, and they never let him down. So naturally, he was as loyal to them as they were to him. He zipped up his bag and filled a backpack with books, a couple notebooks (both blank) and his laptop. Maybe he would finally get some writing done. Probably not though.
Phone rang and his ride was outside in freshly soaked street humming as it waited, cloudy grayness coming out the tailpipe, music blaring being muffled by the closed window. Bo stood outside in the street, arms crossed leaning against his trunk. “What’s up, man!” Big smile on his face, youthful energy, beaming life from his eyes like it was three in the afternoon. Martin smiled back and tried to look like he didn’t just wake up. They hugged like brothers and were off.
Not much traffic going east on the 10 freeway, going away from the city. Friday morning and everyone’s trying to get the last day of the old humdrum bullshit workweek over with. Tired eyes trying not to crash in the slippery streets of the usually dry world they live in. Punch a clock so you can eat. Punch a clock so your kids can sleep under a roof. Punch a clock so society accepts you. Bo and Martin sped down the diamond lane with smiles on their faces,talking about anything. Their subconscious at ease, knowing stress was being left behind them as LA’s skyline disappeared over Kellogg Hill. Martin watched the green of Rose Hills Cemetery sloping down right off the edge of the freeway, flowers waving in the wind from highway. The plaques, wet and shiny, terribly sad. The grass was bright and well nourished from the decay underneath. What’s good for the earth isn’t always pretty but he tried not to think about it.
“Can we smoke in here?”
“Yeah man, go ahead.” Bo answering, checking his mirrors.
Martin took out his piece and packed a fat bowl of fresh green weed broken down and loaded to the brim . He felt better smelling it again. There was something about the smell of weed in the early morning, still in the haze of REM, that seemed to sooth him. Some needed a cup of coffee to get them going, but Martin would rather have some smoke and a buzz. He took a puff and held it in deep, closed eyes, big chest, victorious. He let it out with a cough. Cracked a window, smoke sped out in a beautiful haste. Passed back and forth. Coughs and laughs. Car getting foggier and foggier. Green in the bowl turned to black ash that hit rough. Bo was good but Martin sucked at it until it was gray and empty.
They were silent in their high. Letting the music take center stage. It felt good. They were on their way to a good time in the mountains of Big Bear Lake and the excitement made them content to just sit and enjoy the ride. Bo had his snowboard in the backseat — big, sitting awkward and cool. In his silence he thought of the slopes that awaited him. The thrill of going down a white mountain at forty mph. The wind hitting him and the feeling of the snow beneath his feet. The ramps and the air. He started about a year ago, and he couldn’t get enough. He was as addicted to the snow like it was cocaine. There was nothing like it. It was like conquering the great Mother on every run. Afterwards, he could look back from his home, or at work, or wherever, look at those snow capped mountains off in the distance and say, “I fuckin’ rode that bitch! It’s mine!” There was something primal and ancient about it that he couldn’t begin to understand.
Martin’s red backpack sat between his legs, stained brown in places, faded red and dirty all over. One of the straps was almost completely torn at the top, only a matter of time before it broke off. He had a new one somewhere but refused to use it. Same with his shoes, he had new ones but never wore them. Something about the way new things looked. He thought about pulling out a book to read but thought that might be rude. Then he thought about writing but figured that was just the same. Instead he just sat there, thinking, observing, vibing with the speakers. He tried to take it all in. He came on this trip to experience life. Bo invited him no more than 12 hours ago and now he was on his way east, to the mountains eighty miles away from home to stay a couple days with people he never met. He barely really knew Bo. They met through a mutual friend and hit it off. They were similar in many ways. Both had a deep appreciation for music, art, philosophy, life. Martin was a little older than Bo; he was 23 and Bo 20. They had talked about wanting to experience more of this world and Martin had expressed how he has been in a writing rut for the last couple months so Bo came up with the idea to take some time away to try and refocus. He had planned this trip months ago with friends and never thought twice about having this pretty much unknown dude accompany their good time. That was the type of guy Bo was. He was kind and friendly and genuine. Martin wasn’t used to that kind of person. He agreed in the moment and after wanted to bail but didn’t… couldn’t, really. You have to live Martin!, he remembers thinking to himself. You have your whole life to be alone! Get out, and talk and laugh and connect! So he forced himself to feel uncomfortable, for he knew growth lies in the discomfort. Which is easy in theory but a lot harder to practice.
Then the opening chords of the Growlers came through the speakers and snagged their attention. Guitar building, Brooks voice-taking hold. Their heads bobbed in unison, grooving to the music.
“You listen to the Growlers?” Bo asked, feeling it.
“Yeah dude, they’re sick!”
“For real! I’ve seen them so many times I can’t even count ‘em.”
“Fuuh, that’s dope. I still haven’t.”
“Dude you got to. Seen them at Beach Goth last year in the rain! Shit was crazy dude. Just seen them for New Years at the Wiltern, actually.”
“I was gonna go to that show!”
“You should of, dude,” Bo was tapping his finger on the steering wheel to the beat. He’s speeding up without noticing, the Growlers getting him excited. “Lyrically, there’s no one like ‘em!”
In the background:
“For those that don’t know him yet, he don’t caaare if you ever do…
And it can huurt to hear the truuth, he just aain’t concerned with yoou…”
They felt every word. It spoke the truth. It spoke of the way things should be. Brook’s words were their words and the words of a generation. Rhythm in control… Dun Dunnuta, dun na na — dun nunnuta, dun na na — dee deet eet dee deet dee — dunnan ut dudda... Brooks again:
“He gets down on his own self, more than aaanybody else can,
And it’s easy to understand,
But it can hurt to hear the truth; he just ain’t concerned with you…
‘cuz spirits have their own mind, cant fit between the lines…
They can’t be defined,
they draw theiirr Own liiiines…”
They let the music take them. They weren’t There anymore, they’re were free of their bodies and existing in the shared space of consciousness only music allows humans to access. A space words couldn’t define but all people understood. The song ended and they came back, a little more at ease.
“I fuckin’ love that song.”
“For real. I feeel that, ya know?” Martin said.
“Yeah, I wanna be like that. Like, doing my thing no matter what. Fuck everyone else. I wanna be the truest version of me.”
“Like in everything I do, I want to be true to myself.”
“I feel you. I always think about that when I write. I would write stuff and then think, ‘well, what if people don’t like it?’ but fuck it, man! I shouldn’t. I should just do what feels right.”
“What feels right to you!”
“J Cole says something at the end of his album kinda about this. I don’t remember exactly but it was like, ‘I don’t give a fuck if two people buy this record! We fuckin’ killed this shit!’ Like he don’t give a shit about what comes from it, he was just hyped about what he made! His art.”
“And you can always tell when someone did something authentic and real, ya know. Something they enjoyed. You could always tell.”
They sat smiling and happy, listening to more of the Growlers, smoking weed and dancing in their seats. The sun was starting to peek through the clouds and shined warm orange over the freeway and the mountains to their left. It was windy and they could see the clouds being pushed by the breeze. It was bright but they couldn’t help but stare. The piercing brightness of beauty reminding them of the divinity of nature and the world and what a privilege it is to live on this side of the country, where the sun always shines with clouds that make you believe in Heaven.
They kept on the 10 and caught the 210 state highway going north. Went up the 330 by San Bernardino and took it up through the San Bernardino National forest, crisp bright cold mistiness risings around them as they climbed. The trees were winter bare, brown and pointing to the clouds. Beige crumpled rock-lined the highway with fat white boulders sticking out round and clear. The road winds and curves and Bo takes the corners with experience, no fear. Martin looks out the window and watches the valley, green and enormous, get further and further below them. The mountains are packed with tall green trees and overlap each other going as far as you can see. There’s a tall white one far off in the distance and Bo points at it with his finger to show Martin where they’re going. Then the 18 east to Big Bear Lake where the first signs of snow lay on the side of the two lane highway. The VW hugs the middle yellow line with skill. Slopes of roads going straight up the sides of this mountain, making Martin wonder how these roads are even possible. They’re flying, making drivers pull over in turnouts or get ridden until they do so. These guys had places to be! This life doesn’t give us enough time and they’ll be damned if they waste any behind some grandma crawling along with both hands on the wheel.
Then they hit traffic with brakes that pulled them forward. They didn’t mind and sat it out for another hour until they were in the city and snow was in every other open space and the roads had snow too but it was black and unpleasantly dirty. It was a busy Friday morning. People getting ready to enjoy the weekend. Parking lots at little rental shops were packed. They rolled their windows down and the coldness came in pinching them awake. They could feel the purity in the air. Bo could already feel the snow below him as he flied fast and in control, his shadowed silhouette keeping up just as athletic. Martin sensed a beer in his future and could maybe go for a nap. They could see Bear Mountain coming up over them. It was beautiful and impressive. They could see the little ant snowboarders coming down the side. The lifts crawling up in patient lines. (Wo)Man mastering nature with every rider. The sun was coming up and looked to be touching the peak.
With some effort, they parked where they could see the bottom of the slopes. Bo changed in the parking lot with others, all dressing, packing on layers. He walked funny with his boots on. Heals first. Click-clack. Click-clack. The snow pushed up in front of their parking spot looked like the foam of a wave breaking, frozen and perfect, still white. Martin sat in the car and Bo brought out two tall cans of Modelo that were in a cooler backseat, even colder than the snow outside. They drank and played music loudly, with their doors open.
“You coming in?”
“Probably not. It’s pretty expensive.” Martin, taking big throat-fulls, feeling better with each.
They drank and sat with the vibration of the speakers until the sun was right over them.
“Okay I’m gonna go. You sure you don’t wanna come?”
“Yeah man.” Martin, packing a bowl. “I’m cool here. I got books and I could write.”
Bo put on a black bandana — snow cowboy on a plastic horse. He left and Martin was alone with his phone playing on the AUX. He got out a book, his notepad, a pen chewed at the top. Finishing off the last of his beer, he looked at the stuff on his lap. Suddenly he was tired. It was hard to keep his eyes open. Without even thinking, his seat slowly reclined, Martin surrendering himself.
Bo found Martin in the car, asleep, curled up, snoring. It’s been five hours since he left. He was surprised and a little disappointed but too tired to really care. It was a hell of a time up there. The snow wasn’t at it’s best but that didn’t matter too much. Just being out on the mountain was fulfilling. He needed that. There’s something about testing yourself and testing your body and your courage and your very existence that couldn’t be found in the office or at the gym. He felt good and ready to go. Martin still had the music on and barely moved even as the door opened and Bo changed just outside.
Backing out, Martin finally woke up. He felt lazy and shy. He didn’t know why he was there, in this cold wet place. The beauty did nothing. The glittery white fields and roofs radiating like Christmas time TV shows did nothing. He was grumpy and just wanted another beer. They stopped at McDonalds to get some sausage biscuits and coffee. The coffee did the trick for both. Martin felt a little more alive and Bo wasn’t so sore. Then Bo got a call and an addy and they were off to their home for the next two nights. Martin was nervous, he never enjoyed meeting new people. There was some regret hanging on his back making him slouch. He looked at Bo and tried to be as hopeful. This kid, he thought, this kid has got it. I don’t know what but he has it. And I have it too… I think. I could smile. I could be nice. I could be inviting. But could he really? Martin didn’t even know. He didn’t know so he didn’t want to try. What if I fail, he continued, what if I try to be nice and they’re mean? Then what? I’ll be vulnerable and they could strike and crush me with their numbers. Martin tried not to show his angst but his face always betrayed him.
Bo was the opposite. He could feel the stars lining up. Some of his best friends were taking a break from it all and focusing only on each other and having a good time. Nothing could go wrong! And even if it did, it’d be fine because they’ll be there together and he knew there wasn’t anything they couldn’t handle together. High, drunk, tripping out, no money; it didn’t matter. They had each other’s backs and when that’s the deal, it’s a powerful thing.
The cabin was at the elbow of an ‘L’ shaped road called Meadow Avenue. There was only one car parked in the driveway. Bo didn’t know who it was and that made Martin even more nervous. They parked right in front of the wooden porch, a dusty beige, three stairs high. There was a grill, a couple chairs, a little table with plastic covering that looked like glass. The cabin was a gorgeous Western red cedar and the trim was a forest green. There was a brown metal tree-themed decoration that spelled out, “Cabin Fever” dangling from the corner of the roof. Right in front of the hood was a birdbath with a little ceramic raccoon that held praying hands to his chest with beggar eyes. They got out; Martin took his time, conceding Bo the lead. Bo knocked on the door. There was a little bear plaque just by the doorbell that said, “Welcome!” with two bears wrestling. Martin could feel monsoon circles in his belly. He suddenly wondered how he looked. He wondered if he should have brought his new shoes.
The door opened and a soft voice came out from inside.
“We seen you guys through the window.” She says through a white screen door that hides her.
“That’s not creepy,” Bo replies.
It opens and a sweet looking girl is standing there, smile wide, nice eyes. Bo gives her a hug, Martin nods and tries to not make a lot of eye contact.
“This is Martin.” Bo gestures at Martin and he gives an awkward smile and half-moon wave.
“Hey. I’m Mary.” She waves and puts her hand out. They shake. Her grip is tight and it stuns him.
“Where’s everyone at?” Bo says walking in, Martin silently behind.
“They went to get firewood.” There’s another girl on the couch hugging a pillow, looking relaxed. She has her shoes off, colorful socks covering her toes. Mary has colorful socks on, too. Martin thought about the socks in his bag and the socks on his feet, all white and plain — basic.
“That’s Kate.” says Mary. The girl waves, face half covered by the pillow. Martin waves back, toothless smile. He doesn’t think to say his name which adds to the tension that he alone feels.
The cabin was bigger on the inside then it looked from the street. From the door led a long hallway with wood floors straight through to the back of the place. To the right, a table big enough for eight and probably more. The kitchen wasn’t huge but it was well equipped with ample room, a stove, microwave, pots, pans, silverware. On the other side was a long ‘L’ shaped couch, beige leather, where Kate was lying and another smaller one across from it with some bags on it. The fireplace was white brick and hardly looked used. There were big white panel blinds against beige walls and big screen TV just beneath. There were bears everywhere. Portraits of bears hanging on the walls, bear lamps (more than one), bear statues (also more than one), bear rugs, bear stained-glass windows, the ceiling fan hung bears from its chain and made you pull on them when you wanted light or air. It was the first thing that they noticed when they walked in.
“This is a nice cabin.” Bo said checking out the bears on the glass cabinets.
“Yeah it really is.” Mary replied, now seated at the table.
“A lot of bears.” Martin, taking a chance in a timid voice.
“I know right?” Mary laughs. “You guys better claim your beds.”
Oh no, Martin thinks, that’s just a confrontation waiting to happen. I don’t want a fucking bed.
“Who all’s coming?”
“Well, Mondo, Allen, Dominic and Chip went to get firewood,” was Mary’s response and Martin cringed at it. “Diego, Patty, Jacob and Annie are still on their way. They have all the food and our bags and stuff.” Martin was underestimating exactly how many people would be there. The anxiety built with every name.
Both rides got there at the same time. A white Toyota Tacoma sport, athletic looking, clean. The other, another Tacoma, new and license plateless, midnight gray and big tires. People piled out of the trucks, everyone carrying something. The ones inside met the others on the porch. Martin wasn’t sure if he should go too but ended up doing it to not stand out. Every face was too much. They came up the steps and Bo tried to make quick intros, “This is my friend Martin.” “This is Martin.” “This my friend Martin.” “Have you met Martin?” Over and over. Martin blushing through his brown skin. Names and handshakes. Smiles exchanged politely. Everyone helps empty the trucks, Martin too. Everyone’s talking and having little conversation between them as they go up and down the steps with arms full. Martin’s quiet and tries to get a lot of stuff to show he’s helping.
Everything unloaded and people start getting settled in. The girls put their stuff in the rooms, the guys put the groceries away in the fridge and the cabinets. There’s a couple cases of beer, ham, chicken, hot Cheetos (puffs and regular), bread, hamburger meat, eggs, hash browns, pasta, bottles of Jose Cuervo and Southern Comfort, cases of water, fat cans of pineapple juice, sodas, ketchup, ranch, Smirnoff in various flavors and colors. They were prepared. All the food intimidated Martin. Bo didn’t tell him it was going to be like this. He felt like he was intruding. Like he was robbing them somehow. Like he was an unwanted yet tolerated visitor. But he didn’t say anything, knowing they would bring it up eventually.
A couple guys sat at the tables, the girls took the couch. They all talked excitedly and Martin just watched, trying to figure out everyone’s name through the conversations. There was Mondo, a tall skinny guy with big, smart eyes, driver of the white Tacoma. He seemed to be in charge of the whole thing He had that personality that people just want to follow and do so without question. From the way they interacted, Mary and Mondo were a thing and they looked happy. Mondo’s brother was the driver of the other Tacoma. His name was Diego. He was the oldest of the bunch, a calm realist who kept things in order and moving. Straight edge but not as condescending as most. If Mondo was the cool dad, Diego was the grumpy uncle but it was okay. You need a grumpy uncle now and then. In Diego’s car was Jacob, who always had a camera in his hand and wore his Dodger jacket proudly, with Patty and Annie were in the back seat. They were sweet girls who didn’t talk too much at first but they were nice to Martin. In Mondo’s truck came Mary, and Kate, the girl on the couch. She was quiet and spoke only when she had something to say, which was often something witty and subtly hilarious, and Allen, a tall guy with a permanent grin who talked slow and soft, real friendly guy. The last car was driven by Chip and had Dominic and Moses in it. Chip, whose nickname was Chip, had a long black beard and wore a Che Guevara shirt that Martin noticed immediately. Dominic wore dark hipster Ray Bans and hand on a University of Arizona sweater under his jacket and Martin surmised that he attended U of A from the conversation. Last was Moses, a handsome fella who was the quietest of them all. He sat there, calm, sophisticated, with square chin, dimpled point, freshly shaved.
Martin took the piece out of his backpack and put it in his shirt pocket. Chip smelled it and turned.
“You smoke weed?” He said with a smile, a question already answered but it broke ice ten feet thick. Martin nodded. Chip got out his weed and Martin, his. They exchanged and smelled each other’s capsules.
“This smells dank.” Chip says, staring deep into the nugs, blinking his eyes a couple times. “Where’d you get it?”
“Some shop in El Monte. They let anyone over 21 in now.”
“Is it dope in there?” Dominic joins in, sitting across from Chip, Martin in the middle at the head of the table.
“Yeah they’re really nice. I was nervous when I first went but they’re cool. Good weed for cheap so you can’t go wrong really, ya know?”
“Yeah. Where at in El Monte?” Chip asked, Moses listening next to him.
“It’s like by the Speedy Cash and Sam’s Club. Right around the corner from Arroyo High.”
“Wasn’t there a fire there not too long ago?”
“Yeah I remember that! It had been under construction for a while,” Moses.
“Right there by your cousin’s place.” Chip to Dominic.
“Oh right… right.” Dominic said, taking off his shades showing blood shot eyes just open enough to see a couple veins.
Chip brought out his bong, tall homemade glass with percolator that he got freshman year from some chick’s uncle. It was clean and still looked new. Martin could tell he took care of it and he respected that. Moses pulled out a joint and sparked it. Chip packed a bowl, and Martin his piece. Dominic got up, went over and got four Coronas out of the fridge. They weren’t that cold but it didn’t matter. Pop of bottle caps, foam; smoke even making the living room foggy. They couldn’t talk much and not because they didn’t want to but because they didn’t have time. Pass a joint, immediately get get a bowl, pass that, another bowl. And sometimes they got two at once, which was cool but not really. Kate started opening the panel blinds and windows by the TV but it made no difference. Bo got a couple hits. Jacob and Mary too. Mondo watched with sad eyes, interview/drug test coming up. Allen sat on a stool just chillin, hitting his vape pen, already on his third beer. He was saying something but no one was paying attention. The joint was the last to go and all kept at it until its death. Chip had a joint clip that had a blue dice on the end with one dot on each side of it. The girls were flipping between Shriek and Paranormal Activity on the TV. Diego, outside checking his tires.
They were hungry and everyone started taking turns making ham sandwiches. They had lettuce and tomatoes and cheese singles. Martin didn’t eat this good at home! He finished his beer and Allen brought him another with a smile so wide it made him smile too. Everyone talking about something. Chip was rolling another joint with his roller. Someone put music on a speaker that Chip brought that shook the whole cabin. They could stand in front of it and it’ll warm them up and if they’re sore, it’d massage that right out. They were finished with the sandwiches and Bo got out an ounce of mushrooms. They just looked like sticks inside the plastic bag, some with fat golden brown heads that look like the mushroom caps that grow in your backyard and people say not to eat. But these they will eat, with grimaces on their faces. One by one, he pulled people in and gave them their ration like a psychedelic shaman of ancient times. His hut of consciousness was the washer and dryer room that struggled to fit more than two people in comfortably. Not everyone did them. Martin was definitely down. He was feeling better now, full and drunk. The music was good; everyone kept smiling and talking in nice tones. He was still careful but these people weren’t as bad as he imagined. Then again, he thought to himself, are things ever as bad as we imagine them to be? He laughed and knew the shrooms were coming on.
After that things started happening really fast. It was dark now and they already went through half the twenty-four pack of Corona. The girls were pounding Smirnoff and Allen even chugged a bottle. He was getting more drunk and starting to drink anything handed to him. It was getting hard for him to even sit. He would start tipping over to one side then catch himself before leaning to the other side, further and further, until he caught himself again. Beer pong game started. Camera flashes. Jose Cuervo in clear plastic shot glasses filled to the brim lining the edges of the table. Every cup made, take a shot. Martin and Mondo played Bo and Chip. Martin and Mondo won by one cup and took shots to celebrate. Games went on and on and the bottle was shrinking. They played king’s cup and mixed Cuervo with pineapple juice. Joints and shouting. Five drive. Seven Heaven. King — shot. Allen passed out by the fireplace and looked like he’s going to throw up so Mondo and Diego put him in the bathtub. Jenga now. Moses and Dominic are talking about the Raiders and Derek Carr and how sad they were for the guy. Mary and Patty take shots. Annie and Jacob are messing with the Nikon, taking pictures zoomed in tight to people’s faces and laughing. Martin drops the little wood brick tower with a crash and everyone shouts in unison, everyone laughs and he gets pats on the back. Two shots for losing. He’s feeling wobbly. Bo starts passing around caps indiscriminately out in the open. Martin chased the second shot with a shroom and tasted nothing. Mondo makes burgers out on the porch in the cold. Diego leaves to get another bottle. Bo and Martin sing along to Kendrick, arms over each other, jumping up and down, spilling beer on the floor and on their socks. Annie’s taking pictures of Chip who ended up passing out on the kitchen floor trying to roll a blunt. Allen woke up, sprinted down the hallway with his shirt off and started dancing on the couch. Bo and Martin watched him from across the room.
“That guy’s crazy man.” Martin said with a chuckle, shaking head. “He was so quiet when he got here!”
“He’s the shit,” was the response. Bo finished what was left of his Pineapple-Cuervo. “You know what’s great about that guy?” Martin looked, waiting, trying hard to listen over the music and the loud coversation. “He’s always himself. No matter what. Say what you will. Yeah, he gets crazy. Yeah, he gets way too drunk. But he’s always himself. You gotta respect that. He’s real.”
Martin never thought about it like that before. He watched Allen bounce around, throwing out his long arms, whipping them back to the beat, elbows looking sharp and pointy. His eyes are closed and you could tell he’s There. He made it. He reached that place just above us. He’s at peace. That moment was his and his alone. He was present and nothing mattered but the music. Martin never admired someone so much as he did Allen in that moment. He felt emotional. He always felt emotional when he drank but this was different. He looked around at everyone and he could see how civilizations were built. He could see how a species developed and turned into the magnificent complex divine creatures that were now before him. He could see hopes of a society of peace. Pure celebration. The ecstasy of victory, victory of existence! Victory of Youth!
Bo ran over and hopped the little sofa where Kate and Moses sat and jumped up with Allen and started dancing on the couch, too. Mary joined. Mondo was getting it behind the laptop and the speaker playing the music making it all happen. Bo screams out, “We young ‘nd shit! We young ‘nd shit!” Mary repeats it, “We young ‘nd shit!” And they were. In that moment they reached nirvana, that place that sits between madness and sanity, a place small talk and isolation can’t get you. They tapped into that vein, ripe and bulging. A generation burning with desire to take it all fucking over.
Martin watched all this and was glad he came.
The morning started with breakfast burritos and orange juice. Allen hung his head in the corner, smoking his vape with tired eyes. Martin was half awake and felt shitty. He could still taste pineapple on his breath. Bo left early to hit the slopes, leaving Martin behind but it was alright by then. He was comfortable. Chip woke up and instantly starting breaking down weed, green anthill mounds on the kitchen table. The food was ready before the joint so they ate first. There was only two showers so the girls took the first couple rounds. Took about two hours for them all to shower and get ready. They put on makeup and boots with warm socks. Most of the guys showered fast. Martin didn’t shower at all. Allen wasn’t either but decided to at the last minute. Diego was getting frustrated. He kept saying, “It gets dark later out here!”
They packed into their cars and headed to this trail off Interstate 18 that Mondo heard about which was supposed to be great for off-roading. They drove through the city thawing out in the sun. It was supposed to snow last night but never did. Rain for a couple hours but that’s all. 21st century California living. The sun was circled with rainbow rays behind the clouds. It looked to be moving but that was just the treetops waving in the wind, vertigo illusions. Rooftops dripped and streamed out into the streets. Kids played in parking lot chunks of glittery whiteness. Long fields of snow on golf course greens. Then they were out. Driving along a dry, yellow grass field on single lane highway both ways. Big peak on the other side, large and snow capped. Someone said the empty field wasn’t a field, it was actually Big Bear Lake. Martin didn’t believe it but Chip showed him the GPS and it was indeed the truth. Sad and true. Hundred years ago, hell, twenty years ago, the lake would be frozen over right now and burly men would ice fish on it like they do in Minnesota. But not anymore. Now it just sat empty and showed its naked floor without consent. Not even being able to cry. Lifeless.
The trail was all clay color rocks, sharp and abundant. The first couple of meters weren’t bad; little shakes like any unpaved road, then there was a tight curve and the trail narrowed. Chip’s car couldn’t go any further. Him, Dominic and Martin got on the bed of Mondo’s truck and held onto the sides. Mondo smiled in the rearview too conniving to make Martin feel comfortable but fuck it, he thought, you could die getting out of the shower, too. Dominic had a cooler with some Modelo cans and passed them around the bed.
It was rough from the start. The truck would tip back and forth and slam down hard. Chip hit his ribs against the side of the bed and dropped his beer. Then, got mad, opened another one and chugged it as he tried to stay upright. Martin crouched behind the back window, holding on to the opening between the bed and the cab with one had, his beer in the other, foaming up through the top, struggling to get some anywhere else besides his shirt and the bed. The trail crawled up and up. Jacob was recording from behind in Diego’s truck. Mondo would go up the side of the trail to avoid sharp orange points, and the truck would lean and the guys in the bed would lean too, fighting gravity, getting low, holding on. Dominic almost slipped out but Chip snagged his arm just in time. It evened out, jerking hard, and they laughed about it. The bottom kept scrapping. Mondo yelled something out the window about a skid plate. They trembled and bounced in little vibrations and bangs against the floor and that “skid plate” was putting in work. They got to the top on the trail, where it curves up back away from the road and the lake and leads into more rockiness and shaking and foamy beer, more banging. They pulled off just before and parked at a vista that looked off over the lake and Bertha peak covered just at the top by long rows of foggy gray clouds delivering fresh powder for no one. Blotches of yellow and brown covered the lake and off in the distance you could see the little white dots in the city beneath the forest green pine trees that were as green as ever. The road below winded around the bend and it was a nice scene when it was car-less. Mondo checked out his tires. Diego was saying something about his four-wheel drive. Moses took a group pic of the girls with each of their phones without complaint. There was reception so Snapchat and Insta got their taste of the beauty only found in the physical world.
The trail only got worse from there and they decided they should go back down the bumpy mountain. Jeeps were preparing at the bottom for their run, dirty yet expensive. Back on the 18 and it was weird how smooth it was. The trucks felt different. Chip, Dominic and Martin felt different too, still vibrating from the ride. They came back to the golf course frozen over, packed thick with kids and parents in big snow jackets and gloves and tightly laced boots. They parked and got out. First couple steps on snow Martin figured out how bad an idea it was to wear Vans out here. Each step went through and little flakes of crunchy water seeped into the soles and soaked his socks around his ankle. But it was fine. He hardly noticed. He had no gloves either. A snowball fight broke out and his hands were numb before too long and it wasn’t bad. He liked the feeling of packing snow down and it getting hard and tight. It was difficult to run around and even harder to hit each other but once in awhile they did and they laughed when it happened. Mondo threw a bomb from a good fifty yards away that pegged Martin right in the chest by surprise. Martin wasn’t even mad; he was more amazed that a snowball could travel that far without breaking.
There was a family building a snowman and they thought that’d be fun. Everyone started rolling balls of snow together and it’d pull rows of it up, leaving fresh green grass lanes behind it. Martin was amazed, again. He’d never been in the snow like this before being the LA kid he is. He didn’t understand quite how it was happening but it was definitely happening. It looked like carpet being rolled up or a wrestling mat being put away. Mondo gave Martin has gloves to wear noticing his bright red hands and Martin begrudgingly accepted. Mary then gave her gloves to Mondo and starting taking pictures with her teal Polaroid that spit out tiny palm-sized pictures. The guys started to rub the big chunks shaped like jagged boulders with their hands in little circles like sculptors of old. Annie played the snowman song that came out in Frozen and all the girls sang along. Bear Mountain could be seen in the background and they joked that they could see the little spec version of Bo coming down the side.
It took four guys to put the torso on the bottom snowball. Who knew snow was so heavy? The head only took two of them. Patty took the eyes of another snowman made by a little kid that left when they got there. She felt bad but it was a shitty snowman anyways. They found the rocks for the mouth in the mud by the entrance. Kate broke off tree branches and stuck them in the sides, they curved up making it look the snowman was signaling a touchdown. Mondo put his beanie on it, Diego put Mary’s gloves over the tips of the stick arms. They got a nearby dad to take a picture of them all posing by the big guy, torso bigger than his bottom, almost taller than the humans beside it. The picture came out good and they all were happy with their time in the snow. But now they were wet and cold and getting tired. The sun was gone behind the mountain. It wasn’t dark but it was getting there. They decided to get coffee and wait for Bo to be done so they could go have dinner somewhere and relax and talk and get ready for round two lurking back at the cabin.
Bo was done not long after and they arranged to meet up and this sandwich shop called JP’s, right on Big Bear Ave. The place was a small log cabin that looked sort of like the one they were staying in. It only had a six brown picnic tables. They took up three of them. The shop had a big Budweiser sign right above the counter. Harley sign behind it. Chandeliers of cheap different colored stained-glass. All the stuff on the walls made it feel cozy and authentic. Mondo, Mary and Diego ordered for everyone, the rest sat at the tables in the rear, two next to each other, one just behind.
Mondo came up and waited for the cashier, hands in his pockets, still trying to decide if he’ll get the meatball sub or the turkey bacon melt. Finally, after a couple minutes, the cashier came up to the counter.
“Yeah.” Her voice was rough sounding, like a smoker’s. She wore a denim vest that definitely used to be a long sleeve jacket until she took a knife to the sleeves. Mondo was caught off guard. She looked agitated. She her mouth corked up in the corner, screaming of annoyance.
“Ahhh… can I geeeet…” Mondo looks up to the menu one more time. The cashier sighs and adjusts her stance. Mary watching her every move. “Can I get two meatball subs, ahh… a turkey bacon melt, aaand… a chili cheese burger please?”
“Okay.” She punched some buttons that sounded sticky. “Chips?”
“Sure. And four medium drinks.”
She stared, moved her eyes slowly and pounded the buttons even harder.
Damn, Mondo said to himself but shook it off. He gave her three twenties and she took her time giving him back the change. He waited for a receipt but didn’t get one. He hesitated. The woman lost her patience.
“Just go sit down!” She snapped with some heat. Mondo flinched — shocked, confused. He walked away without saying anything, shrugging his shoulders at Mary as he went by.
Mary came up ready. “Two cheeseburgers, a tuna melt and a plain hamburger.” She said every word sharp and aggressive, an almost scream muffled by teeth. A lioness defending her own. The two women stared murderous stares in silence. Diego started feeling uncomfortable. Neither wanted to be the first to look away, this meaning something to both of them. Mary’s face felt warm and she clenched her fists. The cashier’s pale cheeks were rosy red and she looked like she was about to burst. Finally, the cashier snapped her head away and stabbed at the cash register. The total was the same as Mondo’s and Mary got two twenties, a ten and a five and just tossed them carelessly at the woman. The ten dropped to the cashier’s feet but Mary doesn’t see it, she’s already turned and walking back with queen’s posture and warrior’s spirit.
She throws herself down at the table, fuming. Mondo already told everyone about the woman and they were discussing it.
“She’s just mad because they have a ton of sandwiches and shit to make.” Dominic said, scrolling uninterested through his phone.
“That’s good for them though! More business!” Mondo says excitedly.
“She’s probably just having a bad day.” Patty joins.
“Yeah, I feel like that sometimes.” Kate, too.
“Fuck that bitch.” Mary says, still heated.
“She’s probably gonna spit in our food.” Allen laughs but no one else does. Martin smiles from the other table.
Diego comes back and sits down at the table with Annie, Patty, and Jacob.
“That lady’s a bitch dude.” He says, chuckling worried little noises. “After I ordered, she got on the phone and started calling someone. This feels sketch.”
No one responded. Everyone was confused and a little freaked out. But some time passed and they were laughing again. The food was taking a while but it was just nice to be out of the cold. Moses pointed out a sign on one of the wood pillars to Chip. It said: “TERRORIST BODY BAG” in big block letters. There were cartoon images of Hitler and Osama and some other crap written underneath that they couldn’t make out. They looked at each other and shook it off. They were in the mountains. This was hunter’s territory. Guns help build this town.
The first couple sandwiches started coming out and the lady waved for them to get them from the counter. Just about then a big man with a pink face, wide features, overalls and straight white beard, walks in. Santa Claus if he drank beer all day and beat his wife. A smaller man came in after him, denim overalls tucked into long rain boots that ran out at his knees. He had a camouflaged trucker hat over a wrinkly face with sagging eyebrows that hung over his eyes like an old dog. His beard was short and rough looking. A third man came in and things started to clear up. A chubby man with a thick brown beard and narrow eyes. White collared shirt that made his belly stand out, shiny black leather belt stretching around forever. Some khaki pleated pants like Harbaugh but a couple sizes bigger. On top of his head was the only thing that mattered. Something that gave strength to the fearful all over the country. There it sat, delicately placed, like a whore’s wig, a red hat with white letters across the front, propped up to grab attention.
Everyone at the table watched all three men walk in and immediately clammed up like they were doing something wrong. Mondo walked over and got the sandwiches from the counter without making eye contact. The big Santa Claus-looking one said hello to the cashier, named Nancy apparently, and sat down on the first table from the door. The others followed, looking over the group across form them, sizing up the biggest ones. In a minute, Nancy comes out from the back and brings the men coffee and two baskets of fries. Martin notices the fries. Fries weren’t on the menu. He remembered specifically being disappointed at the lack of fries. Chip was staring at the red hat across the room. He had never seen one in person before. Most of them haven’t seen one besides on the news or TV. The sign made more sense to Moses now and he showed Martin and Dominic. Most of the sandwiches weren’t out yet. The ones that had them were waiting for the others. But Nancy was still at the table with the men, flirting and tilting her head, doing her best to be cute.
They waited, trying to be polite. They were on vacation, no need for confrontation. Bo was getting frustrated and Mondo tried calming him down. But he was hungry. The slopes leave you starving afterwards. And tired! He just wanted to eat and it’s been almost an hour since they ordered. He got up and walked over, approaching cautiously. The smaller old man with the saggy face open his eyes wide and followed him closely.
“Excuse me?” Nancy tilts head and looks at him with death eyes. “Are our sandwiches ready? We’re really hungry and we’ve been waiting.” She said nothing, just stared deep into his pupils, probably imagining Guantanamo torture chambers she could run him through. But still, she said nothing and just walked back behind the counter. You could hear her thrashing around back there, making as much noise as possible. The three men whispered something to each other as Bo was leaving. He took a seat and that’s when it started.
“I cain’t waiut til ole Trumps becums presdent,” the Santa Claus man said leaning back in his seat with his thumbs on his overall straps, “build that fuckin’ wall!”
“Dass riight! All dese God damned messicans!” The smaller man said, sharp hick accent saying xs with an emphasis like a hiss.
The group at the table, stood quiet. No one knew what to say. They looked around at each other. For the first time they were aware of their olive-brown skin, their dark, thick hair and dark honey eyes. They said nothing but everyone was thinking the same thing. “Are they talking about us?” “Are we those ‘messicans’ they hate so much?”
They went on…
“Wunt ta MACdonals this morn ‘nd shit was packt wit ’em! All sizes! Smelly fuckin’ bunch, too!”
“It’s cheap! Dass why!”
The one with the Trump hat said nothing; just smiling, back to the group, staring straight ahead. His hat saying all it needs to.
Martin’s eyes are locked down, looking through the brown curves in the wood picnic table, trying not to hear it. He can’t picture that it’s real. He doesn’t even know Spanish! But that doesn’t matter. He was born in Bellflower! But that doesn’t matter, either. He thinks about the flag waving in front of his childhood home and the big fourth of July celebrations with fireworks and hot dogs and how his mom made everyone dress in red white and blue. But somehow, that didn’t matter.
Dominic grits his teeth, jaw going in circles. He thinks about his parents, immigrants from San Felipe, at home in a two-bedroom garage-turned-house in the back of his uncle’s place. He thinks about his mom waking up at four to catch the bus at five to get to her first job. Dad spending days on the road hauling produce. All just so he could go to U of A, out of state, dorm, food card, great education, in hopes he won’t have to work with his hands if he didn’t want to.
Mondo and Diego are looking at each other, barely holding it together. They were thinking of their mother. Stuck in Medellin in the eighties, where kids on dirt bikes killed people in front of crowds in broad daylight. They remember the story she would tell them, tears pouring down her face, of her sister, the aunt they never met, and the night she went off to a nightclub and never came back. They remembered her going to citizenship classes and staying up late studying their middle school history books to know who George Washington was. They remember the ceremony and seeing her wave the little American flag with the rest of the people from every corner of the world.
Mary’s anger turned into a disgust so heavy it felt like gravity was stronger than normal. She was trembling. Kate tried to put her hand on her shaking forearm but she yanked away. She could only understand every couple words from their accents. “Send ’em all back!” “Round ’em up in da night, I say!” She could feel a knot in her throat and tears starting to form but she kept it back. She couldn’t let them win.
The rest of the food comes and the woman puts the baskets down without care, some chips fall out onto the table. Everyone had their head down. She leaves and they start eating in silence. Cold sandwiches. Stale bread. The men at the table keep going.
“Fuhkeen O-Bah-Mah! Divider ‘n chief!” The little wrinkly man said with high eyebrows like he was proud of himself.
“Well, things are about to change real fast!” The man in the red hat, a more refined sound. Like he graduated high school. “January 20th! Mark your calendars boys!”
Diego’s foot was fidgeting up and down. Moses next to him, staring straight at the men, waiting for one of them to look him in the eyes. Diego: “I’m gonna say something.”
“No.” Mondo shakes his head softly.
“I’m gonna say something.” Diego, again.
Moses, “I got your back.”
“Yeah fuck these foos!” Chip whispers from the other table, low and soft as to not give away their attack. He already had two lighters out and clenched to make fist packs.
Bo got ready and looked at Martin. Martin shrugged his shoulders as to say, “If it happens, it happens.”
Diego goes to stand Mondo reaches across and grabs him by the wrist, pulling him back down.
“No.” Mondo’s stifled shout. “If you react, they win. We prove them right. Their words only matter in we let them.”
“But we’re just gonna let them talk all this shit?” Replied Diego with some heat.
“Mondo’s right.” Mary joins, clearing her throat, eyes glossy red. “We got to show them what real Americans are. That’s not America.”
“Fuck that.” Moses says under his breath, still staring. But Diego felt it. She was right. He relaxed his shoulders and they decided to leave. The men kept saying things but they just took it. Each word like a stone off the temple. The feeling of being ‘other’. Of being unwanted. Illegitimate. They thought they were safe in California. This wasn’t supposed to happen here. But this was the mountains. This was expensive real estate that white people rule over. The snow is only for them and the color confirms it! Of course, they all thought, feeling ashamed that they didn’t put two and two together earlier.
Chip was the last one out and right before he left, he turned and looked at the men. “Hey,” the men spun fast in their seats, expecting a blow, “Y’all better learn to speak Russian.”
On the ride back to the cabin all the cars were quiet inside, music low. They started seeing Trump stickers on the backs of car windows. At least one in ten in a pretty dense area of the city. This just added to the crushing feelings of alienation. Martin was back to feeling like an outcast but instead of being all alone, he was with a group, an entire race of people defined by skin and misinformation. He knew this wasn’t unusual; America has always been like this. Before Mexicans, it was the Irish and Italians. For a bit it was the Japanese. And African Americans have had it for centuries. Now it was their turn. Them and a billion Muslims had the targets on their backs, and they just started to feel it.
The cabin was dark when they got in and no one bothered turning on the lights. There was one lamp on by the TV that reflected off the white panel blinds, looking ominous, setting the mood of the night. Half of them sat on the couches, others at the table. They all felt like the air had been taken from their lungs. Sad, sagging eyes all around, contemplating their place in this mad world. Martin and Allen started to drink beers in the kitchen’s orange glow from the open fridge. They stood there trying to drown it away, whatever it was. Allen just kept thinking that he should have said something. He should have spoke up. Martin was just sad about the energy shift.
One by one, the girls took off to their beds. Then Mondo, and everyone else followed suit, except Allen and Martin. They stood up, drinking beers, saying nothing, reflecting, until they were too drunk to fight sleep and the coming day.[/et_pb_text][et_pb_text admin_label=”Text” background_layout=”dark” text_orientation=”center” use_border_color=”off” border_color=”#ffffff” border_style=”solid”]
[/et_pb_text][et_pb_text admin_label=”Text” background_layout=”dark” text_orientation=”left” use_border_color=”off” border_color=”#ffffff” border_style=”solid” background_color=”rgba(0,0,0,0.48)”]
The morning came with an early surprise. Originally, they thought they were checking out at eleven but the owner called and informed them that no, it was ten. Any later would be a seventy-five dollar fine that no one was excited about. Mondo wanted to contest it but just didn’t have the energy. So the cleanup began. Folding blankets and rollout mattresses that blocked the hallway and pinned the front door shut. Beer bottles all over, in the bathroom, under the table, between the couch cushions. The girls took turns showering quick, five-minute showers. They had the most to pack. The guys started loading up the trucks, no one saying anything. They were just going through it. It took a while loading up all the food. They could leave the trash; they paid an extra fifty for that privilege.
Kate was the first ready to go, sitting with her hands folded on the couch, bag at her feet. Chip had started rolling joints in the roller coming out thick and tight. He took his time. Allen was outside on the porch drinking a beer and hitting the vape. He could hear everyone moving around through the window. Big dense clouds of smoke that smelled like grapes streamed out in chunks. He watched them being born then, slowly, catch the wind and swirl in disappearing coldness. It was a sunny day and the snow pushed up on the edge of the road was leaking into the street and he watched it slither down the side of the pavement and away away away, carried off by gravity. He took in the melting snow, the smoke dying in open air, the loose bit of pine falling from the trees by the force of the morning breeze. He took all this in and things made more sense. Allen understood he was part of a temporary world. A world changing and fluid. A world sitting on a spectrum of endless divine phenomena. A grin grew across his face and he took a hit. “Nothing matters… Nothing fuckin’ matters…”
Mondo was in his room, putting on his boots on. He can hear Mary moving about behind him. He thought about yesterday. Should he have done something? He still didn’t know. Diego seemed upset at him. But what was he supposed to do? Have a brawl in a sandwich shop? All so they could say, “look! There go those damn Mexicans causing trouble! Trump was right!” No. He couldn’t give them that satisfaction. But still, even with that rational branch of thought, something still was tugging at him. Every breath brought shame. Every frown, every moment of silence, they were in control. He couldn’t allow that…
Normally she folded all her clothes but this time she wasn’t up to it. Mary pushed down hard and struggled to get the zipper to close. Got stuck a couple times but it was shut. She sat on her side of the bed looking into the wooden floors, brown, only a shade or two darker than her own skin. She could still hear the men. The were there with her. She couldn’t shake them. She seen the sun making patterns on the floor in a golden glow and felt nothing. She could see out the window at the perfect white snow glistening like broken glass. How could she allow someone to taint this place? Claim this land as their own? No! She wouldn’t let that happen.
Suddenly, like communicating telepathically the whole time, they turned and faced each other. They froze when their eyes locked, both thinking the same thing, “That was weird.”
Mondo went first, “Dude, we have to do something.”
“I was just thinking that!” Mary hopped across the bed energetically.
“We can’t let them ruin this weekend.” Both nodded — looking away in thought.
An idea sprang up and Mary blurted, “We should go sledding or something! Didn’t you say there was a hill like 20 minutes away?”
“Shit that’s right! Let’s go!”
The cars were all loaded up. The beds of the truck stacked and strapped in tight. They had about thirty minutes left. Chip took out a couple joints, looked around, everyone nodded their approval. There was still a twelve pack of Coors lite left and Allen cracked one open. Bo and Martin were making pineapple-cuervos for the road. Jacob was telling a story to Annie, she let out a big laugh and they started to smile again without feeling guilty. Mondo hugged Mary from behind and they smiled warm smiles at each other. Moses hooked up to the speaker, still sitting on the living room table, too heavy and left for the end. A young Kanye came through and conversations picked up and as the cabin got foggy, they started to feel better.
About five minutes to ten, they took off. A light drizzle dropped and kissed their faces but stopped almost as fast as it came. They all followed each other, close behind like humvies in Afghanistan. It was a wet January morning, everyone driving around to throw trash or get food. Mondo’s white Tacoma leading, they headed away from the city, down a two-lane highway that ran through woods so dense you couldn’t see any light between the brown trunks. Martin, high and tripping out as they sped by. Then the road curved and they could see the mountain in the distance. Its peak was curved and it looked to have a lot of green on it. As they went, the woods spread and you could make out some cabins behind them. The trees were getting bigger and looked like huge nugs reminding you that marijuana came from mother earth like their cousins growing to the sky and getting chopped down around December for middle class living rooms. The road narrows and took another sharp right at more of an incline. Dirty white chunks started to line the highway letting them know they were getting close. They kept going, up, up, up. To the left was the great valley carpeted below with more tall green pines, water melting to the bottom making those grow high with thick roots. They passed a couple spots where people were playing around but none looked big enough. Then, coming around a curve, they seen it. Long white slope going straight up to the sun. Mondo parked first, Diego right behind. Chip and Bo parked further down the road and had to walk back, cars speeding by leaving for the week.
There they were. The great slope of all highway-turnout slopes. There were already people sliding down. Two families with little kids wrapped up tight and stiff with little red noses, sniffing. The snow was already packed down tight and was hard to walk on without slipping. The slope was about a sixty-yard decline, split in two equal parts. The first started over where the parents were pushing their kids with subconscious passive aggression like, “Here! That’s for pissing your bed you little shit!” About halfway down it leveled out before dropping again and ending with an edge that looked like it was made for jumps. Below that was a mix of snow, rocks, and tall green grass that still had some dew sparkling off them. There was a man with a very serious face and balding brown head at the bottom before the edge catching the kids coming down. They let one go and he looked terrified in the little space between his scarf and beanie. He got speed and held on for dear life. The man caught him at the bottom and the kid didn’t look like he thought it was fun.
Mondo took out a couple of sleds that reminded Martin of plastic versions of old-timey metal trash can tops. Bo had his board with him, free-balling it with regular boots. Moses and Martin got the sleds and headed up the hill, Mary and Bo following behind. The two women at the top sent another kid to down the hill against its will. Bo sat on the snow and took his time hooking up to his board. Moses and Martin were debating on whether or not they should try going down standing up. Impatient, Mary snatched the sled from Martin, sprinted a couple steps out to the middle of the slope, jumped in the air and landed with the sled under her butt. She glided to the left and leaned hard to straighten out. Looks like she leaned too hard and is headed off course and hits a bush off to the side feet first and disappears inside it. Everyone holds their breath until there’s an, “I’m okay,” from behind branches. Bursts of laughter, even from the parents scaring their kids to death. Strong powerfully laughter that seemed to transcend the moment. A laughter than broke the tension in an instant! You could feel the energy change, warmth hitting people in waves.
Allen brought the case of Coors out and handed them to whoever wanted one. The dad that was catching kids took a break, got one, nodded and said, “Gracias.” The two women and the kids came down and sat in tree stumps next to the slope and gave stage to the youngins to have some fun. They spoke Spanish in the sun and laughed pleasant older lady laughs that made everyone feel at home. Patty, Annie and Kate were off to the side having a snowball fight, giggling and falling down over each other. Bo took a run and had a trouble controlling the board in his regular boots. They kept slipping out of the binding, making him take a big looping ‘s’ turns, spraying snow as his back hip twisted and steered. He’s coming in too hot and had to lay it down digging his heels in, spewing white out behind him. He stopped right before the edge. Moses went down after standing up and made it look rather easy. Martin tried it too and fell almost instantly, sled shooting out from underneath him, then him, rolling away and getting ice down the back of his shirt. Jacob caught the fall on slo-mo and Dominic kept watching it, exploding with laughter at Martin’s face right before he hit the ground.
There was a little passageway that led through the trees at the top. Mary walked further up and tried to pack down the snow so they could have a higher starting point. Bo help and then went down face first, stomach flat on the board and at the bottom Mondo caught his leg right before he went down the second slope. Martin convinced Allen to walk up with him and they took beers and sat on a fallen tree as Mary and Moses discussed the best way to go down. Mondo was crouched like a catcher, ready to save lives down on the second slope. Allen popped one open and put the rest in the snow to keep cold. Moses went sitting, then Mary, then it’s Martin’s turn. He felt the nerves building. He was still hurting from the first fall, and now higher? He could just imagine himself, head split open on one of those rocks down there. Or getting caught on a tree and landing with a bone sticking out of somewhere. He was glad Moses was taking his time coming up with the other sled. And how could he trust Mondo to catch him? Sure he caught Moses, that was his cousin. Of course he caught Mary, that was his girl. But Martin was no one to him. What stopped him from just watching him speed off into oblivion? Nothing! Nothing at all. Doubt consumed him. Allen watched, sipping his beer. He could read every one of Martin’s thoughts from the creases in his brow.
“Hey.” Allen says in sensei tone.
“It doesn’t matter… nothing matters.”
Martin didn’t reply. He wondered if he was talking aloud the whole time. As if the fear drugged him and made him loose-lipped. Before he could respond Moses was back and handing him the sled. It was time. He put the sled down and it almost slipped away. He grabbed it, sat slowly, feeling the water soak through his pants to his skin. His feet were the only thing keeping him from speeding away. He looked one last time at Allen. Allen smiled that psycho smile and held up his beer as if to say, “If you die, at least it was fun!”
Then, feet up. Wind. Speed. Struggling to see. He’s drifting left toward one of the trees. He leans right and makes his legs into a ‘4’ like Mondo told him to. He slides just under a low hanging branch and it snatches the beanie off his head and now he’s racing down and the sun is reflecting off the snow too bright for him to see where he’s going and the wind’s making it hard to even open his eyes. There’s a little bump Bo made when he tried to stop and Martin could feel himself go right over it, catching air then slamming hard into the ground stinging his tailbone. Then with more speed he’s heading down the second slope. Mondo, halfway with big ready eyes and devious smile waiting to receive him. He tries to throw himself on top of Martin but he’s going too fast, only snagging the sleeve of his shirt, twisting him. Now, Martin’s sliding backwards, holding onto the sled white knuckled and Mondo dives out after him grabbing hold of his jeans so hard he scrapes up some ankle skin and they skid to a stop just before the edge. Silence. Then joy. Martin pops up and Mondo too and they high five and laugh and pat each other’s backs, adrenaline erupting through their breath and every movement. They walk back up the hill, arm over arm, keeping each other up right and they get to the top and the corners of Martin’s smile are riding way up on the side of his cheeks. The women watching on the tree stumps cheer and clap and Diego is recording it all on his GoPro. He ran up back up the hill with renewed energy. Someone got the speaker out and started playing music from a tree trunk, some Vicente Fernandez with horns that made the ladies on the stump go, “iiiiiiiiiyyy—yaaiiii-yaiiiii”!
Martin made it up the top and took a seat next to Allen. He handed Martin a beer, popped it open and they cheers’d and drank deep drinks that froze their throat. It was the best beer Martin had ever tasted. He looked down and the girls were dancing in circles in the ice, moving their hips with closed eyes. Jacob and Annie held each other and bounced around like they do in little village festivals all over Mexico, just how their parents taught them. Bo took another run and got some good air just as the trumpet squirted from the speaker like it was meant to happen. Mary followed headfirst and darning, she got some air too but landed hard, bouncing her face against the sled but she shakes it off and Mondo catches her like he’s been doing it his whole life. They went to stand then stumbled down the slope, holding on to each other like they will for the rest of time. Everyone watching with happy eyes. They watched them smile at each other and slip and you could feel the love oozing out of them. It was the pure kind of love that made everyone else hopeful for humanity. It was the kind of love that folks tried so hard to capture and replicate in movies and books, and here, in the middle of a California mountain range, sat the only example Martin had ever seen. The moment burned inside his head, Vicente crooning out in the background.
For the first time in his life, in his twenty-three years of breathing, shitting and eating, Martin felt alive. He felt real. Yesterday, he seen the gloomy pit of what humanity could become but now, on the side of this icy highway, he seen something even brighter. He could see the glow of hope. He could see the fire of a future to believe in, a future illuminating from every smile and laugh and set of wild pupils. As long as they were together, as long as they kept loving and smiling and living life with compassion and wonder and acceptance, then they were winning! Let the bigots have their moments of insecurity! We have love, he screams inside the walls of his mind, and love cannot be measured! Love cannot be taken away! It is ours! It is humanities! This generation, bubbling underneath the surface, maturing and growing like green blades of grass under feet of snow. Eventually, the old will melt away through the tenacity of time and the stage will clear, and it will be their turn. But for now, more than ever before in history, they had to fight to keep hope alive, and to always remember to love.
They left soon after. Everyone was wet and exhausted. They said their goodbyes. Hugs. Waves. “See you soon”s. At the car, Martin and Bo changed out of their soaked clothes on the side of the highway and drivers honked as they went by but they paid no attention. Bliss. The sky had lost all its clouds and was a perfect Bavarian blue that made them think of the ocean. They got back into the car, neither of them with socks on. The Growlers came back to them with a nasty bass line. They looked at each other, single nod that said everything, and headed back down the wet 18. Martin took out his notebook, flipped to a blank page and wrote all the way back to LA.