BoomerCafé contributor Erin O’Brien is moving. Why? A fairly typical boomer story: her husband is retiring. They’re moving cross-country but for the time being, living in limbo. She has become a tourist in her old home town, and soon will be the same in her new one.
I’m in limbo, that in-between place, in-between the old house and the new house, otherwise known as escrow. It’s my long, last look, and my farewell to my hometown of Redondo Beach, California, a city abutting the blue Pacific where it’s common to see someone crossing the street with a surfboard or a fishing pole.
My last hurrah is a room with a view: an apartment by the ocean, in walking distance to the boardwalk, fish market and pier where I spent countless summers. Now I’m a tourist in my own hometown.
The changing landscape in the window frame is captivating. Today a sunburned family with British accents is poolside at the hotel next door, as the father fumbles with a fold-out map in the breeze. The wind makes the palm fronds dance lightly, but makes for difficult map reading.
I wonder, what would I notice if I was seeing this place for the first time?
Beyond the seawall, the lifeguard boat creates a small wake as it returns to the marina, passing oncoming kayakers and paddle boarders, divers in their rubber Zodiac boat, a majestic yacht flying an American flag. A small school of sailing students, in tiny identical sailboats, drifts by while a crew team rows in perfect synchronization. In the distance a container ship cruises on the horizon. Today the scene is serene, but sometimes it’s riveting.
My favorite image is of the early morning moon, suspended in the still dark sky, illuminating a slender strip of the ocean. A lone fishing boat passing under the moonlight. I watched from the window as the sky turned from indigo to periwinkle, to the faintest, softest blue, as the bright moon rose higher.
Seals and sea lions sunbathe on their barge. A curious kayaker slowly approaches. Sometimes the seals slide off for a swim, popping up unexpectedly, far from where they were last seen. One sits like a statue on a round buoy, until it is dethroned by a fellow seal. At night they howl and bark, as if competing with the screeching, chattering gulls.
A paddle boarder floats by effortlessly, his canine first mate at his feet. Fishermen, still as statues, stand silhouetted on the rocks. The silence is shattered with the roar of the coast guard helicopter during a maritime drill. From my front-row seat of our window I watch the bright orange helicopter, trailed by the coast guard boat below, hovering over the ocean just outside the breakwater. The ocean ripples in a circle below the blades.
In a James Bond moment, a grey response boat and the harbor patrol boat maneuver beside one another. Uniformed men in helmets and body armor, weapons drawn (but presumably empty), board the coast guard vessel. Onboard, a woman in blue stands and observes. Is she their superior officer (or a diamond thief being arrested by her lover, who’s actually a secret agent)?
I’m soaking up the scenery: seagulls floating above me on a current, comical-looking pelicans skimming the water or dive-bombing for fish, herons sailing overhead with their long legs trailing behind them. Seals perch on buoys and lazily lounge on their wooden barge. I take in the morning fog and pastel sunsets, and on a clear day, there’s Catalina Island, “26 miles across the sea.”
These are are the sounds I’ve committed to memory: the clanging bell of the buoy, the roar of the coast guard helicopter overhead, seals yelping, the cries of the seabirds.
Last night my husband and I walked on the pier, where we went on our first date, and along the seawall where our wedding pictures were taken, many summers ago. A sunset wedding ceremony had just ended, as the lady and her maids teetered off to the hotel.
The ocean stretches far beyond our apartment window. When I was young I marveled as the tide came in and washed over my sandy feet, that I lived right on the very edge of the U.S. map in my geography book. I was infatuated with the seagulls, and if I was lucky, sometimes I was treated to three or four dolphins riding the waves.
Soon I’ll be on the other edge of the U.S. map, and the other ocean. The sun will rise where it has always set for me, over the water.
I’ll drink “coffee milk” or have a bowl of “chowdah” when it’s “wicked cold” outside in Rhode Island. I’ll become a tourist in my new town, too.