The four of us have been friends, solid friends without pause, since 1989. Because we have remained close over the decades, we have stockpiled thirty years of stories, which inevitably come up every time we are together. When we settle down on a couch or around a dinner table, the old tales always worm their way into the conversation. And especially if there is a newbie around, who hasn’t heard the stories at all. God help the newbie because they are in for extended storytime, with each of us competing to fill in a funny detail we remember that the others don’t.
Thankfully, however, we have not fallen into the trap of living in the past entirely, existing solely on the stories we dust off when we see each other. No, year after year, we do our best to add more chapters to our collective storybook of friendship. This short trip we planned was an attempt to do just that.
Ian, Caesar, and I fell into a sticky vinyl booth at a late-night diner on a Friday night in Ventura. Our fourth buddy, Amir, was going to meet us in the morning at the harbor, where we would throw our gear and paddleboards on a catamaran and head out to sea for a few days.
The waitress came over smiling at us. She was probably in late 50’s, but her teeth told us she had lived those years the hard way.
She said, “You guys want something to drink?”
Cwiz started in with her like he always did with waitresses, “Well, hello there, young lady.”
Did she just blush?
Cwiz continued, “How are you this fine evening?”
“Well, I’ve been better. Did you hear about that nut around the corner who just knifed his old lady?”
I said, “No, we missed that. Here?”
She turned to me. “You didn’t hear about it? It’s everywhere. I think that jerk came in here last week.”
Cwiz said, “Really?”
The waitress shot a furtive look behind her, “Yeah. Hey, do you guys know Bobby?”
Cwiz said, “Yeah, I know Bobby.”
Ian said, “I don’t know Bobby.”
I said, “I used to know Bobby.”
She said, “Well, Bobby just came in here. I hate that sumvabitch. He once held a forty-five to my head.”
I said, “Holy sh…”
Cwiz cut me off, “Yeah, no surprise there. Bobby’s the worst.”
Ian said, “Well, to answer your first question, I’ll take a Sam Adams.”
She looked sort of startled and remembered she was there to take our order and said, “For you guys?”
I ordered the same, and Cwiz ordered a “Coke, with easy ice.”
Then Cwiz asked her what their best appetizer was, to which she replied, “The mozzarella sticks are pretty good, I guess.”
Cwiz said, “Great. We’ll take the onion strings.”
She turned and walked off, looking around the corner for Bobby.
We cracked up as soon as she left, and we fell into talking about the trip we had planned. Ian had rented a catamaran for two days and our intention was to take it out to Anacapa Island, which is roughly 12 miles out of Ventura Harbor, and then we planned on sailing out to the neighboring island, Santa Cruz Island, where we would anchor for the night. The plan in the morning was to sail out to the western and northern side of Santa Cruz and check out the Painted Cave, which is one of the largest sea caves in the world. And then motor back to Ventura.
It was not often that we got together without our families, and when we did, we fell into our old familiar ways. It was like high school again. While we ate our late-night dinner, the conversation ranged over random topics, eventually and bizarrely landing on the subject of coyotes.
Our waitress sauntered over, “You guys talking about coyotes?”
I said, “Wow. How’d you know?”
“Well, I heard you.”
She then blurted out, “I was a coyote one time.”
Cwiz said, “Me too.”
She was overjoyed. “You were a coyote? Hell yeah man. I had to smuggle our cook over the border. He was deported so I went down, threw him in the trunk, and brought him back. It was crazy. He’s back there right now cooking for you.”
Ian said with a huge smile, “That is wonderful.”
She said, “I know, right? You guys need anything else?”
We did not need anything else. That was just what we needed. We were loving this lady.
It occurred to me watching these two guys eat that we must’ve had 1000 such meals together, but perhaps never had a more entertaining waitress.
When we finished up and paid, as we were walking out, the waitress joined us, saying she was off for the night. The four of us walked out the front door together.
Cwiz said, “Well, you stay safe and watch out for Bobby, okay?”
She said, “You know I have fifteen hundred dollars in my pocket?”
I said, “No, I did not know that.”
She looked around again. “Yeah, I just sold a horse.”
She said, “Alright guys. You guys partying?”
I said, “Nope. Just going to bed with an early morning.”
She sulked off, and we got into the car, vowing we would come back to see her next time we were in town. It took us all of three minutes to get to the hotel. We loaded our gargantuan pile of gear up in the corner of the room, afraid to leave it in Caesar’s truck for the night.
We got settled and I made fun of Ian for his Ward Cleaver pajamas, with its buttons and all.
Ian said, “What? I’m not a savage, for God’s sake. I’m not sleeping naked like a caveman.”
I tossed and turned in the lumpy rollaway bed, excited as a five year-old the day before his first trip to Disneyland. My enthusiasm stemmed from the fact that I knew I was going to paddle through a giant sea arch in the morning, and for me, that was better than Disneyland.
(End of Part One)