How my ex, a Vespa, and the Pacific Coast Highway taught me that you can't plan everything
My ex-boyfriend broke up with me in a bungalow with a broken heater. Three days after our break up but before Mercury went into retrograde, I hopped on the back of his Vespa for one last drive up the Pacific Coast Highway.
He understands Los Angeles better than I do and is never distracted by Siri’s robotic voice telling him which way to turn or about potential roadblocks ahead. This is something I haven’t mastered yet.
We never talked much during our rides through Los Angeles, as we drove under planes rising up toward their destinations and past the strip malls that eventually turn into houses on ridges farther north. We also kept quiet as we rode by the smelly tar pits, which are poorly explained and located next to a strip of museums.
I never chose where we went, but while I was dating him, during those times we ended our drives with a glass of scotch by his fire pit, I never thought much about it. I never worried where we were going or how we would get there — I trusted him without question.
When I was dating him, he showed me Los Angeles in a way I would never have seen it without riding on the back of a Vespa in the open air. Without being this free, I’d never have had the chance to understand how tall the cliffs lining the Pacific Coast Highway actually are, to feel where the hot and cold pockets sit in the canyons — pockets I never knew existed when I drove my car to hike to Jim Morrison’s cave a year and a half before.
By giving him control, I was able to see what took place inside the cars stopped at the light while he crept between them to cut the line. I met quite a few characters this way: the nose-picker in his Ferrari, the puffy-eyed girl blasting an empowering pop song in her Prius, and the thin grey haired man talking to himself in his 1960s yellow truck with a broken radio.
On this last drive up the PCH, I was more nervous than usual on the back of his bike. I no longer trusted him the same — he had broken up with me, come back, then broken up with me again — I no longer believed he could keep the bike balanced. I no longer could be fully enveloped by my favorite moment — that moment on the CA 1 ramp heading down to the PCH, when the ocean first opens up to you under the Malibu Hills. When we crept between the lanes, I had trouble meeting the characters we passed. I was too worried we would hit a car’s side view mirror.
Once we had passed the speckled Malibu fish restaurants, Pepperdine College, and the boys running into the January water for a laugh, I spoke.
“We just passed the Jim Morrison cave hike.”
“You want to go there? I was gonna drive farther up Malibu.”
“Have you been there?” I asked.
“Yes, we should go.” I understand now that I wanted control; I needed to get off his bike, which, I hated being on for the first time without knowing where we would eventually park.
He obliged, and, for the first time in our relationship, I told him where to go without a map or a woman’s robotic voice from my phone. As we drove through the canyons, I was excited. Excited to show him my secret spot, a place I thought we might be able to reconnect.
The first time I visited Jim Morrison’s cave, I hadn’t planned on finding it. It was over a year and a half before, and I took a wrong turn and kept driving through canyons I hadn’t known existed in Los Angeles. I found my way to an empty gravel lot and met a man walking his dog. “Is this a hike?” I asked.
“Yeah, walk that way and you’ll find where Jim Morrison used to come, take acid, and stay for nights at a time to create his music.”
I’d hiked the empty path, second-guessing what the man had told me, worried someone would pop out of the bushes and grab me at any moment. Then, I reached the opening with the giant boulder overlooking the valley to the East and the ocean to the West, and my heart stopped. It was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen, and it was all mine. I walked the spiral maze of rocks that sat in front of the boulder in the quiet light, climbed into Jim Morrison’s cave covered in graffiti, and tried to imagine what he thought about, how long he stayed there, if he brought his guitar or just a pad and pen. Then I scaled the boulder that kept his cave safe, knelt down to pick at the glitter trapped in its cracks and stood up to take in all of Los Angeles — a sprawling city that I felt so lost in.
There is something special about sitting on top of a large boulder, on the highest point of a canyon and just thinking. Just realizing that it will all be okay. I wanted him to feel this, to remember there is more than just the road and moving forward without a map, that sometimes we need to take it all in from the highest peak in order for the world to make sense.
This time, I hopped off the man’s Vespa in a filled parking lot wearing white overalls, a sequined choker and a white fur coat—I hadn’t planned to go on a hike. I stood next to women in workout spandex, tight tops, and running shoes.
We walked past about twenty people before we finally reached the large boulder I had once scaled alone, only to find it covered with 39 people — boys scaling it with orange Nalgene bottles, throwing them up to one another and hitting the magical rock, girls taking selfies, a couple walking through the spiraled maze of rocks holding hands.
“I can’t be here — we need to go. This is not what it’s supposed to be like,” I said
He looked at me, “It’s a holiday, Chloë.”
I had been there on a holiday a year and a half before. I had discovered the magic on a holiday, but that magic had changed. My plan of leaving him alone to think on top of a boulder, to see the vastness of Los Angeles, the valley, and the ocean, and to hopefully understand that control is merely a tiring game of pretend, was pointless.
We drove away from the caves, parked his bike back on our street, hugged, and went into our separate homes. Our relationship had changed. We no longer ended our rides around his fire with a glass of Scotch.
The next day, my 72-year-old neighbor sipped her tea and told me, “Life happens to you when you’re busy planning it.” She took a puff of her pipe. “The Beatles said that.”
“I don’t like when you’re right.” I took a sip of my tea knowing that my life had changed, that he was gone, and that my magical rock could only be visited when everyone was at work and couldn’t plan their selfies or Sunday hikes.
But that’s okay.
We need to realize we can’t control relationships, time, work, or life; they will inevitably change. The more we can understand this, the less anxiety we will have.
All we can do is learn. Learn about what we want, and learn to make room for things we aren’t even planning for. I didn’t plan to find Jim Morrison’s cave, the most magical place I have ever experienced in Los Angeles, and I certainly didn’t plan to date a man fifteen years older than I am, the most euphoric relationship I’ve ever had, but I did, and like anything in life, it changed.
But it only gives me hope for tomorrow, because I have now learned you can’t plan your future, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t wonderful things coming to you.