Strangers in Pacifica

My best friend Emma lives in Pacifica, a suburban surfer town 30 minutes south of San Francisco. Compared to the city it’s really boring, and we can’t drive yet so we’re stuck within a one-mile radius. We decide to walk down to the Taco Bell right off the highway to get a snack. On the Internet, this Taco Bell has been referred to as “the best in the world,” because it has a walk-through for surfers, which Emma calls the “sandy feet window.”

I order a double decker taco, sit down at a table and start munching. Out of the corner of my eye I see three hot skater guys approaching our table. I’m in disbelief, and look at Emma with a face that says is this really happening?

From a young age, I remember liking alternative, ne’er-do-well boys. I grew up tagging along after my brother and his friends, who would consistently exclude me from BMXing, BB gun shooting and 40oz guzzling. One summer Nate, my slightly older punk neighbor, sang me “Caress Me Down” by Sublime, a song about getting a hand job. He told me he wrote it just for me. I didn’t understand the sexual lyrics but I was thrilled that this cool kid, who had bleached his black hair blonde in an homage to Billie Joe from Green Day, liked me that much. Three days later, he revealed his hoax in front of everyone, and confessed it’s actually a popular song on the radio. I ran away and cried for hours.

One day, I thought, I’ll have a boyfriend who will write me a song, for real.

These guys in Taco Bell seem older, maybe all of 16, have spiked hair, are wearing graphic t-shirts and Vans. Thank God we got dressed up before we left the house. I’m wearing a floor length polka-dotted teal skirt with ruffles and a wife beater. Emma has on black and white checkered tights and a baseball tee with the Mona Lisa screen-printed on it. I have purple and pink rubber bands on my braces and we’re both donning our jelly glitter friendships bracelets. We are ready.

Emma is always being told she looks like Britney Spears. She has long straight blonde hair, deep brown eyes and a cute button nose. She pretends the comparison is lame and embarrassing, but I love it because I know it’s part of why these guys want to talk to us.

“Hey, I’m Dustin. Our band has a show a little later. You guys should totally come,” says one casually.

We try to play it cool. “Yeah, maybe,” I reply, secretly bubbling over with joy.

“Cool,” they say and hand us a flyer before walking off.

Emma and I are ecstatic. This is the best thing that’s ever happened to us.

“Boys and Girls Club…” Emma mutters to herself, looking puzzled as she stares at the flyer. She kind of knows where it is, but not really.

We call her parents and beg for a ride but they say “no” as usual. Emma’s parents are always reluctant to facilitate our fun. Her dad once put a Post-It note inside her CD player so when we opened it one afternoon we found a message that read: “You should be doing your homework!”

Our next option is a cab. Emma calls one from her Nokia and tells it to pick us up in front of the post office. We only have about an hour until the show starts so we easily get restless. Time slows to a halt, because we’re convinced we’re going to miss out on the best night of ours lives.

“Your parents are such assholes,” I say, rolling my eyes. I like to swear a lot to show I am MATURE, URBAN and CULTURED. “A cab would never not come in SF. F**kin’ Pacifica.”

We have just started smoking cigarettes so I pull one out. I hold it to my mouth, barely inhale, hand on hip. An hour passes and we know the show is starting. We call the company several times and no one picks up. We realize the cab isn’t coming and are getting desperate.

Then, a Latino man in his late twenties approaches on foot.

“Hola. Hablas Espanol?” he asks, avoiding eye contact.

“Si,” we both say in unison, eager to show off our Spanish skills.

He asks us if we will show him where the Denny’s is, as he needs to pick up a job application.

“Dude, this is perfect.” She’s whispers to me. “We should offer to take him to Denny’s in exchange for a ride to the Boys and Girls Club.”

“Are you kidding me?” I respond loudly. “We don’t know this guy.”

Emma gives me a dewy-eyed look and huge grin. She jumps up and down and says,

“Come onnnnn, Big Lan.” Big Lan is my nickname in high school, and represents not my size, but “gangster” alter ego.

She is more naive and spontaneous than me, but her need for adventure is contagious. I play the role of the doubter, though in the end give in. I want to do everything she suggests but I’m just too scared to admit it.

“Fine,” I say.

He leads us to his beat up red Toyota. I’m quiet the entire time, thinking of what my mom would say, fantasizing about all the terrible things that could happen. Emma, meanwhile, is giddy. She quickly explains to him how to get to Denny’s and then jumps right into small talk. I’m not amused, but Emma relishes the chance to practice her Spanish and make a new friend. We get to the Denny’s and he hops out. I know this is my time to knock some sense into her. If we start running now, I think we can make it out alive.

“Emma, this is insane. Have you thought about how dangerous getting into a car with a stranger is? He could have a f**king gun in the glove compartment!”

We both look towards it, afraid of what might lurk within. Before we have time to plan our next move, he is back.

“Bueno,” he says with a smile as he settles into his seat. “Donde vamos ahora?”

Pacifica is not your typical suburb. There are hills, winding roads, and this place is in an area we never really go. We try to direct him.

Emma points forward and says “cinco cuadras.”

“Blocks is cadas, not cuadras,” I interject matter-of-factly as I gaze out the window, pissed off.

“Cadas,” she corrects herself, but she was actually right. Cada means “each” and makes no sense in this context. Jose is really confused but does his best to navigate.

We get lost and have no idea where we are. Thirty minutes go by and the chances of catching this show, and meeting our potential new boyfriends, are slim. I sense that Jose is nervous we’ll never find it and he’ll be stuck with us forever, but he says he won’t give up until we’re there. He is sweet and somehow now invested in this journey.

Finally, we see a woman walking her dog and pull over to ask where the Boys and Girls Club is.

“Oh, just down this street and to the left,” she says, happy to help.

Of course, we were so close the whole time.

We arrive and jump out of the car. “Gracias! Gracias! Thank you soooo much!” we both repeat over and over.

“Good luck with the Denny’s job! Really hope you get it!” Emma says in Spanish with a wink as she leans her arms on the rolled down passenger seat window. We run off, in awe that we aren’t dead, excited that our time has finally come.

We are gonna make out and it’s gonna be awesome.

As we walk up the hill, we see Dustin emerge from the club carrying his large kick drum, heading towards a truck.

“Hey! We made it, sorry we’re late,” I say, flipping my hair.

It’s obvious that he doesn’t really recognize us. He realizes he’s giving off that vibe and quickly jumps into a fake, “Oh hey, ladies! Thanks for coming, but total bummer, you missed it. The show’s over. We’re leaving.” He flashes us his pearly whites and continues packing up his gear.

Are you going to ask us to hang out? Don’t you want to, like, drink some beers on the beach? He says nothing. Total bummer is right.

We head inside just to check it out and there are about 10 people loitering, waiting for rides, many with their hoods up. Florescent lights buzz overhead and it smells like a cafeteria. This is not what I imagined. In that instant, all of our dreams are shattered. I feel like I’m about to cry, but manage to let it go and just swear instead.

“F**k,” I say. “Your parents better pick us up this time.”

We call them and they grudgingly agree. On the ride home we are silent, both so disappointed. I can’t stop thinking of that cab. If only it had come on time.

We get home and go straight to Emma’s room. I collapse on the bed with a big sigh, exhausted from the day, but suddenly a little bit happy to have had the chance at greatness. Emma hops on too and we lie there staring at the ceiling, which is decorated with glow-in-the-dark plastic stars.

Suddenly, she breaks the silence with a maniacal laughter that builds and builds, until it’s so loud I’m worried her parents will bust in and make us tell them all about Jose and our adventure. “Shhh,” I whisper as I start to crack up.

As much as I try to hold back, I can’t help but join in.

*Names have been changed.

Featured image via Shutterstock