Every week I take the N-Judah out to Ocean Beach for work, just another speck among specks, stopping at the very end of the line and walking several blocks to my client's house. If I have time, I always stop in at the Pizza Place on Noriega at the corner of 46th Avenue. It's just like its name -- basic, to the point, and unpretentious. There's a big room with tables on one side and a bar on the other, where beer flows liberally and the TV always seems to be on some sort of skateboarding event.
I don't drop in for the beer, or the pizza; I go for a guy who works there. I don't want to do him or anything. I don't have a crush on him. He just looks exactly like the California Kid, and when I see him, I am reminded that I am originally from Illinois and that I came out here several years ago, like so many other people, because California called to me. He makes me feel excited, as though I have just stepped off the airplane from Peoria.
Last week he was there, all blond shoulder-length curls, sun-dappled freckles, and a surfer's build. He smiled and got me a drink. He is friendly, but not overly so. He looks Southern Californian, which to me is not an insult. Every so often he tilted his head toward the TV to watch the skating competition. He put his hands on his hips. They are strong, golden hands. He has no idea that he represents so much to me, which I suppose is a good thing.
This is the stuff of novels. So many people come out West to start over. California is a lot of things to a lot of people. We all drifted here, pulled by some tide, slowly honed into faux natives with some small vestiges of our old lives barely beating underneath. Sometimes I forget I am not from here, but then I see someone who is so clearly an original, and I am all of a sudden a neophyte again.
To me, this guy at the Pizza Place is part Jeff Spicoli, part John Steinbeck. "Is this the X Games Japan or something?" I asked. The show was taking place in Asia, but had Americans competing. He said it was some other competition, and from there we started talking about Christian Hosoi, since my knowledge of the sport is either stuck in the '80s or from Dogtown and Z-Boys. He refilled my drink while we chatted.