For Spring Break this year I was in Southern California, hitting up Huntington Beach, downtown Pasadena, Laguna Beach, Claremont, Brea, and Chino Hills. While I spent a lot of time visiting family and friends, I also managed to meet – or simply observe – some pretty fascinating people. (In an effort to appear professional, I’ve changed the names of those I actually met):
1. The Enthusiastic Folk Music Center Employee
He works at the long-standing music store/museum in downtown Claremont, and his graying hair speaks to his years of experience – this guy knows his stuff. He is perfectly at home in the eclectic space, surrounded by bongos and banjoes, jaw harps and djembes, guitars and sitars, dulcimers and digeridoos. A customer comes in and asks him to tune his electric ukulele; the enthusiastic employee plugs the instrument into an amplifier and strums away, filling the store with beachy melodies. The customer looks on in amazement and wonders if he’ll ever get his instrument back…
2. Sammy, the Girl Who Loves Sand
I’m playing volleyball with a friend on the beach in Laguna when the ball goes flying past me after a mis-hit. I run awkwardly through the sand to retrieve it, but a tiny blond-haired being appears out of nowhere and beats me to it. It is a little girl, 3 or 4 years old, and she snatches my ball off the ground, straightens up, and smiles at me. I worry that she will develop an attachment to the ball, but she holds it out to me, simply beaming. I thank her and take it, walking away to continue playing, but the little peanut trots along behind me. Whenever the ball is shanked, she takes off again, arms and legs moving at top speed, and tackles the ball, always happily returning it to us. Finally, she takes a break and sits down in the sand right between us, so that we are passing the ball back and forth over her head.
“Who are you!” she squeals to me.
“I’m Cassie,” I reply, laughing. “Who are you?!”
She just stares back at me, grinning. Then after a while, she throws her hands up to the sky and answers, “Samm-myy!” Another pause. She picks up some sand and holds it in her tiny palm, thoughtfully staring at the small mound. Then she shrieks “I love to taste sand!” and begins to happily eat it out of her hand, bite by bite, while I stare in disbelief. After finishing her snack, she throws herself back on the ground with a contented sigh and begins making sand angels – her little grin never leaves her face.
3. The Proud Fashion Boutique Owner
My grandma and I walk into a tiny shop of trendy clothing just to look around. The female owner, who is also the cashier and sole employee, welcomes us wholeheartedly. I grab an interesting blouse and a black dress and head for the boutique’s only fitting room. On the way there, the owner applauds my choices: “That’s such a great brand. They are doing some really great things.”
While I try on the clothes, I hear her chatting with my grandma about running small businesses:
“I’ve opened and closed seven stores over the last 20 years. But it’s the only way you can truly make money for yourself these days! I feel so bad for kids coming out of college – they just end up working for giant corporations.” There is a pause in the conversation, and she calls out to me, “How’s everything going in there?!”
I don’t tell her that I’m currently stuck trying to get out of the interesting blouse, but instead reply, “Um, fine!”
After I finally wrestle myself out of the blouse and put my clothes back on, my grandma and I prepare to leave. Walking out, I point out a dress that I like. The proud owner pipes in, “Another great brand. They make everything in the USA. They are doing such great things.” She cheerfully waves goodbye and wishes us well as we exit.
4. Nadia, Who Might Have Been an Angel for All I Know
I sit down in the cozy coffee shop of my grandparents’ church in Fullerton while they head off to their Sunday School class, preparing to entertain myself with reading and journaling for the hour I’m to be left on my own. As I settle in, a married couple and a male friend walk over to my corner, conversing as they come, and sit down in the other empty couch and chair. The woman is sitting closest to me, and as I sit sipping my hot chocolate, she turns to me and asks, “Do you have this seat saved? I’m so sorry, I didn’t even ask!” I reassure her that I don’t, and we begin talking. Before long, I find myself sharing my struggles, worries, hopes, and dreams with her. I’m able to sit and listen as she shares stories from her life with me and offers me wisdom about singleness and marriage, jobs and ministries, God’s timing, and enjoying each day as it comes – all in a down-to-earth tone and non-patronizing manner. The hour flies by, and when my grandparents come out to find me, I have to be torn away.
5. Me, the Girl Without a Tan
A tall, blonde, pasty white girl is strolling down the street at a leisurely pace, glancing into shop windows, pulling at the straps of her purse to keep it from falling off her shoulder, and looking through her shades at the faces of the people who walk by. She has this weird kind of half-smile on her face all the time, and if you stopped and asked her why, she’d tell you it’s because she’s imagining what it would be like to live in this place. She thinks maybe someday she will…
(Originally posted 3/25/13)