Into the Inferno

The drive from Bakersfield to Stockton was generally uneventful. Both sides of California Highway 99 were lush with orchards and crops and vineyards, even in the blistering June heat. Though the traffic was heavier than I would have liked, it was lighter than we would have encountered had we taken I-5, the other, somewhat faster, route. When we got to Stockton, we took a short tour of the downtown area as we made our way to Trader Joe’s; mi novia showed me where she used to work and she pointed out places she frequented during the fifty years she lived in the city. At Trader Joe’s, we braved the heat of the parking lot and bought an orchid as a gift for her mother, then drove the few miles to visit her.

When we arrived at the place, the heat was almost unbearable. Mi novia rolled down the window on the driver’s side of the car as we arrived to check in at the gate; I felt the heat flood the car as the gate guard delivered a four-minute diatribe about being sure to stop at stop signs on the grounds of the compound or risk certain tickets. Once inside the gate, we located the office and went through an automated check-in process that ultimately produced stick-on names badges for each of us. From there, we found a parking spot near mi novia’s mother’s building.

101°F under an unrelentingly bright sun is monstrously hot, no matter how low the relative humidity. Walking from the car to the building where mi novia‘s mother’s apartment is located seemed a dangerous endeavor. It was as if the air above us had been warped by the heat into the shape of a magnifying glass lens—the sun’s rays, tightly focused by that atmospheric lens, followed us. The way a demonic child, intent on incinerating them, follows ants with superheated sun rays from a magnifying glass. I felt like I could have spontaneously burst into flames at any moment as I trekked from the parking lot to the building’s entry door. But I did not, of course. Inside the door, the cool air quickly revived me. After hugs and a brief introductory conversation, we decided to go off for lunch at Bud’s Seafood restaurant. There, we had a superb meal consisting of delicacies as calamari, cod, shrimp, and such. And, of course, wine. Though the meal was good, it was the conversation that was most gratifying. I learned a great deal about Gladys and she learned a great deal about me. The knowledge-sharing was helped along by wine, that remarkable social lubricant that tends to make it easier for imbibers to speak freely. During our conversations with and about one another, we also learned that our waiter, Jmard, was the only one of his family of several children who had migrated from Canada to the United States.

Mi novia and I encouraged Gladys to write about her life so her ninety years (so far) of experiences might be available to her current family and all her descendants in years to come. We left the restaurant feeling confident that can look forward to reading about her life in Schenectady and Arkansas and Stockton. Given that each of the three of us consumed two glass of wine each, we may have to remind one another of the substance of those conversations.

I am very glad to have met Gladys. And I will be delighted to read about her life experiences. I’ve seen her artwork, which offers proof of her creativity and her skill with a brush. Next, I will read of her 90+ year history and how it shaped who she is today. I look forward to that!

Today, mi novia and I will meet one of her long-time friends for brunch, before we return for another visit with her mother. At the moment, I am thinking our visits may be relatively short because I may need some more sleep. I woke in the middle of the night with severe foot cramps which interfered with my otherwise good sleep (until then). Then, around 4:00 a.m., I woke again with a splitting headache; one of those so painful it will be remembered as “that damn headache” years hence. Motrin and allergy medicine have alleviated much of the pain by now, but the lost sleep they caused remains an annoyance.

As I write this, the temperature outside here in Lodi, California is reportedly 70°F. It will not remain so comfortable for long, I am afraid. The weather forecast calls for temperatures to reach 99°F by noon and 104°F by 3 p.m. These temperatures make me long for what will be much more comfortable temperatures along the coast in the days ahead. Actually, the temperatures on the coast will be downright chilly: highs in the upper sixties and lows much cooler. Time will tell as to the legitimacy of those forecasts. For now, it’s back to preparing for the inferno we will experience later today.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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