Have you ever seen the Saturday Night Live skit “The Californians”? (see video link above) For those unfamiliar with Southern Cal, it may seem like a bit of an exaggeration, but having lived there for a quarter of my life, and just returning from a weekend there, I can assure you it’s more accurate than you might suspect.
Friday night I was making my way back from LA to my hotel in Orange County on the 405 South when I came upon signs that indicated the freeway ahead was closed and all lanes consolidated before being forced to exit at the 605 North.
Although I lived only 15 minutes south just 6 years ago, this was an area with which I was not too familiar. When I lived there, I made every effort possible to avoid the labyrinth of the SoCal freeway system. Even those with limited sense of direction can probably understand that when you’re headed south and then suddenly find yourself on a northbound freeway, you’re going the wrong way.
Earlier in the day I had already had the experience of getting on the 405 north when I had intended to go south leaving the airport, so while I wasn’t thrilled, it was not an unfamiliar feeling. Some people I know would find this situation completely unnerving. For me, though, I’ve always had this deep sense that no matter how many wrong turns I take I will ultimately find my way.
Eventually I did find my way to my hotel. I’d be lying if I said that after passing through several unfamiliar intersections and not recognizing any of the roads, and a gut feeling that I was indeed still headed the wrong direction, I pulled out my phone and entered my hotel into Google maps.
The first word out of male Siri’s ( I replaced the female because I thought she was a bit condescending) “mouth”were:
“Make a u-turn if possible.”
I’m pretty sure that 99% of the directions he has given me include that phrase.
Saturday morning I checked out of my hotel and headed to my sister Colleen’s house in Irvine to pick her up for our weekend in Palm Springs.
I entered the destination for the resort into my GPS. My sister, who has lived in the area for several years said, “I don’t understand why it’s taking us this way. Somehow this doesn’t seem right.”
However, I continued to follow the directions given to me by the man in my phone (Let’s call him Fritz). Sometimes he didn’t give me very much warning before telling me where to turn, and I would miss it. When that occurred he would do one of two things: readjust the course or utter the frequent and all-too-familiar, “Make a u-turn if possible.”
Soon we discovered that the route he had chosen required getting on to a toll road. Since I was driving a rental car with no transponder, the resulting fine would have been exorbitant.
We got off at the next available exit and made our way onto I-5 north, then onto the 55 , then the 91 east, to the I-215 to the 60 to the 10.
See? I told you “The Californians” wasn’t an exaggeration.
Somewhere after we got onto the 91, we ran into a large traffic jam. Saturday traffic jams in SoCal are not unusual, but are typically inexplicable. The back-up was likely the reason my GPS had tried to divert us onto a toll road. Either that, or because the toll roads are actually the most direct routes. Direct routes are only for the wealthy, apparently.
We sat in traffic, but neither of us minded because we had great conversation. I’m not even sure how long it took us to reach our actual destination, but that was the beauty of this trip; we had planned to have no plans. Our only goal was to connect, spend time together and take each moment as it came.
Taking each moment as it comes and not trying to control my vacations is a new experience for me and not something at which I typically excel. I’m a work in progress.
After checking in at the resort, we spent the afternoon poolside. The forecast predicted a rainy sunday, so we decided to take advantage of the sun while we had it.
Dinner was an easy choice; We both love Mexican food. I yelped Mexican restaurants in the vicinity and found one not too far away named Huerta’s on Jackson St that had a 4 1/2 star rating.
Once again I turned to “Fritz” for guidance. The area of Palm Springs/Palm Desert/Indio is a lot more sparse and spread out than one might think, and a lot of the roads are not well-lit at night.
I followed the directions given me by Fritz, and having visited the area a few years prior, I had a general understanding of where I was. Turn right on Hwy 111. Turn left onto Jackson. We passed a sign that welcomed us to Indian Wells.
Fritz said something about turning left that I couldn’t quite hear. Then he named a different road on which to turn left , as if he’d changed his mind. I turned left at the next light and Fritz gave another street name on which to turn left, but I couldn’t see the street he named, and it certainly didn’t look like an area where a restaurant might be.
Colleen picked up my phone and said, “It says we just passed the turn.”
We were once again directed to take a left at the next light. After turning I said, “Why do I have the feeling we are going in one giant circle?”
My sister responded, “I believe we may be.”
Sure enough, we got to the next intersection and I noticed on my left was the giant sign for Indian Wells that we had passed earlier. We were back at Jackson Street. Fritz had indeed taken us in one giant circle.
Colleen looked at my phone again and said, “It looks like we are headed right for it. It’s on this street. Oh wait. It says we just passed it again.”
I looked to my left and saw nothing but a dark residential neighborhood. There weren’t even street lights.
“I’m starting to think Huerta’s is really just someone’s house where they make a good chile relleno and someone thought it would be funny to put them on yelp just to make tourists go insane trying to find it.”
I drove in the darkness for a bit and finally made my way to a gas station so I could pull in and find another restaurant.
My sister said, “Why don’t we ask someone where we can find good Mexican food?”
I looked over at the monster truck that had pulled into the parking space next to me, and at the man who leered at me as he got out.
“Uh. You’re welcome to. I think I’ll take my chances with Yelp.”
We looked over the other restaurants and realized a couple of the higher rated ones were listed as being on the road we had been approaching before pulling in to the station.
I said, “What about this El Mexicali Café?”
She said, “I was just looking at that. It says there are two of them, so they must be good.”
“It also says people prefer the one by the railroad tracks.”
(Possibly the only time I have uttered those words.)
We pulled back onto the road and kept our eyes peeled for a building showing some signs of life.
And then it appeared, like a literal oasis in the desert. An oasis near the railroad tracks that serves margaritas.
There were people outside but I couldn’t tell if they were waiting or just hanging around. Inside it was pretty small, and as we walked in we witnessed a scene that could only be described as festive. There were two mariachis (mariachi?) playing guitar and singing under a flatscreen TV that was showing a basketball game. There was a small bar with stools where two older couples were laughing and eating. Every table and booth was filled with lively conversation except one small table for two that sat empty. Two men and three women were waiting in the entrance, and three waitresses were moving quickly between the kitchen, the bar, and the various tables and booths.
One of them, an older woman, came rushing up to us and asked in a heavily accented voice, “How many?”
We told her there were two of us, and she began scanning the restaurant. She went over to one of the waiting men and said, “You wait, yes? I give the ladies this table.”
The men seemed to grudgingly agree, but after waving us over to the not-yet wiped down table, another of the waitresses started yelling at her in Spanish from across the noisy room. My one year of high school Spanish told me that the plan had been to push the table with a table for 4 to seat the party waiting.
Our waitress hurried over to the other one, and there was much debate, complete with gestures and waving hands. Our waitress came back and said, “Sorry. Sorry. You wait a bit more.”
We got up and moved back to the entry and she said, “You want margarita. What kind? Strawberry? Mango?”
We ordered Cadillac margaritas, which she brought over to us while we waited. We people-watched and listened to the music. Neither of us was annoyed by the wait, because the room was electric and interesting. Occasionally the whole place would rumble as the train passed by. When we were finally seated we ended up at our original table, as the larger party had been put in the back once another group had left.
Our waitress returned and shouted at me, “You want peppers!” and pointed on the menu at a picture of what appeared to be some sort of stuffed peppers. My recent obsession with jalapeno poppers led me to agree. She rushed off before I realized the peppers were stuffed with shrimp, which I don’t eat, but I was able to flag her down and cancel the order.
It’s difficult to describe the atmosphere in this restaurant. The employees somehow managed to make every customer feel like a part of one big extended family. When the mariachis (mariachi) began playing “la Bamba” the whole place broke out into song. One of the waitresses would randomly grab a diner from their seat into the only open space and begin salsa dancing with them. Those who were waiting danced in place and clapped along. When certain songs came on, the entire staff would start trilling.
Besides the food being seriously delicious, that may have been the most fun I’ve ever had at a restaurant.
During dinner we mused about getting lost and yet somehow finding our way to this amazing, unexpected place and experience. We ended up exactly where we were supposed to be, even though we hadn’t meant to go there.
And here, finally, is my point in telling you all of this:
Life can be that way a lot of the time. We have agendas and expectations, and yet still we sometimes get lost.
Sometimes we get detoured.
Sometimes those we trust or allow to guide us take us in the wrong direction.
Being lost can be terrifying, unnerving. It can make you question everything you think you know.
But sometimes we discover that in the midst of being lost, we find something remarkable;
We find extra time to connect that we wouldn’t have had if we’d gone the direct route.
We find treasures or experiences we would have missed out on had we ended up where we intended.
We learn more about ourselves while lost and searching than we ever do when we stay on the path.
I’ve felt a little lost lately. As I said earlier, typically when I find myself lost while driving I feel certain that I’ll eventually arrive at my destination.
However when I feel spiritually or emotionally lost, I don’t always have that same confidence.
It’s so important in those moments to cling to what we are sure of, and to take inventory of who and what we truly value. Many times it’s not the destination that matters, but who we take along for the journey, and being fully present with them in those moments.
Someone recently told me that whenever I feel anxious, unsure, disconnected, or simply trying to control a moment instead of experiencing it, often it takes only to stop and get my bearings through the use of the 5 senses.
What do I smell?
What do I hear?
What do I feel?
What do I taste?
And what do I see right in front of me?
This past weekend I got lost more times than I could count. Our drive back from the desert included a 15 mile jaunt in the wrong direction of the 215 freeway (10 to the 60 to the 215, to the 91 to the 55 to the 5 to the 405). Fritz’s tone sounded a bit offended when I finally gave in and pulled him up on my phone. I had thought I could figure it out on my own. He directed me off the southbound and back onto the northbound 215. I guess there are times when you’re lost that you have to be willing to take advice and guidance.
In all of my “lost-ness” though, I had a fantastic weekend of being in the moment with my sister; maybe not in spite of being lost, but because of it.