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JACK SMITH

No Time Like Now to Enjoy the Simple Pleasures of Life

August 30, 1993|JACK SMITH

My wife and I have returned from a three-day holiday in Cambria, a Central California village where the pines meet the sea. Our son Curt rented a house for a week and invited us to spend some time with him and his family.

We had spent two of the last three months in a hospital, and thought the trip might do us good. I wasn't sure spending some time with three children would be restful, but they were exemplary, partly because Curt had the foresight to buy them a 550-piece jigsaw puzzle, which tied them down for two afternoons.

I spent most of my time reading "The Neon Jungle," by John D. MacDonald. My wife pointed out that I had read it at least two times before. Why aren't there any writers like John D. MacDonald anymore?

The trip up had been glorious. My wife drove her Maxima, at her usual average speed of 80 m.p.h. When I suggested she might be going too fast, she said, "I'm just keeping up with the traffic flow." It was true. Even at 80, we were being passed.

The drive up California 101, from Ventura to San Luis Obispo, offers a beautiful panorama of Central California, a refreshment to the spirit. The road winds through hills and pastures, past wonderful old barns with corrugated roofs. The grassy hills are round and plump, like Rubens' nudes. They are dotted with brown cows, sometimes solitary, sometimes in congregations. In their idleness, they seem to slow down time, a mockery to our speeding cars.

We skirted a number of small towns of the kind that many Angelenos are fleeing to. Santa Maria was once called the ideal American town, and I believe it was the setting for the 1946 movie, "The Best Years of Our Lives," a story of servicemen returning after World War II.

Somewhere near Santa Maria, we picked up a Bakersfield station that played nothing but country music. Bakersfield, sometimes called Nashville West, is the Western home of country music. It has an aura. Anywhere its radio signal reaches, you are going to be inundated with those poignant laments about love, betrayal and redemption.

Mile after mile we picked up those lovelorn lyrics:

If tomorrow I found one more chance to begin, I'd love you all over again . . . .

Somewhere above Ventura, Curt called on my wife's car phone. He wanted to know where we were. We told him. "Then you'll be here in a couple of hours," he said. I asked him how he figured. "Because Mom drives 80 miles an hour," he said.

I can't go wrong loving you . . . .

There's no time to waste between the cradle and the grave . . . .

Beyond Santa Maria, the Bakersfield station began to fade, but I caught this last lament:

All the gold in California is in a bank in the middle of Beverly Hills in somebody else's name . . . .

A few miles south of Cambria, on California 1, we pulled off at Harmony. It may be the smallest town in America. It didn't seem to have grown any since we last saw it a few years ago. A sign said "Harmony, population 18." There was a creamery, a post office, a pasta factory, some art shops and two or three houses. I decided it was too small for me. Not enough excitement.

We reached Cambria in the two hours our son had predicted. The house was a three-story rustic, with decks overlooking the sea. I got out my book and quickly adjusted to the pace. I was spared the humiliation of losing to my grandsons in Scrabble, as I had done before, by their commitment to the jigsaw puzzle.

My son was talking about retiring and moving to some place like Cambria. I couldn't believe it. My son talking about retiring already. Why, I was not really retired yet myself. Of course, he would have to wait until his children were out of school, and the oldest is only 16. She wants to go to college, but not in Los Angeles and not to a women's college. She's thinking Harvard.

Whenever I travel, I always read the local newspapers. In the Cambria paper, I found at least two good reasons why it was not a good place to retire. One, the Cambria and Cayucos school district was out of money and had to drop a teacher, give up after-school sports and curtail its school-library services. What else was new?

Also, they had found a rabid bat in San Luis Obispo County. One thing we don't have in Los Angeles is rabid bats. Or do we? God knows we have plenty of rabid people.

The main thing to remember is that there's no time to waste between the cradle and the grave.

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