[Some of this is a recapitulation of my 8/14/2011 entry; the entirety takes place prior to my last entry.]
The summer term of BYU finished last August. My advisor had earlier told me to extend my graduation by August, which I neglected to do. In mid-August, thinking I had already surpassed some dead-line and could no longer attend the school in the fall semester, and because of Myeong-Seon’s repeated persuasion (and financial backing), I concluded to join her study program at her California SDA seminary, AFCOE at Weimar, for the semester. My bishop here, Scott Olson, had for several weeks been too busy to sign my endorsement for re-enrollment, but on Sunday the 14th, the form was finally completed. I tried to make it to Provo before closing time over the next few days, but kept waking up too late for the 2-to-3-hour trip.
On the night of Thursday the 18th, Myeong-Seon told me that things were getting difficult for her there. There had been a sort of orientation week or maybe fortnight (as I understand, occupied by missionarying and conference attendance), and either that week or the next week was to be her first week of intensive classroom study. She wanted me there as a support, and by that point, I was mentally prepared to go, as I hadn’t been on that sad day of her departure. I had her ask her school whether they would accept late enrollments, assuming that they would, since they were a tiny school and needed the money.
On Friday the 19th, I made it to BYU at last and met with the new advisor, who’d been e-mailing me. She clarified that there was no such deadline as I had imagined; she just decided individually when to phase out unresponsive lapsed students, after which she would initiate that process with a certain office. So, against my expectations, I was in no danger of being de-enrolled.
She also informed me of an allowance by the school, fairly recent, of skipping a semester (not counting the spring and summer terms) without an effect on enrollment status. So, though I was still free to attend in autumn if I wanted to, I could also choose to delay my final class till winter semester, to graduate in next April instead of December. I could thus still choose to go study with Myeong-Seon.
I went home with spirit relieved from the thought of disappointing her… I happened to meet Miyamoto Mai there, and we travelled back together. I also met the Korean girl who’d helped me with my phonetic class project in winter semester, Kim Ji-sung. Back at home, Myeong-Seon told me that she would ask the next day about whether her school would take me.
On Saturday the 20th, I helped Mai and Juan Miguel Artal Gomez, a Venezuelan guy and mutual friend of her and Myeong-Seon, with some level of attachment to Mai (though much too young for her), go buy furniture from IKEA. I was planning to get home in the afternoon, clean up and pack lightly, and buy a train ticket down to California for 11:30 p.m., pending Myeong-Seon’s response.
At Juan’s house, we received Myeong-Seon’s call. Her voice was faint… The school director had rejected me, she said. It was too late to join the program, and there wasn’t room in the dormitories.
I suggested to her that his decision was based on the idea that I would want to receive a certification from the course of study, which I actually had no interest in nor any use for. But I quickly made my peace with the verdict, and tried to make hers, too…
On Sunday the 21st, she talked with me again on-line. She said she’d returned to ask the director a second time on Saturday evening, citing my objection of not needing a certificate. He’d turned her down a second time, repeating that it was too late and there was no room, and adding to his list of disqualifications that I wasn’t a Seventh-day Adventist, and also that I would be distracting to Myeong-Seon.
I took some umbrage at the third reason, since their school (like BYU) structurally discourages but doesn’t technically forbid non-SDA students from enrolling (and non-members had gone there before, according to Myeong-Seon). Still, we reasoned that this was our “answer” about whether I should or shouldn’t join her there.
On the night of Tuesday the 23rd, Juan Artal Skyped me with some strange news: he said he’d bought me a plane ticket on-line to fly down to California and see Myeong-Seon. He was convinced that we had a great love story waiting to happen… I didn’t know him well enough by then; for a while, I was horrified that he was serious, and had actually made that purchase. I immediately grabbed some supplies and my bike, and hitched a ride from my brother down to the train. As I remember, I had just missed the last train of the night, so Shane took me on the freeway down to the 21st-South stop instead of our 39th. He wondered where I was going, but, expecting only more of his constant, jestful derision, I was conservative with my response. We beat the train, and down at the Arena station, I got off and biked to Juan’s.
Juan let me in on his joke, but started pressuring me to go there anyway. He indeed had found an on-line flight, but it was only one-way. After that, he started thinking that we should drive down there together. He’d already taken such a road-trip previously with a group of Spanish-speaking peers; filling up two cars, he’d paid somewhere around fifty dollars for it. He thought we’d have a similar bargain, especially if we dragged Mai along.
Someone initiated a call with Myeong-Seon, and I found myself talking with her. She wasn’t happy there; her newly started classes seemed overwhelming. She thought she lacked the depth of Biblical preparation of some of her classmates, and the language was difficult to follow. On top of that, she was disappointed that I wasn’t going to be joining her.
We had a long talk; I let her know that Juan was pressing me to drive there, and concluded with an insistence that she make her own decision about whether she wanted to stay or leave, so I could evade responsibility for her choice. “Do I have to beg you?” she complained. She’d been hinting at her decision the whole time…
…So, checking the prices of a rental car (from Enterprise) and my bank account, I and Juan set the plan and reserved the vehicle before going to sleep.
We woke up early on Wednesday the 24th; I think I had reserved the car for an 8:00 a.m. pick-up. I biked up the road to the location but found that they weren’t even open yet. (This worked to my disadvantage later, when I dropped the car back off at my appointed time, but was charged for another hour till they came and opened the store… the hoodlums.) Eventually, I was successfully up-sold to a slightly roomier model of car, and also bought insurance for the trip, which duplicated the insurance we’d already bought on-line the night before — the Enterprise guy was sly enough to cast doubt on the efficacy of that unaffiliated insurance provider. At length, I drove to my house with my bike in the trunk. We’d had to remove the wheel to fit it in. I dumped the bike in my garage and grabbed some things for the road, then set out for Juan’s. He’d called Mai to prepare her for the sudden trip, and soon we were there at her apartment to pick her up.
…And off we went to California.
I’d checked Google for the road through Nevada and the Weimar campus, and had written directions and also drawn two crude maps of Sacramento and San Francisco (Juan had wanted to see the beach while down there). We pretty much took I-80 all the way down. We first passed the lake and crossed the white of Utah, the salt flats. Nevada was nice, empty, and long. We went through Wendover, Well, Elko, Carlin, Battle Mountain, up to Winnemucca, and down past Lovelock, Fernley, Patrick, and Reno. We stopped for gas periodically, and at some point I must have let Mai drive.
Things seemed to change dramatically as we crossed into California later in the day: there were tall trees again. Some booth person at the border handed us an inspection card. (I think it was there, if not a later bridge, that I began to proceed, unaware of needing to pay a fee, and the booth person yelled, “Utah!”, calling me to stop.) The car took the mountains well, and then it was downhill to Weimar, an out-of-the-way spot in the forest, between Colfax and Auburn.
AFCOE looked almost as it had on-line, when Myeong-Seon and I had researched it. We drove around the parking lot outside the store, then resorted to calling Myeong-Seon… and then, there she was, back toward the exit a bit and to the right. If I’m not mistaken, she looked very slightly fatter. We followed her toward the dormitories and parked as she hauled her things over; some friends showed up see her off. We got out and chatted a little, mentioning our sudden road-trip and our school, BYU. She had a Korean friend there. The sisters were sad to see her go, and one self-confident girl in particular suggested sending her off with a prayer.
Although he’d had an Adventist friend back in Chavezuela, Juan later commented that this place and its manners had made him a little nervous. I knew what he meant, but I had sensed that it was just a slight bilateral religious tension, and felt comfortable myself. Notwithstanding the curious looks we received from the students there, it had had a perfectly lovely air and scenery to it, as Myeong-Seon had described for the previous couple of weeks. With bags loaded (but her flute case unwittingly left behind), we set our backs to the place forever, as we thought — the school I almost attended. I’m sure I would have enjoyed it.
On the road again, we got reacquainted with Myeong-Seon, who had sobred noticeably even over her brief stay at that conservative and regimented school (it was the SDA version of our Missionary Training Centre in Provo). Juan had been an absolute pain in the ear with his raucous musical habits, and I was able to momentarily restrain his hand from the radio dial by asking him to defer to Myeong-Seon’s preferences. Still naturally passive, she didn’t help me much with it, and soon we were deafened again by Bruno Mars and his mercifully correct pronoun usage.
We inadvertently skirted Sacramento by staying on the main road. Around sunset, we were driving past Vallejo and then “Hercules”. A very eerie red hue had filled the sky; it must have been a divine warning to this allegedly depraved part of the country, I thought. With night falling, we headed over the 580 “Richmond-San Rafael” bridge, which we initially mistook for the big one. The fog had set in, and some cop began slowing the winding traffic by swerving back and forth across the lanes. As we drove over the real bridge, we could see virtually nothing of it.
After some wider curves through trees, we eventually found ourselves going straight up these rolling sorts of hills that I recognised from t.v. and movies; I knew we were finally there, San Francisco. In a way, it was thrilling to be in that famous and well-acclimated place. At the same time, I was wary of its upside-down politics and social values, and was hoping to not have to talk to anybody there.
On 19th Avenue, curiosity overcame me, and I circled down Irving Street and Lincoln Way. We were trying to decide where to spend the night; I wanted to save the money and just park there on foggy Lincoln with the hundreds of other cars, but the girls wanted a real place. Juan also suggested the “beach”. We drove a bit more, and I was excited by the tell-tale signs of Asian immigration in the neighbourhood. Eventually we parked somewhere, and I and Myeong-Seon went to try to buy a map of the place. We tried one of the few open convenience stores nearby; I think it was Walgreen’s on 22nd and Irving.
The few people and workers inside were mostly Chinese, and my heart sank as I heard Mandarin. I asked a stocking guy something, then tried the check-out girl. I naturally had to ascertain her origins, and, blessed coincidence, she was Southern Chinese, from my area. We launched into a happy Cantonese dialogue lasting several minutes: what we were doing there, what we were looking for, a little about Cantonese-speaking. I felt a bit rusty, but my enthusiasm made up for it. She seemed to not get to see very much white Cantonese. I thought we may have perplexed one or two customers waiting behind us, so I took a break to go look at the map stand by the door. I and the girl chatted a little more before I made the purchase and left with Myeong-Seon. The brief visit was a major high-light of the whole trip, giving me an instantaneous sense of connection to that city I’d been wary about.
We made for the beach-like area on the map; it was getting rather late. We drove straight down through Daly City and diverted to the “Cabrillo” or “Pacific Coast Highway”. There’s a little neighbourhood called Sharp Park just north of Pacifica, and we either exitted onto “Francisco Boulevard” just before the town or “Bradford Way” just after, staying west of the highway and circling around for a while. I believe we actually got off south and took “Laguna Way” and “Lakeside Avenue”, because I remember stopping at the 7-11 store sitting strangely on the triangular corner there. We were looking for a hotel; either before or after that stop, we had driven up the beach road (“Beach Boulevard”) nearly adjacent to the water. Entering the 7-11, what was my surprise to find another Chinese clerk at the counter inside — but this one was perhaps twenty years older than the first, and had very little interest in conversation. I baited her with Cantonese until she finally admitted to it, but by that point, she felt threatened, and we pestered her no further than to ask about nearby hotels. Up the road and left at the stop sign or intersection, I think she told us. As we left, I thought I would have preferred to have talked to the Walgreen’s clerk instead. You can’t win them all.
We drove up that “Clarendon Road”, went under the overpass, stopped in confusion, turned around, and turned north up Francisco Boulevard. There were no hotels in sight, and we thought we were already lost, but just after the next road, there was a place on the left; Google Maps calls it “America’s Best Value Inn” (lacking any other hotel on that map, I’m assuming that that’s the place). We went in and asked prices from an unsmiling, possibly South Asian inn-keep. Juan and I had been keen to sleep in the car out on the beach road, but the girls craved facilities, so they agreed to pay for their room. We considered defrauding the grouchy inn-keep by secretly sharing the room, but quickly decided instead to keep their rules against extra occupants — we didn’t want to leave a bad impression of Utahns. Unwilling to throw away the roughly 70-dollar fee, Juan and I spent the night in the ever-so-slightly chilly car.
Awakening on Thursday the 25th to condensation and mild fog, Juan and I rendezvoused at the girls’ room, where they shared their left-over hotel breakfast with us. We got cleaned up before heading out to the car and setting off again. We toured a little more of the neighbourhood and then got on the highway, due south, through the rest of Pacifica.
Within minutes, we exitted again where a “Fassler Avenue” crossed the highway. We turned right onto “Rockaway Beach Avenue” and drove through a quaint commercial area. On “San Marlo Way” we found a parking lot next to the beach, and got out to go meet the ocean.
It had been a while since any of us had visited a seashore. We hadn’t prepared proper footwear, and the rough sand and gravel taxed our bare soles, especially further up away from the water. Juan forced us down into the waves, where we fooled around a little, getting mouthsful of salt water. Only a pair or two of others were out enjoying that crisp morning; it was an unspectacular but very happy and serene instant, a memory easy to romanticise and yearn to re-live, moreso for its brevity. Feet thoroughly abused, we finished taking pictures and breathing in that perfect air, then retreated to the car to rinse off and shoe ourselves. I kept some of the sand, though I forgot how I carried it; maybe just on my clothes, or in a napkin. Later, back at home, I would put the sand in a large plastic lid, share its scent with Myeong-Seon, and set it on my cabinet, where it remains today. On another shelf, I still have my oceanside relics from Vancouver: a few crab and sea shells. Thankful to heaven, I now have two beautiful west-coast cities to someday, perhaps, return to…
Our schedule moved along, and we hurried to keep up. We wanted to visit the big bridge in daylight; we hadn’t planned to see anything more from that interesting city. We drove north, back onto 19th Avenue, passing a university that I thought must have a wonderful excess of Asian students to study with. The late summer weather was fine, and the characteristic trees tickled the imagination. We reached and then traversed the “Golden Gate Bridge”. I remember now that Hosea Stout and company had left for Hong Kong through San Francisco.
The bridge had a multitude of pedestrians on the side. On the north end of the bridge was a look-out area for tourists, which we decided to stop at. Parking was somewhat tight in the circular lot. We took our pictures, took in the sight of generally friendly tourists, and then made for the bridge walk on the east side. We didn’t get extremely far — just out to the northern suspension tower (where careless spray paint had reddened the sidewalk around the base), and slightly past. We enjoyed the view; there was the island prison of film repute. Below us, sea mammals kept appearing and disappearing, and sea birds flew by. It was all fairly exotic for me, an American, and certainly also so for my three foreign companions. I could have stayed longer, but Juan was getting anxious as the late morning wore on (our plan had been to come here in a day, return the next day, and go down south to the arches and back on the third day before returning the car early the next morning). We passed the suicide phones on our way back to the parking lot.
Coming out, we had paid whatever tolls we were spared from on our way in. Our couse back was retraced from the day before, though we got a slighty better view of coastal and inland California than we had coming in. We had periodically been stopping for gas, but only spent any notable amount of time in little, historical Auburn up the mountains, whereat few gas stations were to be found. Next, we approached Weimar. I don’t remember whether it was just after leaving on Wednesday, just before passing by again on Thursday, or just after passing (requiring a turn-around) that Myeong-Seon remembered that she’d left her flute. Or maybe she’d remembered at the hotel when she checked her stuff. We stopped at an empty-looking store across the highway while she double-checked her bags, then returned to AFCOE and let her out. She was back in a few minutes; I think she’d contacted her room-mate, who had already found the flute case. Almost nobody was out and about at that time of the day. We said a much briefer and even more final goodbye to that campus, and soon were racing back Utah-ward. The car had a tougher time going back up the mountains, but no problems arose.
The day grew late as we crossed Nevada. At Fernley, we stopped at a Chinese buffet for a meal (we’d stopped at a McDonald’s in the same town on our way in). The Chinese workers there were not so unresponsive as the 7-11 woman, nor quite as pleasant as the Walgreen’s girl — of course, I don’t remember them speaking Cantonese anyway. We replenished our fuel a few more times as the night wore on; the bright lights of minor casinos lit up some of the later stops. I and Mai had traded off driving. At last, we re-entered Utah and made it back into Salt Lake Valley. It was some time past midnight, maybe an hour or even two, when we arrived at Juan’s apartment and quickly fell asleep (his roommates for the semester had not yet moved in).
In the morning of Friday the 26th, we proceeded with our plan (well, it was mostly Juan’s idea to go to southern Utah). I think we stopped first at my house… yes, I think I got my endorsement… no, it must have been my academic remedial plan that I’d picked up a week before. Because my teacher, Janis Nuckolls, had decided to fail me in my programme-final senior seminar class last winter semester, my semester GPA had sunken below acceptable levels. BYU’s rule is to put you on “academic warning” until your grades for at least 6 more credit-hours of classes recover, after which you’ll be returned to normal status (I’d fallen to “warning” the year before, when I was juggling my many language classes, and when the Stetson incident occurred). Meanwhile, students on “warning” are prevented from registering from classes until they submit an improvement plan, which involves a self-survey and a consultation with a faculty advisor. Failing to obtain higher grades for the next 6 credit-hours gives one the status of “academic probation”, which carries certain other penalties and administrative risks. In my case, I only needed 3 credit-hours in my intervening spring term — a writing class that I’d withdrawn from in winter. I did well in the writing class (taken at BYU Salt Lake), but I also needed to repeat the final senior class and do another thesis project, and that class wasn’t offered till the fall semester.
[Let me mention here that after negotiating (a practice I traditionally rejected, but considered worthwhile in this instance) with that teacher, Nuckolls, by e-mail last summer after finding out I’d earned a failing grade, she refused to consider my decent requests, only offering let me see how she’d graded my thesis paper. We had not had the best of relationships because of my half-heartedness with some of our class work. I recovered that paper, expecting to need to admit my personal failure, but became incredulous as I looked over her comments (many of which were likely from her assistant), which showed an almost certainly intentional dislike of my writing style, and an apparent pre-determination to grade me unpassably low, while my own calculations had left me a bit of leeway to still make a passing mark, at least by the grading guidelines she’d first provided. I resented that offense-prone teacher and her snooty assistant for much of the next summer before realising that continued study would only be another opportunity for self-improvement. I’m over it by now.]
We drove down through Orem and Provo, stopping for more gas and delivering my forms, then we followed the road south. We had intentioned to turn east somewhere by Spanish Fork, but my look-out for the exit sign was in vain. Myeong-Seon happened to lose a kerchief of Mai’s out the window; we didn’t go back for it. Perhaps 30 minutes or longer passed before I concluded that I’d somehow missed the exit entirely. We pressed forward anyway, and were rewarded by the small petting zoo near Scipio: llamas, a donkey, some pigs, several goats, poultry, and an emu and zebra that I didn’t pet. Maybe a pony too. They fortunately had some sanitising product installed at the gate there. Other than the zoo, we didn’t seem to lose too much time in our detour. We took the road through Salina toward our ultimate goal, Moab.
Eventually, the landscape turned strange, and we started taking pictures. At some point, my camera became unusable. We stopped for more pictures at some certain cliffs where a nice Navajo girl was selling wares, maybe close to Green River; I don’t remember how much of the language she spoke. The day was already waning, and from there, we hurried to Moab. We arrived in town with closing hour approaching, and hurried into a visitor’s centre for some maps and advice. The guy told us we didn’t have long till sunset. We turned back and hurried up the road to the arches, racing the sun. We got some distance up the windy road and into the park as the sun fell. Cameras were flying. We decided to satisfy ourselves with the Delicate Arch look-out, where you park and have to hike up a pretty short distance. Juan and I ran up, then headed over a small dip onto a big flat area, where you could see a massive rock tower sitting alone down in a bowl to the right, and the arch up on the mountain to the left, across the ravine. I was using Myeong-Seon’s camera, and I don’t know that I’ve recovered her pictures yet.
We headed back down in the dark, and then made our quiet, sleepy way back to Crescent Junction and Green River, through Price and Helper, and finally to Mapleton and Springville. In one of these towns, we stopped again for gas, and Mai wanted to take over driving. I’d coached her on keeping the speed limit close to towns, and gently reprimanded her as she pulled out of the gas station and sped up past the limit. She paid me no attention, and I shrugged and didn’t repeat myself. Within about 30 seconds, lights were suddenly flashing behind us. She had no idea what had happened, and kept going until we forced her to pull over. I was glad to be spared the usual sickening feeling accompanying such occurances, and could only chuckle at both Mai and myself — she for ignoring my warning in the very instant when it could have saved her, and myself for being so timid with it. It hurt me in the end; we had decided to split the costs, and in our pity, split the fee of Mai’s speeding ticket too, 90 dollars total. The cop had been friendly, but, as is common, hadn’t quite known what to do with Mai’s foreign driving credentials.
I took over driving, and at long last, we arrived back in Salt Lake for the second time, leaving the girls at Mai’s apartment, and returning to Juan’s to sleep. Our trip was over…
Early the next morning, Saturday the 27th, I promptly cleaned out, refueled, and delivered the rental car. As I recall, I had enought time to run over to the train stop and travel back home, borrowing my mom’s car to return to the rental store. They finally arrived at 9 a.m., charged me extra for being an hour “late”, and took back the car. I obviously had no motivation to confess the slightly chipped windshield from California or Nevada or somewhere.
Myeong-Seon had church, and we three joined her in my mom’s car. We went up to the Foothill Drive church, a kind of unusual, well-dressed, nice-vehicled place compared to the lower-key Provo congregation she usually attends. Afterward, Mai and Juan wanted to shop again at IKEA, so we went there, enjoying their delicious refreshments. To cap off the day, we caught a movie at the Sugarhouse cheap theatre (X-men, where Xavier and Magneto were young) and then enjoyed some Maggie Moo’s ice cream. I then dropped off Mai and Juan, and Myeong-Seon bunked with us.
We had already finished settling up our money. I’d paid for most of it with the car, and just collected from the others, who’d been paying for gas. Juan was a little dismayed that the cost was over twice — nearly thrice — what he had expected, at 140 dollars per person (not including the girls’ hotel price). The car had wounded us, and the gas finished us off.
The preceding four days had seemed like a month. Juan would later admit that he perhaps overestimated Myeong-Seon’s and my viability as a couple. Still, the four of us had grown a lot closer together, and Juan started bugging me more and more about repeating the adventure, this time visiting northern California, an adjustment to our schedule that we’d considered while in San Francisco. (His persistence quickly led me to start avoiding him on-line — I had no such funds left to repeat the trip, as he seemed to.) We still remembered San Francisco, the California mountains, the long roads, the weird deserts, and the good humour we’d shared; we still felt like we could drive anywhere. None of us was really ready to settle back in to normal life. Anyway, I registered to retake my final class after all (with a different and, as it turns out, much friendlier teacher), and my first day was to be the next Tuesday.