Just after the turnoff for Pescadero I pulled over to stretch my legs. I’d spend the morning walking at the edge of the sand at Bean Hollow looking for small pieces of wood. I had an idea for an art piece. Too many ideas–that’s a thing I have.
A man–40-ish– in a dark overcoat and trendy boots was sitting on the sand up against the rocks. His collar was pulled up and he looked cold. It was a foggy but not a particularly cold day. He leaned forward as I passed and said, “Robin Williams died.”
His singular comment surprised me. I stopped and looked in his eyes hoping to determine if he was crazy or lonely or about to rise up and drag me kicking from the beach to his blacked-out van. The beach was empty except for us. Where was everyone? Saturday night hangover? I remember those. A lot of tequila and top shelf sex… yeah, good times and well worth the next-day-dehydration headache.
As I do, I took my chances, crouched down and said, “Yes, I know. Very sad. Funny, sweet man.”
It had been a few months since Williams’ death but, as celebrity deaths go, he was one of the few I would remember–one of the few heroes of celebrity that deserve their greatness instead of simply eye-rolling attention. Maybe if I wave my ass in the air and stick my tongue out I’ll get 5 minutes of attention (because that’s original!).
“I’m not crazy blurting that out, I was just thinking about him today because my son is trying to be a comedian–doing stand up in San Francisco. I don’t know–seems like a tough gig. I worry about him being in that business–all the drugs and depression. I wanted him to follow me into finance. He’s a brilliant kid.”
“Finance?” I smiled at him and said, “Are you sure? That sound like a tough gig!”
“I help fund companies–you know, startups–tech mostly. Sounds grander than it is; full of egos with mediocre ideas and a plan sketched on a napkin. To be honest, it’s made me money but I wish now I would have moved out of here 15 years ago. It was different then. More authentic. I wanted to run a winery… a local boutique one. Become friends with all the neighbors — you know? Instead, I am locked in here, paying for two divorces and four kids in college (two of which aren’t even mine).”
“I remember those days, too. I came here in 1980 to join a tech startup, newly married and optimistic about how technology would save the world. Do you think it will save the world? Will beacon technology persuade us to buy more? Will drones bring us peace or just make it easier to kill? Will augmented reality and realistic sex with robots at least make us happier people while we wait out a cyber attack on our infrastructure?”
His head turned toward me and with a sad smile he said, “Probably not in time, but don’t listen to me. I’m not feeling very optimistic today.”
We looked in each other’s silent eyes for an eternity. Neither of us wanted to hear that. I should shut the hell up more often.
“Maybe your son has it right. Robin Williams said, “Comedy is acting out optimism”. That’s all we have, right? To be optimistic? You can worry about your son but it probably won’t do you any good. Sounds like he’s following his dream and that’s a good thing, right? My son tells me I worry too much, too – I need to let things go. So, I am going to take a big run at that – I’m moving – leaving California. I will miss the ocean being on one side of me. I am here today for a last goodbye.”
With that, he reached inside his coat and pulled out a flask and held it up in the air. “Expensive scotch.”
I laughed. “Life’s too short for cheap booze.”
“Let’s have a toast to your journey. In fact, let’s both start a journey – you leave California and I’ll leave behind worrying about my son.”
“I think I have the easier journey.”
Edited journal entry from January 2015
conversation with Jon R., Pescadero Beach, California