I’ve been 40 only two weeks and it is clear I’ve not learned enough to see it coming.
On a tour of the state-of-the-art facility I would be working in for a week, Deb, the energetic, robust and spirited woman who hired me, pointed to the lodge up the hill and instructed me to follow her there.
“So just make sure when you open the room door and the closet doors, you want to go slow just in case there’s a rattlesnake or bobcat in there,” she said casually.
“I’m sorry, a what?”
“Yeah, they’ve been known to sometimes end up in the lodge or on the grounds; we’re out here in mother nature territory so you’re bound to see something,” she said.
“I see how this works, you neglect to tell me this stuff until—“
“After you get here, correct.” Add smart to the list of adjectives above. “And now you’re here!”
“Here” is Stallion Springs, home of Woodward West, a sprawling, 23-acre gymnastics/parkour/biking/skateboarding/action sports paradise of a summer camp for hundreds of kids that I might have killed to be one of back in the day. They have foam pits in not just the gymnastics gym, but also the airplane hangar sized building where athletes on wheels could negotiate landing flips and tricks with their bikes. The high profile nature of the facility I was clear on.
Bobcats and rattlesnakes? No.
In fact, I had a whole different set of concerns based on an advance research that the closest thing to a city, Tehachapi, is a conservative small town fond of homogeny and comfy in xenophobia, where an interracial relationship might invite property damage. Woodward West is a cultural oasis twenty minutes away, which meant an idyllic drive from the freeway through sprawling wine country with one screen-saver-worthy vista after another. But until I got there I should be concerned.
Like any individual with a pulse and an imagination and an afro, I worried. I had seen Get Out twice. Its eerily stunning and effective theme song Sikiliza Kwa Wahenga - Swahili for “Listen to your ancestors, run” - played in my head. And even though I had made it to Stallion Springs, the ruddy Steinbeckian men who hopped out of the gray, battered pick-up truck at the lone gas station down the road gave me cause for pause. And the waiter at the lone diner across the street unnerved me with her accusation that I wasn’t from there.
But none of this turned out to be the issue. The guys at the gas station were affable, Sikiliza came back only at night driving through Blair Witch pitch, and that same waiter yucked it up with me at lunch the next day. In fact, save the Chinese proprietor of a massage parlor in town who chose audacious racial profiling on two of us (another blog for sure), I suffered no reasons to get out.
Except maybe the Nat Geo Wild realness. When we got to the lodge that first day, Deb clapped her hands hard three times during the tour of these grounds. First to get to the stairs, then to exit the hallway to the promontory where I could see the prison housing one of the Menendez brothers and at one time Charles Manson, and then once we got to the room.
“We own the lodge so there isn’t really a front desk....” Clap.
“We convert wind into energy and then sell it to Los Angeles for electricity....” Clap.
"Why the claps?"
“Just to startle anything that creatures that might be in your way.”
Insert pearl-clutching shriek of horror here.
“And what happens if I see an animal that isn’t paying Woodward for occupancy on these grounds?” I asked.
“Just call me and I’ll call the maintenance people to get rid of it.”
You mean I can’t just pick up the old school Dial M for Murder phone on the counter next to the bed for anything other than to try it as a weapon?
I was way off. I needn’t worry about dying in a tumbling pass or going missing forever. It was the potential for annihilation by a snake or bobcat or gaze of raccoons.
Or an elk.
Yes, days later, Deb recalled how an elk made recently stood there next to her car, threatening it and her. She had the nerve to show me pictures. I promptly added the damage waiver insurance to the rental car, so that if I survived I wouldn’t have to pay for the pieces of the Kia that were left after the elk had fun. (I should point out that Deb drives a Kia too.)
Now she made up for all of this of course. She took us wine tasting. I hung out with Bart Conner. I choreographed a quick dance on Laurie Hernandez. And she surrounded me with beautiful 20-somethings hell bent on giving me no time to remember I had just turned 40.
But dammit did she ever make me challenge my nature fears. And make me regret not having paid more attention to Morgan Freeman’s voice on the Discovery Channel whenever it was on in the house. Before we leave racial profiling completely, note that we’ve never seen Morgan out there with the lions and elephants.
And I have to write Michael Abels and thank him (or curse him out) for that movie theme...