One of the major annual events in Santa Lucia County was the Gabilan Rodeo, a legacy of the cattle ranching in the area’s past, which had mostly given way over the years to various fruit and vegetable crops. I was never a big fan of rodeo, but my mom’s sister had married into a family that was very involved with the Gabilan Rodeo. So, for me, the arrival of the rodeo every July meant getting to see my cousins Rick and Miranda. They were in between me and my brother Mark in age; Rick would soon begin his last year of high school, and Miranda was just starting high school.
Last week, Mom had been thinking of things we could do when Rick and Miranda were here. She asked me if I wanted to take a day trip to Jeromeville, so that Rick and Miranda could see where I was going to school. I enthusiastically approved of that idea. So, on the morning of the day before the rodeo started, Mom had been driving north for the last two and a half hours, I was in the passenger seat, and Rick, Miranda, and Mark were in the back. Mark had been listening to music on headphones, and Rick had been showing off a fancy money clip that his dad had gotten him recently. Dad stayed home; he had to work.
“Greg?” Mom said as we approached the exit for Highway 117. “Tell me where to go. Do I take 117?”
“Where are we going to park the car?”
“I don’t know. You’re the one who lives here.”
“Are we going to start from the MU? Or from where I lived last year?”
“Let’s do that. Start from your dorm.”
“Turn here, then,” I said just in time for Mom to move over a lane and exit on Highway 117 north. I guided Mom to the Davis Drive exit, and then to the parking lot next to the South Residential Area.
“Where do I go?” she asked.
“There’s a little yellow machine where you can buy a parking permit.”
“Do I do that?”
“Yes, Mom. That’s how parking at places like this work. You buy a parking permit, you put it on your windshield, and then you park. The permit tells the parking police that you paid.”
“I know that!” Mom shouted as she bought a parking permit from the machine.
“Then why did you ask?”
“I don’t know!”
“Sometimes you don’t make sense,” I said, suddenly feeling tense over the way that something simple like parking the car had to become a major ordeal.
We stepped out of the car. “It’s hot!” Mark exclaimed, the first thing he had said in quite some time.
“Yeah,” I said. “That’s what it’s like here in the summer.”
We walked north on Dairy Road toward the South Residential Area, across the street from the dairy, which was exceptionally aromatic today. I stopped in front of Building C. Pointing to my window on the second floor, I said, “This is where I lived last year. And that was my room.”
“Nice,” Miranda said.
“It was a tiny room,” Mom said.
“Yeah, it was, but I was by myself, so it was all right,” I added.
“You got your own room?” Rick asked. “No roommate?”
“Yeah. It just happened. I didn’t ask for it. There were only six single rooms in the whole building.”
I pointed out the dining commons as we continued across the South Residential Area. We continued walking as I pointed out campus buildings and narrated anything interesting I had to say about them. We walked past the engineering buildings and the buildings where my chemistry and physics classes were. Heading toward the Quad, I pointed out Wellington Hall, where many of my classes had been held, and Kerry Hall, the location of the mathematics department offices. We passed the tall cork oaks lining the Quad, where I pointed out the Coffee House and the Memorial Union and the campus store. We walked around the corner at the campus store, where I pointed out the gray, oddly-angled building on the other side of the street.
“They call that building the Death Star,” I said, “because of all the steep concrete and metal canyons. One time, a bunch of us from my building played Sardines there at night.”
“What’s Sardines?” Mom asked.
“Isn’t it kind of like hide-and-seek?” Miranda asked.
“Yes,” I explained, ”except when you find the person hiding, you hide with him and cram in there like sardines. Taylor was hiding, and I wandered around this crazy building for over an hour looking for him. I hardly saw anyone the whole time. I thought everyone else was probably wondering what took me so long. And then when I finally found Taylor, I was the first one there.”
“Oh my gosh,” Mom said. “No one else had found him? After an hour?”
“College sounds fun,” Miranda said.
We continued walking toward A Street, which divides the campus from downtown. I pointed out the field where I had learned to play Ultimate Frisbee and the small, unimpressive football stadium. “I can see where all the parties are,” Rick said.
“Huh?” I asked.
“All those frat houses.” Rick pointed across the street from the football stadium.
“Oh, yeah. And there are a bunch more around the corner on Fifth Street.”
“Do you ever go to fraternity parties?” Miranda asked.
“No,” I replied. “I don’t hang out with that crowd.”
“Rick!” Mom said. “Put that away! Someone’ll steal it.”
“They’re not gonna steal it!” Rick argued, playing with his money clip and the large wad of cash it held. I decided to stay out of this argument.
We turned around and walked south on A Street. I led the group back toward the Quad, past the brown buildings with shingle exteriors which were the oldest buildings on campus. I pointed out the library as we headed around the corner back to Davis Drive.
“What in the heck is that?” Rick exclaimed loudly.
“What?” I asked.
“That!” Rick pointed to a large metal pipe, suspended about a foot above a concrete slab in the ground. The pipe curved a few times, ending in a section pointing about ten feet upward, like a chimney. On one of the pieces of metal attaching the pipe to the ground, ominous letters proclaimed YOU’VE BEEN HERE BEFORE.
“It’s art,” I said.
“What the heck kind of art is that? It looks like scrap metal!”
“You know how it is. Anything can be art. It’s a university. There’s weird stuff here.”
We got back to the car about ten minutes later and drove all the way across town to McDonald’s. Mark was a very picky eater, and I had not explored the Jeromeville culinary scene (other than the dining commons) enough to recommend anything, so we went with something familiar. After we finished eating, I stepped outside to find a pay phone. I stared at the phone for a minute, trying to compose in my head what I would say. I took a deep breath, knowing that I was being ridiculous and that there was no reason for me to be nervous. It was not like I was going to get rejected or anything. I was calling a guy. I quickly dialed the number.
“Hello?” a familiar voice said on the other end of the line.
“Taylor?” I said.
“This is Greg.”
“Hey, man! You’re here?”
“Yeah. Is this a good time to stop by?”
“Sure! I’m just hanging out, and Jonathan is studying.”
“655 Andrews Road?” I said, repeating the address I had written down.
“Yep! That’s it!”
“I’ll be there in probably around 15 minutes.”
“Sounds good! See you then!”
After we all got back in the car, Mom asked, “Where are we going? I directed her toward the house where Taylor and Jonathan were living, going a different way than we went before, crossing over Highway 100 and working our way to Fifth Street. “And who are you going to visit?” Mom asked.
“Taylor Santiago, from the IHP last year. The one who hid in the Death Star building. And Jonathan, who was also in the program, is living there too. I didn’t really know him as well.”
“Which one is Taylor? Is he the Filipino boy who waved to us from the balcony that time we came to visit?”
“Yes. That’s him.”
“Weren’t you going to try to visit someone else today too?”
“Megan McCauley. But she emailed me back late last night and said she was busy today. She had a midterm this morning, and then she was going to do something with her family tonight.”
“Does her family live in Jeromeville?”
“Oak Heights. Just past Capital City. About half an hour away.”
“Which one is she? Didn’t you say she did something funny with her hair last year?”
“You have too many friends,” Mom said. “I can’t keep track of all these people.”
“I don’t know.”
“No, that’s a good thing. Remember how in high school you always felt like you wanted to have more friends and a social life?”
“I guess.” Mom was right, but it felt embarrassing to talk about this with her, especially in front of Mark, Rick, and Miranda.
As we approached Taylor’s house, Mom asked, “So we’ll leave you alone to hang out with Taylor, and we’ll be back in an hour. Did you say there was a park somewhere around here where we can go sit and walk around?”
“Yeah.” I gave Mom directions to get to Maple Drive Park, about a quarter mile away. As the rest of my family drove off, I walked up to Taylor’s door and knocked. I waited nervously on the porch, even though I knew Taylor well and had nothing to be afraid of.
“Hey, man!” Taylor said. “Come on in!”
I walked into the living room and looked around. I sat on the couch. Jonathan was sitting in a recliner with a textbook, which he put aside to say hi to me. Taylor sat on the other side of the couch where I sat. “So whose house is this?” I asked.
“A guy I know from church. He’s away working at a summer camp.”
“That’s cool. How are your classes going?”
“Pretty good. I just got a midterm back. I didn’t do as badly as I thought.”
“How’s your summer? How’s life back in Plumdale?”
“Pretty boring, honestly. I’m working at an old lady bookstore. My mom knows someone who works there, so I didn’t have to go out and find the job or anything, but business is kind of slow.”
“When you say old lady bookstore, do you mean they sell books for old ladies?”
“Oh, no. It’s just a bookstore. But the owner is an older woman who listens to classical music, and not a lot of people our age come to the store.”
“That makes sense. Are you hanging out with your friends a lot?”
“Not really,” I said. “Plumdale is so spread out, I don’t really have neighbors, and most of my school friends aren’t near me. I’ve really only seen two of them. Some of them didn’t come home for the summer. I’ve been going to San Tomas Mountain Lions roller hockey games, though. That’s been fun. I went to two with my family and one with a friend.”
“I haven’t been to one of those yet. My sister and a bunch of her friends went to one. She said they kept showing her on the camera and made her Fan of the Game.”
“I saw that!” I exclaimed. “I was at that game!”
“Really? That’s funny!”
“Jonathan? What about you?” I asked. “How’s your summer going?”
“Good,” he said. “Just studying. Trying to get some more classes in.”
“You came here with your family, right?” Taylor asked. “Where are they now?”
“They didn’t want to get in the way while I was visiting you guys. They wanted to go find a park and hang out for a while. So I pointed them toward Maple Drive Park. They’ll be back to pick me up at 2:30.”
“That’s cool. Are they having fun? You said someone else was here too?”
“My cousins Rick and Miranda. They’re visiting this whole week.”
“Where do they live?”
“In the middle of nowhere. A little town about four hours north of here. But both of their sets of grandparents live in Gabilan, so I get to see them a few times a year.”
Taylor and I spent the rest of the time talking about his classes, our plans for next year, things he had been doing with Jeromeville friends during the week and friends back home over the weekend, and friends from our dorm whom we had heard from over the summer. Jonathan talked a little as well, but eventually went to study in his bedroom. Taylor told me that Bok and her family went on a camping trip to the Pacific Northwest, and Caroline was visiting her relatives in Australia. (Both girls would send me postcards from their trips eventually.)
At 2:30, I looked outside the front window and saw the rest of my family sitting in the car waiting for me. “I need to go,” I said. “My ride’s here.”
“It was good seeing you,” Taylor replied, standing up and walking to the front door, which he opened for me. “Let me know when you move back up for the fall. Or if you’re up here again.”
“Definitely. I’ll see you then.” I raised my voice and called toward the back of the house, “Bye, Jonathan!”
“Bye, Greg!” Jonathan’s muffled voice called out from his room. “Good seeing you!”
After I got back in the car, Mom asked, “How are Taylor and the other guy?”
“Jonathan. They’re doing well. Just studying. And Taylor goes home on weekends.”
“Where’s he from?”
“El Arcángel. North of Bay City.”
“Oh, okay. So what are we doing next? Looking at your new apartment for next year?”
“Sure. Head that way,” I said, pointing north and continuing to direct my mother to Las Casas Apartments. When we got there, we got out and began walking around.
“This is where you’re gonna live next year, Greg?” Miranda asked
“Yeah,” I said. “Apartment 124. Right over there.”
Miranda looked where I was pointing. “This looks nice.”
“I like it.”
“Can we walk around a little?” Mom asked.
“Sure,” I said, I turned the corner of the building where my apartment was. I pointed out the path that led to the Greenbelts. “That’s a great place to take a walk or go for a bike ride,” I said. “Like a trail connecting a long park area.”
“That’s cool,” Miranda said. I pointed out the swimming pool and the laundry room. Miranda seemed the most interested; Rick was playing with his money clip again, and Mark was quietly listening to music with headphones.
After walking around for a while and returning to where we parked, Mom said, “Well, we’ve done everything we were going to do here. Is there anything else we’re doing here? Or is it time to go back home?”
“I don’t know,” I said. I could not think of anything else we were going to do, and I knew we still had a long drive ahead. But I enjoyed being in Jeromeville again, even if only for a day, and I was kind of sad to see the trip coming to a close. “I guess.”
We stopped for gas and got back on the freeway. About ten minutes later, we were approaching Nueces, the next town to the west, when Rick exclaimed, “I lost my money clip!”
“Oh no,” I said.
“I told you not to keep getting it out,” Mom said, sounding slightly exasperated.
“So what are we going to do?” I asked.
“Do you know where you lost it?” Mom asked Rick as she exited and pulled over.
“I remember seeing it at Las Casas Apartments,” I said. “So either he lost it there, or at the gas station, or in the car.
“It’s not in the car,” Rick insisted. “I’ve been looking.”
“Do you want to go back and look at the apartment and the gas station?”
“Well, yeah, if we can. Duh.”
Mom turned back onto Highway 100 east, the way we came. She took 117 north to the Coventry Boulevard exit and remembered on her own how to get back to Las Casas. We parked in the same part of the parking lot where we were before and began looking around. I could tell that Rick was upset, and that Mom was annoyed.
After walking around for about two minutes, I saw a glint of metal in the parking lot. I walked closer and saw a $20 bill with other bills folded behind it, held together by a metal clip. “Rick!” I called. “Isn’t this it?”
Rick came running over. “Yes!” he shouted. “Found it!”
“Good,” Mom said. “Mark! Miranda! We found it!”
“Can we go home now?” Mark asked, sounding like he would rather be anywhere else than here.
On the drive home, Rick played for us a CD of his new favorite comedian, someone named Jeff Foxworthy who made jokes about the South and rednecks. I thought he was somewhat amusing. Mom told me later that she thought Jeff Foxworthy was stupid.
After having been in the car so much that day, I felt a little relieved to be home, knowing that I would be sleeping in my own bed that night. But I also felt disappointed. It was disappointing that I did not get to see Megan. But, more generally, today I had had a taste of what it was like to be back in Jeromeville, and I was ready for more. My life in Plumdale really was going nowhere. I was more ready than ever to return to Jeromeville. I had been there for a year (YOU’VE BEEN THERE BEFORE, I thought, like that weird sculpture), and I would be back someday. My friends were there. I had new people to meet there. And I felt so much more free there, not having to wonder if my family would question my every move. This boring time in Plumdale working at Books & More would pass, and six weeks from now I would be free to continue living my new life in Jeromeville.
Author’s note: I apologize to whomever took the photograph of YOU’VE BEEN HERE BEFORE. I stole it from a Jeromeville local wiki site. As soon as the COVID-19 lockdown is over, I’ll go to Jeromeville and take this picture myself and replace this with my own picture.
Thanks to Mom and Taylor for helping me out with a few details relevant to this day.
This episode kind of feels like one of those TV shows where they keep showing clips from previous episodes. I told tons of stories about the previous year in Jeromeville and linked to all of them, for the benefit of new readers who might have missed those.
And, I doubt that she will ever see this, but from one writer to another, happy 104th birthday today to Beverly Cleary. I often forget about her when I think of my favorite authors, since she writes children’s books and I haven’t read anything of hers since elementary school. But I loved the Ramona books and the Henry Huggins books as a kid, and somewhere back at my parents’ house in Plumdale I have an autographed first edition copy of Ramona Forever. From what I have read about her as an adult, and what I remember of her books, she really did a great job of capturing what life is like for an ordinary child, and as someone who doesn’t always relate well to popular works of fiction, that’s important to me. And besides all that, just living for so long is pretty awesome in itself.