I am so ready for another trip up to my girlfriend’s cabin in Fawnskin, along the north Shore of Big Bear Lake in the San Bernardino Mountains. I’m suffering from that gotta get out of here feeling again, plus the cabin is a great place to write. Even though we’re in the middle of winter, the view from the flatlands down here is that there’s hardly any snow up there; it’s been unseasonably warm. The journey takes two hours from Laguna Beach. Well, actually two hours and ten minutes, since I’ve always had to stop for Jake, my Staffordshire bull terrier to throw up. Twenty minutes up that winding mountain road makes him car sick. And this time there’s Fergie to consider. Will she also barf?
I can relate to the barfing. That’s what I used to do on every car trip the family took—in our Ford Prefect—especially driving Zambia’s escarpments. My dad did his stopping-only-to-pee thing (in the bush, of course, no toilets) on our way down to South Africa to visit the relatives, before heading for Durban, jewel of the Indian Ocean. Well, it used to be. I had to stick my head out of the window to upchuck, which was always refreshing. When we stopped at Beit Bridge on the border between Zimbabwe and South Africa for petrol, the native attendant would clean it off nicely; I’d get a treasured Pepsi (unavailable in Zambia at the time) and my parents would have a “sundowner” before getting back on the road.
Even though Jake tosses his food every time, I’m always unprepared. Ever the optimist? Shot memory? So the last time, there he is sitting next to me, gazing out the passenger-side window like he does, checking out the scenery. Transported by the sounds of the group Bon Iver on the radio, I don’t notice that he starts swallowing like mad, tongue darting in and out: a sure sign of blast-off. I feel his white-rimmed intense Staffie gaze and turn to look at him.
“Wait, wait!” I cry.
With barely a glance in my rear view mirror, I swerve onto a rocky ledge in a cloud of dust and slam on brakes. Still yelling at him, I dive for the closest thing, which happens to be my sweatshirt, to prevent his spew from getting all over the place. Too late. Poor baby just couldn’t hold it. I won’t bore you with the details, I’ll just tell you that he missed my sweatshirt by a hair. The worst part of it, well, almost the worst, is how mortified he gets when something like this happens. Even though I jolly up the whole incident.
“Wow, look at that,” I’ll say in my manically happy voice while stroking him soothingly. All the while I’m eyeing the floor to see if his meal ended up in the hard to reach nooks and crannies. It didn’t I later discovered.
But Jake is not to be mollified. Keeping his eyes downcast he humps into the backseat and curls up in a tight unhappy ball. Up at the cabin, I open the car’s back door for him but all he does is ease up into a sitting position and stare forlornly through the window. Until he sees a squirrel. All is forgotten. He jets from the car and streaks after it.
For the next six days we get into a routine of hiking the hills where Jake can chase squirrels to his heart’s desire—no rangers up here—and an occasional trip into town for forgotten groceries. And I write with abandon. Is it the refreshing mountain air, or is because I don’t get distracted by the cobwebs in my studio and the sudden desire to weed?
On our last day, I decide to have dinner in Big Bear City (population 5779). I’d been craving Mexican food and I wanted to take my time over chips and salsa and a margarita. A jumbo with lots of salt. But I’m torn. I’m not that fond of eating alone and I won’t leave Jake. My craving overtakes me. So at sunset, I bundle up and Jake I head into town to find a Mexican restaurant. My plan is to leave him in the car while I charge inside to order something to go and while I wait I’ll have a margarita. I stop at the first Mexican restaurant I come to: Azteca Grill Baja-Style.
“Sit anywhere,” the cheerful waitress yells over her shoulder as she bustles by.
I wait at the bar then give her my order and disclose my plan, adding conversationally that Jake’s waiting for me in the car.
“You can bring him out there, if you like,” she said, inclining her head toward an enclosed deserted patio.
I charge back to the car and with Jake attached to his leash I head for the patio, my breath coming out in small steamy clouds from the cold. Grinning up at me the entire way to the table I selected, Jake starts to jump up onto the chair opposite me. Eyes darting around in case someone saw this move, I give him a surreptitious shake of the head. With an embarrassed look, he slides from the chair and settles down next to my feet. The waitress brings me my margarita, chips and machaca burrito. I drink, scoop salsa and share my burrito with Jake, trying not to mess too much from my uncontrollable shivering from the cold. He doesn’t seem to notice.