Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The way home

When I left Oregon in April, I was certain Atascadero would become home. I liked the sound of the name; everything had fallen into place—a cat-friendly apartment available the day I needed it, rented month-to-month. I could get acquainted with the area at a leisurely pace. My astrological reading indicated June 5th would be a propitious day; perhaps then I would find my permanent home.

I struggled that first week of June, searching for my ‘forever home.’ It wasn’t until the next week that I realized Atascadero didn’t feel like home. While I love being warm, the heat often governed my day. If I were to jog, I needed to do so early, though I’m not a morning person. My enthusiasm for exercise lags when heat begins to radiate from the pavement shortly after sunrise.

But the deciding factor came that, on Tuesday, June 11th. I planned to attend a 7 p.m. writing-related event in San Luis Obispo (SLO), less than 20 miles away. Plenty of time, I thought, as I got on Hwy 101 just after six, buoyed by the prospect of meeting fellow writers.

Less than a mile later, a sign warned of an accident ahead. At that point, traffic was sparse and still moving at freeway speed.

“Well,” I reasoned, “if they’ve had time to put up the sign, it’ll be clear soon.”

How wrong I was. After I passed the last exit familiar to me, traffic began to pile up. Still, from there to SLO was less than eight miles. I might be a little late.

But between me and my destination loomed the Cuesta Pass, a grade that goes up to 1522 feet, then winds down into SLO at 234 feet. There are no exits in the eight miles between Santa Margarita and SLO. Well, that’s not exactly true. Part of the highway is non-freeway, with side roads providing access to dwellings and wineries but not to other routes over the pass. Turning left across the other lanes seemed dangerous. Besides, I’d gotten stuck in the middle lane of three.

We crept along at less than my own jogging pace to the crest, then slithered down.

Where the hell is this accident, I wondered. I could see nothing but cars, inching around each of the wide curves. Finally, beyond the bottom of the grade, after the road narrowed to two lanes, we cleared the overturned semi.

I arrived at the first exit for SLO at eight-thirty. Though the event was only about six miles further, I got off and turned back to Atascadero. I would have arrived as the event ended. And darkness loomed. I don’t see well at night and searching for a place I had never been seemed pointless now.

I learned later that the truck had overturned at two-thirty in the afternoon. I have no idea what time the rig was actually towed away.

Thus began my search for a place in SLO.

At first, the prospect of living near the vibrant downtown seemed perfect. I scanned Craigslist every day, marking the ‘cats okay’ box. I visited a number of available units, was told of a potential ‘grandma’ house, and submitted an application for a fabulous apartment a few blocks from the center of town. My heart sank when the owner of that beauty said I was her second choice.

Then, on Saturday, June 29th, I visited an expensive, pet-friendly unit so unkempt inside and out, it made me want to run. And I did.

Back in Atascadero, I wrote a list of what I wanted, not only in the apartment itself, but also in quality of life—things like quiet yet not isolated, shopping nearby, feeling safe.

On Craigslist, I dropped the check mark on the ‘cats okay’ box. A unit popped up. Nothing about pets, but I hesitated. The ad was all caps, like someone shouting the glories of the place. And it wasn’t downtown at all!

I called anyway and mentioned my cat, Simone. The owner said we could talk. I could see it anytime. He lives next door.

Oh, dear! Would that be good?

I grabbed my keys and headed to SLO for the second time that day. My GPS guided me to Madonna Road then Oceanaire Drive. I chuckled as I turned onto Atascadero Street, the street that curves into Galleon Way and my new safe harbor, my new and perhaps ‘forever’ home.