A couple weeks ago, on a warm but windy day, I smiled (behind my mask) and said hello to a man who was walking up a ledge that led down to the salty area I passed on a walk at the park.
Park is a strong word.
A piece of land that covers an old landfill is slightly more apt. In fact, it’s so apt, that it actually is a landfill covered with clay, with desert-happy plants growing on the hilly park.
It butts up against the bay. There are salt flats that stream into the park, and it has become a haven for Instagram and social media influencers. But, truth be told, it smells.
Not a little.
The smell is intense
It smells so much that skunks actually migrate to areas surrounding the park, because it outstinks them. (Sincerely, I can’t walk the dog after 10pm at our RV park here because holy moly, the skunks come out.) The park uses the methane off-gasses as electricity, but it wreaks of sour and sulfur and methane. It’s gag-worthy. The bay, at low tide, is also rather putrid. It’s a combination that can leave me a little vomity.
So, okay, where was I? Right. I was walking. With Bernie. And I smiled masked, said hello, and the person said hello back. It happened. Someone was friendly in California. I think I caught him off guard, that a person would reach out when it was not necessary. We immediately both doubted one another’s birthplace. Oregon? Texas? Another country entirely? California, from our experience, is filled with people that are always late, and always not willing to say hello. (I know, I know. I offended someone. Frankly, it’s the least friendly state we’ve spent time in so far, and Jeremiah was even born here.)
Then I realized something; he had collected salt from the inlet. He had wrapped a few handfuls of salt in tan cloth and was taking it home. We chatted very briefly, and my heart warmed a little in the California sun; he had reminded me of a customer that I had at the bakery many years ago. I reminisced about the customer and his daughter who had on occasion stepped behind the counter to watch me pull her father’s espresso shots. The sudden urge to find my old customer who had frequented a bakery years before rose in me, but I couldn’t even remember his name.
Instead, I brought Jeremiah back to the salty area the next day.
A handful of salt
When we arrived, we climbed down, careful not to trip in the dust, and walked onto the thick layer of salt. The surrounding area is red from bacteria or algae. I googled it then promptly forgot. Jeremiah kneeled down, and Bernie trotted beside. He picked at a piece of the salt, and we grabbed a handful of the large shiny crystals and put them in our pockets before walking around the park more. “It stinks,” he said. It’s true.
Every day since that I’ve been there—while it smells, it’s a mile from the RV park, so I walk there often—the salt flats are crowded with influencers: people that take pictures in weird places and make it look like they’re somewhere else, then post them to Instagram. I mean, sure, we might do that, but we’re not influencing anyone. (If we are, let me know. I’ll up my Instagram game.)
One day, I watched as a man posed his briefcase on the salt flat, then put on a leather jacket in 90-degree weather to play his guitar as someone with a tripod took a photo. Another day, a woman in full Lolita-esque Japanese-influenced clothing stepped on to the crunchy pink-hued salt to look picturesque. Other times, I’ve seen people in all white dresses, others posed for prolonged periods of time looking as though they’re jumping, running, or laughing. I realize I have way too much shame to ever do that. Especially in the smelliest place in the bay area.
Unique moments and places
Our travels are made up of moments like this. The thing is, all of life is made up of moments like this, RVer or not. We take note of things that strike us as unique, or odd, or peculiar, while locals might simply nonchalantly wave off the idea that the park stinks and people crowd around the red-colored salt to take influencer pictures. If nothing else, traveling in an RV has taught us to always see things with curious eyes. No matter where we end up long term, I hope we always have that kind of curiosity to see the world with fresh eyes.