Saturday, May 12, 2007

Santa Barbara

If you are a person of an impatient persuasion, you probably hate commercial flying. If you are a person of an irrational phobia persuasion, you probably hate commercial flying. And if you are a person of an "I am not livestock" persuasion, you probably hate commercial flying. But if you are a little of all three, you would probably let a day-long, three-legged flight with a four-hour layover in Santa Barbara make you really grumpy.

I completely forgot about that first leg, and told my mom I wasn't flying out until 4:50 p.m. We were planning the day together and everything. But when I actually checked my itinerary, I realized I was flying at 11 a.m. After we rushed to the airport, I wandered around the Salt Lake terminal for a little while looking for a map of the states. I get all of the San's and Santa's in California confused. I thought Santa Barbara was in the Central California/Sacramento/Purgatory area. But I was wrong. It's right on the southern coast.

The Santa Barbara airport is small. Smaller than Juneau's. And judging by the reaction from the TSA people, I don't think anyone in the history of the world has ever caught a connecting flight there. When I showed one Horizon Airlines employee my Delta boarding pass, she just kept telling me I was at the wrong airport. "But you flew me in here," I kept insisting. It was like arguing with an automated teller. It took a while to square all the confusion away, but afterward I still had nearly four hours to kill at a six-gate airport that had one snack bar and essentially no waiting space. Outside was a blaze of sunlight at 65-degree dry air. It seemed a good opportunity to go for a walk.

Airports are usually tough places to walk away from, but I am wary of hopping on public transportation when I'm whittling away a layover. Luckily, I discovered a bike path almost immediately. I crossed the Goleta Slough and quickly found my way to the beach, where I kicked off my shoes and socks and laid tracks across the warm sand like the little lost bear I followed earlier this week. I felt comfortably out of place among the baking beautiful people, with the sun scorching my pasty Alaskan skin and my SPF 45 stowed somewhere far away in my checked baggage, hauling a Camelbak carry-on and a Gap bag full of Goldfish, likely illegal fruit and my ancient camera. I was really tempted to go for a swim in the surf, but I unfortunately chose to wear white underwear that morning. Dang.

I made my way up to UCSB to find an Internet connection and lunch. Both searches turned out to be fruitless (I forgot how bad college food is.) I was eating my Goldfish and a grapefruit, drinking a jug-o'Diet Pepsi and reading a section of The Salt Lake Tribune in the campus courtyard when a guy that couldn't have been older than 19 or 20 approached me to ask if I was in his Cultural Anthropology class. "No," I said, "I'm not a student here."

"Oh, too bad," he said, then smiled and walked away. I think he intended to hit on me. It's hard to tell with the kids these days. Either way, I don't think that happened to me before, even when I was actually in college. I chose to feel flattered.

After lunch, I ditched the Gap bag and worked my way further down the beach, away from the groomed lawns and beach umbrellas, to the seedier part of the coast. With sand bluffs towering overhead and wind whipping up the beach, it reminded me of Homer, Alaska ... with palm trees. Without a watch or any real clue of my timeline for finding my way back to the tiny airport, I sat on the rocks and looked north up the coastline, even further away from home than I was this morning, guiltlessly enjoying a vacation from my vacation.

I think they call this kind of thing Serendipity.