TOUR Day 8 - Oakland and Mild Panic / by Sophie Johnson

I started to freak out last night. It’s good to know my limit: it’s seven days of traveling in a van, complicated by eating one grilled cheese sandwich out of hungry desperation at an In-N-Out Burger. When I hit my limit, I might start to have an emotional break-down in the middle of a show after getting a (somewhat) disparaging e-mail from a disapproving family member. That breakdown will look like this: a bride-to-be will come up to have Air Sex, and when the time comes for feedback, I will say something like, “Um… it seems like you give good blow jobs.” Which (in case it’s not clear), is not a very smart or good comment. And then, like a perfect storm, I might get back into the van after the show and just sob in the back seat quietly while everyone else happily listens to old Adam Sandler albums and while laughing uncontrollably.

We have been rinse-and-repeating for so many days now that I don’t think anyone really noticed. The show went up. The show went fine (maybe it even went well — everyone seemed pretty happy with it). The show came down. We drove away. It was a normal night.

The drive from Oakland to Portland is long, but it’s gorgeous, and it’s familiar. After my first year of college, I took a road trip down this coast with my a few of my best friends (Ben, Jessica, Katie). I think the idea was supposed to be that we had seen a lot of movies where there were road trips, and we felt it was sort of a rite of passage. We swam in a lake and ate an entire block of cheese in one sitting once we realized that we’d forgotten a cooler. Jessica was always scared that we were going to get mauled by a bear. That’s a legitimate fear to have when you’re camping. We would fall asleep holding hands, imagining brutal bloodbath situations.

The thing I remember most is the craggy mountainside cresting along the coast. It’s scary to drive it — maybe because it’s dramatically curvy, or maybe because you’re afraid you’ll get startled by the landscape and forget to steer. My biggest fear is that I’ll drive into this part of the world and struggle to leave. The evergreens feel like home. People spend a lot of time trying to explain what home means to people; I even tried to write an editorial about it in college. (The editorial was forgettable — especially compared with the other editorials I controversially published, such as “I Hate People Who Use Ellipses” and “Whitman College Has A Dark And Seedy Underbelly” (seriously). But these days, home feels obvious to me: it’s just evergreen trees in the Pacific Northwest. The more time I spend away from them, the more I feel a little bit lost.

We stopped in an impossible railroad town for lunch — the sort with storefronts that haven’t been told that it’s not 1850 anymore, and wildflowers splashing around the shoulders of the roads. Brock found a restaurant called The Dogwood Cafe which had plenty of vegan and gluten free options, big tables, and flavorful coffee. Everyone seemed very impressed with the grains and tofus and quaintness of it all; I thought, “Every small town in Oregon is like this.” They are all unexpected and precious, with hordes of healthy foods. 

Last night, as I was feeling the panic set in, I decided to take a walk around the block. My uncles and my friend Ari live in or around Oakland (both of them stopped by last night — Uncle Chris just before the show and Ari just after), and sometimes I think about moving there because I like them. Walking around the block, I felt a lot of love for Oakland. There was a youth radio show being recorded in one building, and a poetry slam going down two doors down (as I was passing by, the bouncer said, “YOU look like you are here for POETRY.” I thought, “Oh god, I hope not. But you’re probably right.”) Looking into all the businesses, I remembered how involved everyone is in their own lives. Most people on the earth are not thinking about stand-up comedy or Air Sex, even (I KNOW, IT’S SHOCKING). But, since I’ve been traveling, I forget that quickly.

I am trying to let the panic happen; feel the sadness and sit with it. I am treating it like a friend who has come over after a breakup: maybe it’s a little inconvenient, but you love her, and you’re going to be there with her. It is subsiding a little; ebbing in and out; like the Shasta Lake slowly pushing away the red clay sand cliffs, into the mountain.