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Snowflakes and Earthquakes
Elan Barnehama


This right here.  This is my corner.  My crosswalk. You will find me out here every school day from 7:30 to 9 in the morning and 2:30 to 4 in the afternoon.  No matter what the weather.  Sunny, mostly sunny, partially sunny. I’m even out here when it dips below 60 and nobody in Venice Beach walks.

This wasn’t always my corner and I wasn’t always a crossing guard and I didn’t always live in Venice.

But it is now and I am now and I do now. 

Before this? Before this I had a life that I didn’t want any more. That life was back in Boston. That life had decades of cold and snow and slush and the relentless cycle of seasonal chores.

I had enough. 

And yeah. I was married once. And then I wasn’t. That’s everyone’s story, right?

I left her. She left me. Does it even matter?  Lots of days I wanted to leave me. 

What’s that thing Tolstoy said in Anna Karenina? All happy marriages are alike but every unhappy marriage is unhappy in its own way.

That’s crap.

It may have once been true, but that time was surely before Facebook and Twitter and Youtube and blogs and podcasts. Before anyone who could reach a keyboard over shared every uninteresting detail of their slowly decomposing relationship and equally mundane break-up in an endless dribble of manufactured outrage, self-serving, self-indulgent, self-satisfied anger to sympathetic strangers to eager to pile on their contrived disapproval while gleefully bestowing likes and emogis.

See, it turns out, it’s the happy ones, the relationships that make it, they are the curious ones.

So can we just say be okay with, we fizzled out. I know it’s bullshit, but really, if it was even a little interesting I’d tell you.

Then, ten months after the divorce I’m with some friends in the north end for my birthday. January 23.  It was freezing out – it’s always freezing on my birthday. Still, we’re having a great time when my friends raise their glasses and toast my being born, I told them I didn’t want to die there.

They said they didn’t want me to die here either – at least not before we got our cannolis and tiramisu. I assured them that I meant Boston and not the restaurant.  But Boston was the only place I’d ever lived, I say, and I loved it, but I didn’t want to die without having lived somewhere else. I tell them heading south and west. 

They had their own takes. 
I was depressed about my divorce. 
I had run out of Tinder matches.

Not one of them believed I meant what I said or wanted what I wanted. 

Between bites of cannolis and spoonfulls of tiramisu we discussed and debated my plan. And then they scoffed. Scoffed I tell you. Opinions were indecorously and disrespectfully spouted in my direction.

It was not very complicated I told them. It was not some enormous change at the last moment. Just a change of scenery.

In mid February, with my carpacked I looked to the westand hit the road. I love road trips. They’re full of possibility, they suspend time like a baseball game and exist just outside of reality.  

The trip counter counted my way south: Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersy, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia as I sought to escape weather. In Tennessee I shifted west onto I-40.  In Nashville, I caught my breath with moonshine and music and I toasted the road ahead.

The next day I crossed the mighty Mississippi in Memphis and made my way through Arkansas, Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle – which by itself is double the area of Massachusetts. State borders rose up as natural topographic dividers that offered entry into wonderful new worlds of dialects, dishes, vegetation, music, accents, architecture and more.

The final push through New Mexico and Arizona brought the California border and a sense of urgency as the Pacific beckoned. Three thousand miles. Seventeen cups of coffee.  Four time zones.  Nine refuels.  Thirteen states.  Winter to not winter.  Atlantic to Pacific. Snow flakes to earthquakes. I had arrived.

I rolled up my jeans and waded in the water.  

I really should have taken off my sneakers first.

I walked back across the sand and up the stairs to the Santa Monica Bluffs.  The sun is disappearing into the Pacific and lights lit up the ferris wheel on the Santa Monica pier. 

I was warm and it was February. Not New England winter thaw warm. But warm warm.

What a night I said to the guy standing near me. 

He turned toward to me and smiled. That’s when I heard it. He was peeing into the bushes.

I had made it west.

After 48 hours behind the windshield, I opted to explore the coast on foot.  I walked and jogged the snowless streets, watching.  And what a show.  The 3rdStreet Promenade, Dogtown, Santa Monica Pier, muscle beach, the Venice canals, the Santa Monica stairs, and of course, the beach.

Hipsters and hippies, tourists and druggies, boomers and techies, street dwellers and artists shared the space and it mostly seemed to work. Venice Beach is totally walkable.  The rest of LA, well, sure, that’s walkable too if you drive.

So that happened a few months ago. I found a place to live and saw an ad for a crossing guard and I guess the school department out here figured a lifetime of having survived crossing Boston streets qualified me.

And now I have my own corner of the world. And I’ll cross everyone.

I cross moms and dads, nannies and au pairs, and all the grands. I’ll cross you yoga pant wearers, and bicycle sharers. Roller bladders and skate boarders and stroller pushers. Joggers and slow walkers. 

You’re not getting hit on my watch.

I heard the last person to patrol this corner sold a screenplay. Got the call right here one morning. Didn’t even finish her shift. Made a thing of it. Dropped the stop sign in the middle of the cross walk and kept walking.

I might write one of those.

Till then I will get you safely across these thirty-one feet of blacktop. Know this, drivers. Know that I’m not messing with you when I tell you to stop. You need to calm yourselves down and sit tight while I escort these pedestrians to the other side. You had best use those damn brakes that came with your amn car and just stop. You’re just not getting through till I say you are.

And you punks in your silent electric cars who think you can go all stealth on me. It’s not happening. I’m on to you and your namaste bumper stickers. 

And you lowlife in your over compensating Lamborghini. Keep testing me. You’re going to regret starting a pissing war with me. I’ll be getting a body cam just for you. You’re my new retirement plan. Go ahead. Don’t stop and I’ll own your ass. And your car.

Anyway, school is in now session and my shift is over and I need breakfast. 

Two coffeehouses grace fair Venice where I lay my scene. 

The one, Dogtown, local with a glorious past. Noisy and meant for conversation and chatter. A place where meetings are scheduled, projects projected, connections made. 

The other, a Starbucks, where quiet is the rule and talking is discouraged, if not forbidden. A haven for writers and readers. For texters and surfers. 

Today I’ll take my self to the noisy one in hopes of seeing Ashley who has breakfast there on Tuesdays before she goes off to yoga.

Elan Barnehama's first novel, FINDING BLUEFIELD (2012), explores what happens when society’s invisible become visible. His writing has been published online, in print, and his essays have aired on public radio. He was a fiction editor at ForthMagazine, is a New Yorker by geography, and a tortured Mets fan by default.  Elan lives in Los Angeles.