Friday, August 31, 2012

Creative Writing Assignment #1: The Room

I am taking a Creative Writing class at Laney College this Fall semester.  Last week we were given a writing prompt requesting that we simply write about the atmosphere in our classroom.  Here's what I wrote.

Theresa Donahoe
English 210A

The Room

I hate jazz. He had to pick a jazz cd for us to listen to, to take in, to digest, and distract us from writing our papers. The whistling sounds of that gut wrenching genre of music that brought back negative memories of a former jazz appreciation class I took years ago. I did not appreciate it. Busy saxophones and trumpets over took the classroom and drowned out the more pleasant buzzing noises of what seemed to be air circulating through a vent. Just air circulating through a vent would have been more peaceful. The squeaking of students shuffling in their chairs, with pens in hand, writing fervently on their notepads, would have been enough of a background chorus for me to write to. No soundtrack of annoying horns required. The occasional cough uttered in the room was more welcoming to my ears than any music played by Thelonius Monk or John Coltrane. The soft waxing lull of the teacher’s black marker as it apologetically screeched against the dry erase board, was more compelling than the sound of whiny horns blowing aimlessly in the wind. I looked around the room. Was this how it was going to be all semester? Was this part of the standard required uniform- the proverbial creative writer’s checklist? Long hair in a ponytail. Check. Liberal opinions sputtering about on political issues. Check. Vacant jazz music humming in the background. Check. And there they were- a room of writers, deep in thought, staring at their pieces of paper, feverishly gripping their pens, oblivious to the evil music that filled the room and undoubtedly spawned the likeness of Kenny G.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

They Came To Pacifica

I HAD A FULL EVENING THAT FRIDAY NIGHT IN OAKLAND, filled with eating sushi, hip hop clubbing and late conversation with my girlfriends.  After all was said and done, I finally hit the pillow around 2:30am and was ready to dream.  I was exhausted from the long work week and had pushed myself to go out that night.  I figured- no worries- for I had my entire Saturday to sleep in, lounge around the apartment, doodle on my smart phone, relax, and finally get some writing done.

Or so I thought.

The next morning at approximately 8am, I woke up to the sounds of beeping construction trucks and busy maintenance workers speaking in Spanish while drilling into the street's pavement directly outside my bedroom window.  If the sunshine of the predicted 90 degree weather forecasted for that day wasn't going to wake me up in these wee small hours of the morning  (that's right 8am is wee), the sound of trenchless sewer plumbers would.

Rise and shine!

This has to be some sort of a joke.....

Grumpy and defiant,  I laid in bed trying to go back to sleep until 10am, which was my normal weekend hour to rise. When I could no longer take the noise anymore, I rose from my slumber with my eyes burning.  This was not what I had in mind. 

There went my original plans for that Saturday.  With my need for silence and complete solitude in order to create, I would get no writing done if I stayed in Oakland.

I started to entertain thoughts of staying in a secluded hotel room on the coast as my little landlocked studio apartment began to heat up and I began packing an overnight bag for the sleepy little ocean town of Pacifica.  Pacifica: a frequently fogged-in locale that refuses to succumb to any heat wave the rest of the nation may be experiencing.  And although I had visited there many times before, I had never stayed overnight.  So I quickly read some hotel reviews online and figured I would wing it once I got down there.

I hopped in my car and sat in the typical East Bay traffic for a half hour on my way to the Bay Bridge. I sailed passed San Francisco and onto the coast.  As the freeway ended and highway 1 became a four lane road, traffic begin to pile up again.

Surely all these drivers weren't headed where I was headed, were they?

As I made the right turn into Rockaway Beach, I followed a row of other cars in.  Apparently my secret destination had become all the rage.

Since I couldn't find street parking, I went ahead and parked in the "customers only" parking lot of Nick's Restaurant, telling myself I would patronize the establishment later.  I climbed out of my car in search of my first task of the afternoon-  a vacant cheap hotel room.

BEST WESTERN LIGHTHOUSE looked pretty good as it sat practically on top of the ocean.  It coudn't have been cheap, but I thought I would ask. 

"Sorry, all rooms are sold out this weekend," I was informed by the front desk clerk.  I nodded and left suprised.  Pacifica? Sold out? What's going on?

My next stop was a rickety two star place that had mixed reviews on Yelp.  THE MOTOR LODGE INN aka PACIFICA MOTOR INN.  I couldn't help but chuckle- would there be any more room left for me at the Inn?

Well, I almost did get turned away at the Inn as they were originally booked out, but then I heard those coveted words: "We had a last minute cancellation, " and I began to perk up.  Then it was followed by, "it's a smoking room."  I mused at the thought of this, thinking about how I had just stayed up past 2am the night before at a friend's place, talking about random things, while she experimented smoking inside her house for the first time.  I thought about how we laughed at the smoke rings floating above her head and how it reminded us of the 80s.

In an adventerous and somewhat desperate moment, I looked at the front desk clerk and responded: "I'll take it!". And then my curiosity got the best of me.  "Can I see what the room looks like?"

"It won't be ready until 4:30pm," he told me, "but here's a key to the non-smoking room next door, room 303. It's the exact same set up."

At that moment a short Mexican cleaning lady came wandering in.  The hotel clerk tried to confirm with her that my room would be ready at 4:30pm.  She started to haggle with him and insisted, "No, 5pm!" in to which he shot back, "No, 4:30!"

I took the key and went to room 303 and unlocked the door. As promised from Yelp, there was a cramped bathroom immediately to my left.  I saw the "uncomfortable pillows" that were also written about, but no one mentioned the four flies that were circling above the bed.

I took a deep breath and exhaled.  Note to self: ask for a fly swatter when you receive your key. I did like that there was a table and two chairs against a window, and I knew I would be able to plug in my laptop there. It would have to do. As I returned the key to the desk clerk, he told me I was lucky to get the last room and that all the hotels were sold out "because of the golf tournament".  "Tiger Woods is 10 minutes from here,"  he informed me.  As I stood there thinking about how I couldn't care less about some golf tournament, another straggler looking to escape the heat of the East Bay entered the hotel lobby looking for a room. "Sorry", he told the 50-something year old woman, pointing at me,  "she took the last one.  You might want to try a hotel by the airport".  "Yes", I thought, "and they probably have less flies."

Needing a way to kill time until my smoky infested room would be ready, I decided to make an honest parking lot patron out of myself and walked over to Nick's Restaurant to grab a bite to eat.  I opted for a window seat in the bar lounge overlooking the ocean. I was determined to make this last minute weekend excursion relaxing while waiting for all the dust to settle (pun intended) and I could get into my room.

I noticed the locals who were seated around me had their eyes fixed on the two televisions that were mounted on the walls above.  I never understood what was so great about watching golf.

I ordered crab cakes and a cherry coke and was playing Word With Friends on my smart phone when I heard a familiar song being sung by an unfamiliar voice over the radio speakers in the bar:

So you want to be a rock 'n' roll star?
Then listen now to what I say
Just get an electric guitar
Then take some time and learn how to play

I sat there listening, dead in my tracks.  I had been humbled.  It was the original version of a song I thought I knew.  You mean Adam Duritz did not make up these lyrics on the live version of the Counting Crows' hit, "Mr Jones", a version that my ex-boyfriend had put on a mixed cd for me all those years ago?  Apparently Adam was quoting another song, that I looked up immediately on my smart phone.  A song recorded by the Byrds and released in 1967 literally titled, "So You Wanna Be a Rock n Roll Star".   And all this time I thought Mr. Duritz was being clever.  I was realizing I was not the rock n roll trivia aficionado I thought I was.  How did I miss that one?

As the bar filled up with people and I filled up on my crab cakes, I managed to burn an hour and a half away, pay my check, and move my car into the parking lot of the two star hotel.  You would think I would have just walked over to the beach and stared at the ocean waves to pass the time, but lately I have been on a "does your beach have sea-shells" kick and I knew Pacifica's did not.  I was strictly in it this weekend for the cool weather and hopefully peace and quiet. 

But peace and quiet would continue to allude me.

I got my key to room 302 from the front desk clerk, and took my overnight bag with me up to the third floor.   As I was walked down the hallway towards my room, I noticed the cleaning lady's cart parked right outside my door.  It was 4:50pm and she was still working on it.  I approached her and she smiled and insisted that she had just finished.  But before she could push her cart away, I took a peak inside my room and sure enough I had to alert her of the flies that circled above my bed.  She knew very little English and I had to just keep pointing at them, and saying, "look- mira!" 

She went back to her cart, and I thought she was going to grab a fly swatter.  Instead she grabbed a can of bug spray.

I stood there mortified as she started squirting bug spray in the air right above my bed to kill the flies.  Then she took a towel and started to wave them out of the room.  All I could think about was how there would now be the scent of bug spray and cigarettes mixed in on my sheets and pillow. 

When the flies and maid were gone, I went downstairs to my car, got into my trunk, and pulled out my emergency sleeping bag made for such occasions as this.  The hotel already had my money and I wasn't going back to Oakland so I figured I would make the best of it and besides, at this point, I knew I would be getting another story out of this.

Once I settled into my room it didn't take long for me to realize that I wasn't going to get any writing done.   Turned out the loud noises of motorcycles and other vehicles from the four lane highway directly behind my hotel, drowned out any blissful sounds of crashing ocean waves that were a mere block away from me in the other direction.  Only the sold-out Best Western Lighthouse stood a chance of providing me with the ambiance that I so desperately needed in order to create.  So I took off again in my car and headed to my favorite coffee shop in Pacifica that was two exits away- the Chit Chat Cafe.  It overlooked the ocean.

I pulled up, plugged in by a window, ice coffee in hand, and was getting ready to write when I saw and heard the dreaded familiar noise of a microphone sound-check of a woman and her guitar.  Of all the times I have visited this coffee shop, I had never been there for a live music set, and the place was getting loud and packed.  Really?  Pacifica?  Why are you so loud this weekend? Why is everyone here? Why did they all come to Pacifica?  The one weekend I needed it to be the loner town that it normally is,  was buzzing with people.  I got cranky. I thought that maybe if it was just a woman playing instrumental pieces on her guitar, I could still get some writing done.  But when a man with a saxophone showed up, I immediately powered down.  Not gonna happen.  By this time it was beginning to be sunset, so I drove my car back over to the hotel, walked to the beach and took pictures of the ocean instead.

Maybe I just needed to do this all along. Sure there were no seashells worth a darn, but look, so pretty.

After staring at the waves, I started to feel relaxed.  The highway noise wasn't so loud now, so would at 9pm on a Saturday evening, finally be the time to start writing?  It was.

I opened my hotel room windows and started typing away.  It was late enough at night that the real work would begin. Some say the process of writing is 10 percent actual writing and 90 percent staring at the walls.  I say that this time it was 10 percent writing and 90 percent getting in the mood for writing.  I guess that means the same thing.

Around 10:30pm I started to get hungry and walked back over to my go-to Nick's Restaurant to see if the kitchen was still open.  It wasn't, but the bar lounge was in full swing with live music and drunk locals.  I asked one of the staff if there were any leftover dinner rolls that I could snag.  He checked, and came back with garlic bread on the house.  Happily, I thanked him and took it and walked outside to stare at the evening waves crashing against the rocks.  I thought I would have another peaceful moment, but it was marred by the sounds of a drunk couple arguing in the parking lot.   Completely unappreciative and clueless about how amazing the atmosphere was around them, I overheard the man yell at the woman, "and this is why they call this town PATHETICA!"

Munching on my garlic bread back in my room, I continued typing until about midnight, and then  decided to retire for the evening.  I hoped that at this time of night, as the town went to sleep, that I would finally be able to hear sounds that I was looking for.  Instead what I heard was the overspill of more drunk locals walking down the street yelling unitelligible phrases.  When I woke up around 2am to go to the bathroom, I only heard the occasional car zooming past on the highway.  As far as the ocean- not so much.

The next morning, I decided to check out early and get on the road, but as I was throwing my sleeping bag back into my trunk, the ocean reminded me I needed to visit her one last time.  As I walked past the Best Western Lighthouse, I realized I wanted to envision what my ideal hotel room should look like-so I walked into their lobby, past the front desk, and up the stairs as if I was a guest staying there.

I roamed the first floor halls in search of that one ocean view room that would have the money shot.  A cleaning lady pushing her cart saw me wandering and realized what I was looking for and pointed me in the right direction.

I came upon room 125 and the door was already open.  I made eye contact with another cleaning lady who was changing the pillow cases and she nodded and motioned me inside.  She knew what I wanted.  I started taking pictures from inside the room.

View from Best Western Lighthouse

Meanwhile, back at The Motor Lodge...

The Best Western Lighthouse hotel room was everything I imagined it would be.  A room that sat right on the ocean complete with a soundtrack of crashing currents that could lull you to sleep.  As beautiful as it was though, it didn't quite compare to a reoccuring dream I have been having lately.

I have this dream that I am staying in a hotel room that is very low to the ground and practically touching the beach sand. The ocean water is warm and a deep turqouise color. It’s very tranquil and peaceful.  It makes me think it might be in Hawaii.   When I first started having these dreams, I was always staying in one of the more modest, no frill rooms, but I would steal a peak inside the master suite that was located at the far right end of the hall on the bottom floor. But as the dreams progressed, the last couple of times I have had them, it is me that is staying in the master suite. I have yet to find that actual room in real life, but I keep searching. I have a feeling it is not on the California coast.

After finally getting the breathtaking hotel room view I was looking for, I left room 125 feeling a little more satisfied.  I got into my car and drove back to the East Bay.  With a 15 degree drop in the weather that day, it was finally safe to head back to Oakland.