Why was he grinning wider than a watermelon slice? I thought this of a friend with whom I was cycling. He had a beatific, almost silly, expression on his face. Normally, he would have been gritting his teeth like the rest of us at the prospect of the mountain ahead and the early morning fireball rising in the eastern sky, but he wasn't.
"Ask him where he's going," a friend suggested.
I did. I wanted to know, and I wanted whatever he had added to his water bottle.
"I'm going to the beach," he said.
He was going to the beach. In case I hadn't heard it, five minutes later, he repeated it:
"Did I tell you that I was going to the beach?"
If he hadn't, he did. Five times over the next three hours. His joy was such that it might as well have been his first visit.
In July and August, there are two kinds of people in Kern County: those who are going to the beach and those who are not. This is true not only for Kern County but for Stanislaus, Tulare, Merced, Kings, Madera and Fresno counties -- any place that shares our weather and topography.
Beach-goers are in the tunnel. They are not to be spoken to. They might as well be ghosts. Their bodies may be present but their spirits have gone elsewhere.
Their eyes are glassy. They see you, but they don't see you because they are looking over your shoulder, across the orchards and vineyards and through the Tehachapis or Temblor Range to the ocean beyond.
If they hear you at all, they use the selective hearing spouses employ as a way of husbanding their energies. Your voice is drowned out by the sound of the waves breaking on the sand, the cry of the seagulls and the easy conversations that take place when your feet are in the sand and your back is in a beach chair.
Several friends are at the beach or on the runway awaiting their turns to take flight. I've offered them use of my paddleboards. They were gracious and thanked me but when somebody is on the ocean runway, nothing that a valley dweller owns is of interest to them. Those boards could go to the beach, but they'd have to drive themselves.
You are here. They are going there. No reason to muddy the water with an equipment exchange with the unwashed.
Maybe it's like sending a child to college. In order to leave town, ties must be severed. Anything that can be construed as a tether, even a surfboard leash, has to be snapped, or you could end up back on your front porch this side of a sunburn.
Sunday morning, I drove by the house of a beach-going friend. His truck was backed up to his house. His bike was snugged in the bike rack. Beach chairs, a barbecue, suitcases were next in line. He was nowhere to be seen. Even though he was there, he was already gone.
These are Herb Benham's opinions and not necessarily those of The Californian. Email him at email@example.com. HERB BENHAM: Beach-goers check out before leaving