Wednesday, July 6
The day gets started with “The Good” as we get an early start, under cloudless blue skies heading down I-15, the major interstate linking L.A. with the western desert. Steep, barren mountains line both sides of a deep and narrow canyon providing spectacular views as we descend from around 5,000 feet to 1,500 feet. Suddenly the road takes a sharp turn to the right through a pass, enabling us to get our first view of the greater Los Angeles area. You can imagine how thrilling this might be, but that is all you can do, imagine, because L.A. is enshrouded in a brown cloud of smog. I thought the smog problem was pretty much under control in L.A., but not this day. The air is as bad as anything we experienced in China last year. Call this “The Bad” phase of the journey soon to be followed by “The Ugly.”
Before we know it, we are driving 85 miles an hour, trying to keep pace with traffic on a 12-lane, divided highway, tailgated by an 18-wheeler, with cars and behemoth trucks speeding along at break-neck speeds all around us, bumpers within inches of each other. Welcome to L.A.! Periodically red tail lights light up and the pace slows down to a stop-and-go, then without warning we are off to the races again before the next jam happens. All just a typical morning in the second largest city in the U.S. I am thinking that if we can actually make it to Santa Barbara without a collision, we will be lucky.
And we are lucky because we do not get run over by an 18-wheeler; and as we circle around the city going north and then west, the cars and trucks thin out and the smog diminishes allowing us to see a blue sky for the first time and breathe fresh air. As we head west along the coast to Santa Barbara, the houses jammed together in vast subdivisions with tiny yards on curved streets gradually disappear, and suddenly we are in the country again with steep hills and beige grass, dotted by giant green, live oaks and olive trees.
We are staying with Sue and Bruce, old and dear friends from way back when Embry and Sue worked together in the 1980s at Systemetics, a startup health care and social science research firm headquartered in Santa Barbara with an office in D.C. where Embry worked. In the 1990s Sue followed Embry to Mathematica , a similar firm, with offices in Princeton, D.C. and several other towns ; and we have remained close to them for over 30 years, with something like eight or nine vacation trips together to various exotic places. Sue is an expert photographer, and Bruce was a judge until his retirement a few years ago. He is a master gardener and still plays tennis several times a week at a near championship level. I always look forward to getting a free tennis lesson from him when we get together but not this time due to my bad knee.
Sue and Bruce actually live in the neighboring town of Goleta, where we arrive around four p.m. about the same time as Lance arrives, another Systemetric researcher from the 1980s, whom we have remained close to, now living in Seattle. A few years back he and his wife, Diana, joined us for a sailing cruise among the San Juan islands, north of Seattle. The third connection from the 1980s who joins us for dinner is Jim, one of the founders of the firm, and his wife, Eve, who have retired to the Bay area where they live on a house boat in Sausalito, and have a small apartment in Greenwich Village. They are all interesting people, still very much engaged in all kind of pursuits and living active, vital lives, despite health issues, some serious, that are part of growing old as happens to us homo sapiens on the planet Earth.
We enjoy a delicious dinner outside at a beach-side sea food restaurant, talking about old times, new times and this fragile and dangerous moment in American politics. We retire early to rest up for the big day tomorrow—the Systemetrics reunion.