Reflecting back on a time and space way before Covid-19. Summer of 2017. So much had transpired a few months prior to the much needed roadtrip my friend Que and I took.
2017 was THAT year! I began the year with about $200 to my name having moved back into my apartment following a gut-wrenching break up. But we won’t go there…
It was the year of my awakening with jaw slapping growth. I went from applying for food stamps to flying first class to film Madea’s Family Funeral. From working on Ballers with the Rock to sitting in a courtroom opposite the former partner. Then to booking a recurring guest star on She’s Gotta Have It Season 2, to calling rehab facilities to seeing if there was an opening for my father. It was tumultuous. It was exciting. It was all so confusing. How could these moments of excitement be shadowed by these pitfalls of strife? I questioned EVERYTHING I was doing.
…something told me to embrace it all, as is with life; we can find comfort in the uncomfortable.
I guess Que got tired of hearing the out of tuned strings of my pity violin. We had known each other since we were 14 and often spent our nights facetiming between our LA and NYC apartments. Que, a brilliant photographer, was seeking new scenery and background for a few weeks. He came up with a plan to do a Pacific Coast Highway road trip. And I was on board!
After the day of the court battle with the former partner, Que and I packed our bags and loaded his rental car. I was a wreck. There was a pending verdict weighing over my head that kept my stomach in all kinds of knots. Que looked at me and said, “Ciera, this is your opportunity to let go and enjoy life. Try to free your mind from that ex and just enjoy this trip.” With a nod of my head, I made the decision to do just that. And so we were off!
At that time I was searching for a new identity of sorts. Playing with different styles and looks. I got really entranced by wigs. The many different styles and colors. On this trip, I wanted to be someone else. Someone outside of the tormented obstacles I was constantly reevaluating in my mind. So I packed a number of synthetic wigs to disguise myself and see the Pacific Coast through the eyes of the character that the wig transformed me into.
Que got a kick out of it and sometimes gave me the side-eye of are you really gonna wear that kind of look. Confidently I’d cock my head and declare a temporary new name for myself.
The PCH was gorgeous. We were just taken a back by the simple beauty of Mother Nature and the waves crushing on the coast. Our first stop was at a little town just outside San Luis Obispo. We stopped at a little breakfast spot and enjoyed some breakfast. I think it was the first time I was able to eat in a weeks. I remember the orange juice being the thing that lit up my world!
We decided to get a room in near this pit stop so that we may enjoy the drive and the coast. In this little town we decided to explore what was around. We stumbled upon a sea side park complete with swings. The little kid in me was so delighted to hop on a swing facing the beach that I could scream.
We delighting in swinging until we were exhausted. We made our way to our room and chowed down on some local grub. We talked for hours about our goals and dreams. The conversations were raw and honest. Que shared me about some of his experiences of coming from Vietnam and growing up in New Orleans. I shared with him some of my most memorable moments of my childhood. We both talked of the future of when: we become the people we are searching to be.
The next morning, bright and early we spotted by the little breakfast spot and got some snacks and headed north. I blasted Disney songs and sang to and along with Que. I’m sure I annoyed the hell out of him at times but a true friend he is to not have kicked me out the car!
We approached the Gold State Bridge. Que’s inner child lit up and asked if I was cool to stop the car so that we can walk the bridge. I said sure! Why not! I’ve always had a little fear of heights or the vastness of big structures and depth underneath me. I recalled how my heart raced when I went to the Grand Canyon. But I wanted to be brave this time and give Que the experience of walking the Golden State Bridge.
My legs shook as we took our steps on the pedestrian route. My curly wig wildly blowing in the air. My cute summer dress not providing enough cover to keep me warm. As uncomfortable as I was, something told me to embrace it all, as is with life; we can find comfort in the uncomfortable. We approached the end of the bridge, making it to the other side. Joining other tourists, we decided to take photos of our victory across the bridge. It was a long walk indeed. With that, we also had to assess if we were going to trek back. Hell no! It was getting dark and cold. So we decided to be good Millenials and take an Uber back to our car.
San Franciso was awesome. We took a walk on The Wharf and enjoyed some crab legs (my pre-Vegan days). It was beautiful to see this city and all the buzzing. I also couldn’t help but to take in the homelessness that was so present amongst this vibrant city.
At dinner, we talked a lot about my father and how his relapse weighed heavily on me. Que was a constant reminder to me, declaring, “Don’t block your blessings by focusing on all the bad or complaining.” As much as I wanted to vent, I had to acknowledge he was right. I mean there we were enjoying San Fran and I wanted to lament over my father’s drug addiction. Let go, I did indeed.
Our trip was reaching the end as we awoke the next morning, a bit hung over some the hotel bar and the delish cocktails that the bartender served me. Que and I are too funny people when the alcohol flows. But I should note now that I no longer drink, not due to addiction, just a preference to enjoy life without needed stimulants.
We hopping in the rented car and headed back south, bumping our favorite New Orleans bounce music. Big Freeda and Magnolia Shorty blasted as we drove down the PCH. Que remined me of a botanical garden he wanted to check out. I said, “Shoot man, let go there!”
Slipping on another wig, we trekked our back to the botanical garden. Wow! Just wow! It was complete with a Butterfly exhibit. The warm humidity in the arm was the greatest cherry on top for us two NOLA natives. The life buzzing and growing around me was the medicine I needed to make this trip complete.
On The Way Home
We were ready to get back on the road and head back down to SoCal. Our chatty convos turned to a peaceful silence. We were completely in our experiences until we encountered a vast and beautiful scene. The sun was beginning to set amongst this free land with small mountains. I can’t recall where we were, but we both desired to stop and take it in.
The beauty of nature was the winner here. I was surprised that there only two other cars taking in what we deemed to be so beautiful. Suddenly I was so overwhelmed by emotion. I couldn’t hold it back. I needed to release and cry. Que allowed me to do so; holding space for the emotions I was keeping to myself. He proclaimed, “It’s ok, just let it out.” And I did, embracing the tears and the loss I was feeling. Where did my ex and I go so wrong that we needed to involve courts? Why did my dad go off of 8 years of being clean? Why did I care so much? And how do I not allow these things to affect my work and career? These were questions that I found comfort therein not having an answer. In that space, I chose to stop asking and just live in the moment. If tears needed to be shed, that’s ok. And laughter was available, it was ok to laugh. Que, the brilliant photographer that he is, took the opportunity to take a photo of that moment. Documenting my vulnerability in the vastness of the world around us.
When we arrived back home to my small apartment in North Hollywood, the world looked different. We both felt it. But we also both saw it.
There was dirt everywhere. All around us. We didn’t know what had caused it but it was everywhere outside and hints of it lingered in the air. Que and I just thought that our patio hadn’t been cleaned in a while and that it was just build-up. But it was strange.
Later, we two New Orleanian Natives would learn that “dirt” wasn’t dirt at all, but ashes from the latest Southern Californian wildfires. The winds pushed the ashes in the air and they fell where they could. Leaving a charcoal mist on the outside. There was something beautiful knowing that would mark the end of our road trip. Our welcome home. Ashes on the ground. The closing of one chapter. A new start on the next.