I clipped Kai’s black leash onto her collar, careful not to tangle her tufts of strawberry fur in the metal clasp. We set off down the dusty, flower-lined North Beach trail. To my right, surfers were clustered in wetsuits on the same sets of translucent green waves. The swell was sizable—six or seven feet at least—and from my vantage point across the railroad tracks the surfers looked like dark dots moving on a live scatter graph of changing weather patterns.
Just ahead were groups of women power walking, their arms cocked at right angles and their fists balled up so only their fuchsia thumbnails were visible. They wore sunglasses in varying shapes—large rounded squares or rectangles or sideways ovals—and their ponytails swung like a metal ball on a metronome. The constant movement of their lips and little show of teeth made them appear entirely absorbed in their chatter.
A pair of bright orange Nike Frees appeared suddenly from behind the tall bougainvillea bush about twenty meters ahead. The man running in them had tanned legs with cut quad and calve muscles. He was shirtless and drenched in sweat—the rapidly successive water droplets ran down his neck and chest and jumped off his body once they hit his navy, wick-proof running shorts. I moved a few steps to my right lest a quick shake of his muscles or swipe of his hand through his wet hair should send his sweat flying toward me. The mouths of the women power walking formed soft O shapes as he passed by.
Kai and I crossed the railroad tracks to walk parallel to the San Clemente pier. I steered her toward the rusted emerald water fountain in front of Fisherman’s Wharf and waited as Terriers and Golden Retrievers in front of us lapped at the low, finicky stream of water just inches above the pavement. When it was our turn, Kai licked at the spout in two-second intervals only, becoming distracted by the barefoot sprinting children and yells of “Snow cones, yummy snow cones,” until I nudged her belly with my foot and said, “drink, girl.”
I glanced ahead at the pier—at the lines of men in baseball caps holding fishing poles in one hand and paper cups in the other and leaning their legs against the wooden slats of the side rails. I heard their low, but lively rumble of Spanish from where I stood by the vendor who sells plastic Frisbees and snorkel gear. No one ever buys that stuff, I thought. And then a man wearing billowy, Hawaiian print board shorts and a visor pointed to the fins and masks and resolutely led his brunette family to the stand.
I considered walking the length of the pier and counting the camouflage sea stars that wrap themselves around the pillars. But after a few steps on the widely and unevenly spaced planks I became dizzy with the flicker of shadow and light and turned us around.
As we walked past the pier, mothers stood under the chilly shower sprays to rinse off their sandy infants. One appeared fed up with the inefficiency of it all and tugged her baby’s water diaper off in one swift pull. A massive clump of dark sand fell out of the puffy purple cloth.
Further ahead at T Street beach, a boy about fourteen years old was wearing saggy jeans that barely hugged his butt and hit at his shins. He stood in the shallow white wash and mouthed, “come on” to his family who were seated on the sand beneath a blue tent. A wave crashed, plowed forward, and knocked him down. He sputtered and staggered on his knees for several moments, then stood up as quickly as possible and looked toward his family. His open mouth and big eyes indicated he was in a state somewhere between amusement and humiliation. “Ay dios mio! Shit,” he yelled. His jeans were now coated with sand.
I turned onto the shore once we reached Las Uens beach. I plopped down and commanded Kai to sit. I inspected her paws for the sharp little stones from the dirt path that sometimes lodge themselves in her skin. Nada. I unclipped her leash, pulled off my sneakers, and walked to the water’s edge. The ocean was blue hombre and shards of sunlight bounced atop the wave crests and made them sparkle as they rolled. I looked down at my feet as the water tickled my ankles. My red toenail polish was chipped on my left pinky toe. In a circle several inches away from my feet were hundreds of teeny Vs that popped out in the sand like stamps then faded and disappeared seconds later. Sand crabs burrowed as the water washed them forward then slipped back in the ocean.
With uncharacteristic curiosity, Kai leaped forward and sank her legs and half her upper body into the foamy whiteness. She dashed toward me again, bounded into my hip, and shook herself off, splattering me in the process. Her teeth were visible and she was panting with ears perked up. I was soaked and she was smiling.