The sound alone was frightful, the clamor of the voices which came in waves matched the swaying of the barricades. The voices got louder and louder, the barricade swayed further and further, and then someone yelled that the barricade was falling. It fell, crashed to the ground, was stomped under the feet of hundreds.
People — whose people — storming forward; a mob, a surging, writhing mass. Packed tight like civil war soldiers. These wore no uniform. These had jackets and backpacks and colorful hats, cell phones, gloves and scarves. Some took selfies, some fired pepper spray, some swung baseball bats, some hurled fire extinguishers.
I was next to a policeman trapped in a glass door screaming in pain and pleading for help; but that morphed into me standing near some serious, well-prepared civilians wearing military-style battle gear speaking into tactical radios. People stormed the rotunda. Threats and demands: Where Pence? Where the lawmakers? Where the speaker of the house? A gallows was erected out front. A handgun wavered at the crowd through a broken window. Ashli Babbitt was shot dead.
Those scenes, they had been real scenes, but jumbled in the nightmare; as I woke I was looking out the window of an airliner above all that mattered today: The Pacific Ocean. The dull uncomfortable numb of rushing through the air at nearly the speed of sound at forty thousand feet. The sea, so far below that its fifteen foot swell was reduced to pattern shadow. Dozing then until the sun rose, distant slice on the horizon. The window is cold, some child screams, a lady one seat behind drones on and on about her aunt Marge. My wife snoozing. The plane keeps coarse.
We landed in Honolulu. Got the rental car. Bitched at each other a little — too early to check in — so went to Pearl Harbor. I walked the interior of a world war two diesel submarine. Marveled that there was so much space to move around. Bow torpedo room, control room, kitchen and mess, engine room, stern torpedo room. One toilet, ninety men.
Later we drove down the Kam highway and the moment we crested the island divide I saw it: The North Shore. We descended past what used to be pineapple plantations, excitement rising. We stopped in Haleiwa at a small surf shop to pick up a board I’d reserved. Back on the road through the town, I was seeing things known from magazines printed decades ago. My wife at the wheel, the traffic infuriatingly slow, I was seeing every blade of grass and palm frond and tropical Hawaiian plant; windows down we smelled the plumeria, exhaust fumes, restaurant dumpster stench, moldering wood, until at last the car turned into the Keiki Beach Bungalows driveway. We checked in, went back to the car. My wife got in but I did not. She looked puzzled as I slid the board out the back door window instead of getting in.
“Hey, aren’t you going to that Foodland store with me?”
“I’m sorry.” I said. “This moment has been forty years in the making. I’m going surfing. Like now. Like right now.”
I did not wait for her to say anything but turned and jogged up the sandy path, anticipation welling, and through a shock of bush encroaching, suddenly there: White sand, bright blue water, waves breaking. Pupu’kea Beach. I stood, letting thrall wash over me, I felt it move through me like a mainline injection of pure adrenaline. Small six foot waves were closing out, whitewater thud over curving blue water. Splash of wave against rocks to the left, beautiful empty waves to the right — I ran down the beach with my board toward Log Cabins, no one out, maybe a couple of people further on at Rockpiles. The waves were breaking a mere 30 yards from shore. I saw the rain from the thin lip blown backward by the weak offshore wind. Better waves on a tiny day here on the North Shore than I had ever seen on the Gulf. Ever. They were perfect head high blue wedges pitching silver ceilinged barrels.
I dashed for the water, forgetting all about what kept disturbing me during the flight, the memory of those people fomenting insurrection; suddenly unbelievable when I saw Alex Stamford. I had jumped up, pointed at the screen, shouted. No way. It was not possible. But there he was, wielding flagpole. That, his zenith.
Yet unsure, I had rewound the clip. Freeze-framed the moment of truth.
Yes. His face enraged, now swinging his flagpole gleefully, pulling back to strike, his salt and pepper goatee, his wild eyes. On the pole was a Thin Blue Line flag. It symbolized support for the police, but Alex was beating them with it.
My feet thumped onto water packed sand at the edge and then splashed into a last bit of wave foam — all those negative thoughts fading. In a moment I was waist deep, warm water billowing my Birdwell surf shorts, I shoved the board forward over the surface and swung up onto it in one smooth movement. As though I had been surfing everyday for the last four years when in fact I hadn’t surfed once. Then paddling to beat the approaching set, just scraping over what seemed a massive six foot wave. To me massive — Hawaiians didn’t bother. Once over the top my board slapped down hard on the back side of the wave, and droplets of offshore spray rained on my back. Me stoked and not breathing normal. The waves coming, no one else out. I stopped paddling. It was instinct; years of training not lost, and a set came immediately. The second wave. My wave. It was perfect. It formed a wedge and I was in the perfect spot. I spun the board around and felt the surge lift me upwards, angling down — just two strokes. I snapped to my feet and dropped, saw the bottom, every coral head and rock, a rush, a blur of threatening motion and hard turn at the bottom. My wake must have sprayed high and I trimmed for speed — then like a lightning bolt blitzing my brain I felt the coming barrel — quick tuck. The thin-lipped water eye formed in front of me arcing over and down. I crunched tight on my rented board, screeching, the wave forming that view I had looked at uncountable times on the pages of Surfer and Surfing magazines — except this time it was real and I bounced wild on the foam ball and heard the cacophonous waterfall roar and a second later spit out to the shoulder. I stood up suddenly, loose and tall. Then snapping a full round house cutback — but I didn’t make it. I went down gloriously indifferent to my kook-out. Blue Hawaiian water shot up into my head through my nostrils, and tumbling, trying to keep off the coral bottom, open eyes, white and blue, then popping up. The loud fizz of bubbles. Burst of breath into my lungs. Screeching again: I had made it. I’d been barreled. I had made it to the landmark of my very dreams. This journey was just beginning.
As the wave washed past the board, the pull on the leash relaxed. Quickly I reeled it back hand over hand, taking mouthfuls of water and spitting them out.
I pulled myself up on the board, started paddling. It was a race to avoid the next set but I only needed to skirt the shoulder which was so incredibly easy. I remembered for a moment the image on the video, Alex’ mouth cocked wide, the pole swung back to strike — the missing front teeth certifying his identity. He’d never gotten them fixed. Then I was waiting in my own personal North Shore lineup all by myself. The sun shining. Waves coming. Thrilled. Living. Loving. Grinning. So very very grinning.
I had all of my teeth. Arms out, head thrown back and hooting, I showed them to the sun.