Funny I never noticed the road before. I’ve driven Sierra Madre Avenue at least twice a week for the last forty plus years and don’t remember it ever being there. At first I thought it might be a new access road leading to a soon to be developed housing tract tucked away in the foothills or maybe a private driveway, but it didn’t look new, in fact the road looked like it could have been there forever.
Puzzled, I pulled over and stopped. The road was clearly visible in my rear view mirror. It had an appealing, aesthetic quality about it, as it wound its way eastward around a small hill. Although I was certain that the road had not been there until today, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d seen it before, but that just wasn’t possible, or was it?For just a moment I began to doubt myself and felt a tinge of fear. I began to worry that there might be something wrong with me, mind melt down, stroke or God knows what, but that was unlikely, I felt fine, better, in fact, than I had in years. I then wondered if perhaps I was in the grips of a major senior moment, God knows I’ve had my share, but again after a few moments I found that idea highly improbable. There had to be a reasonable explanation.
The longer I stared at the image in the mirror the more deja vu I felt. After several minutes I began to realize that it wasn’t so much the road that seemed familiar, but the tree. An enormous California Pepper Tree stood near the entrance to the road. It was old and well established, the branches strong, thick and twisted. I knew I’d seen the tree before but I just couldn’t remember where. I decided it was time for a closer look.
I pulled the car forward about a hundred feet into an old circular driveway so as to be completely off the highway. Not that it really mattered, I’d been there for several minutes and not a single car had passed in either direction. The big quake of 09, had caused extensive damage to Sierra Madre Ave and most of the homes between Lorraine and Valley Center, many of which still lay in ruin nearly two years later. East bound traffic had been diverted south at Live Oak Ave, then east again at Route 66. It took nearly eight months before Sierra Madre was finally repaired but by then most drivers preferred using the alternate route. Although it had never been officially re-opened, a few diehards like myself chose to drive around the barricades and navigate this stretch of roadway, nostalgia I guess. Although by definition we were trespassing, local authorities tended to look the other way. In the months following its repair Sierra Madre became quite popular with the weekend warriors who enjoyed using it for biking, walking, skating and other forms of exercise. After several minutes I finally got out of the car, set the alarm, and started walking towards the road.
What an incredible morning! Never in my life had I seen such a gorgeous sky and the San Gabriel’s were sheer perfection. Even the best of Santa Ana days couldn’t compare. Everything felt so intense! Electric! The chirping birds, the roar of the rushing water in the nearby creek, the soft, wind blowing down through the canyon, the rustle of the leaves, it was truly nature at her finest!
As I approached the road the air was thick with deja vu. I couldn’t take my eyes off the pepper tree. I kept trying to remember where I’d seen it before. Damn! I knew that tree, but why? A minute later I was standing on the mystery road in the shade of the pepper tree, hoping there might be something that would give me a clue about the road, but there was no street sign or marker of any kind.
The road itself was like any other. The asphalt worn, and covered with a network of small cracks and crevices. Definitely not new, but if not new, what then? Where had it come from? Why hadn’t I seen it before? I was almost certain that until today, the ruins of a sprawling ranch style home had occupied the area where the road and tree now stood. I was completely baffled. The whole thing was surreal, my own personal Twilight Zone. I half expected to see Rod Sterling come walking down the road at any moment. I wanted so much to dismiss the entire experience as just some crazy dream, but couldn’t. I knew it wasn’t a dream, it was definitely real, I could feel it.
In that moment I became acutely aware of just how alone I was standing there on the road. A series of shivers coursed through my body as I stared out at Sierra Madre Avenue. On this perfect Saturday it should have been crawling with weekenders but there wasn’t a soul. Something else that struck me as odd was the empty sky above me. A beautiful morning like this should have seen the sky buzzing with small aircraft, particularly with Brackett Field so close by. I was alone and afraid. The only vehicle I could see was my own, parked about a hundred yards up the highway and partially obscured by a fallen tree. Funny, but as I looked at my car in the distance, a mirage like shimmer seemed to obscure the vehicle, and for just an instant, it didn’t look like my car at all, for just the briefest of moments it resembled an old Volkswagen Beetle. I blinked in surprise, and just as quickly my silver Nissan Maxima had returned.
Things were getting stranger by the minute. I decided that I’d had enough. I didn’t want to wait around to see what might happen next. I turned and took one last look at the road and the pepper tree, then quickly headed back to my car. I was definitely spooked. I wanted to go home and see my wife, my kids, my friends, anyone who might be able to help me understand what the hell was going on. I reached my car and jumped in. It felt good to sit behind the wheel, safe in my little cocoon. I sat there for several minutes staring at the road in the mirror. A part of me wanted to get as far away from there as possible, but another part wanted to walk back to the road and investigate further, that in itself was scary. I looked away from the mirror, started the engine and sped away. I didn’t look back…
to be continued…. Wednesday May 11,2011