In this story, I’m driving our daughter Brooke back to college in Utah. She was driving, actually, and we needed to stop for gas. The off-ramp offered the usual collection of service stations, fast food stands, and budget motels. I had recently helped another child move to the East Coast and over three days saw a plethora of such off-ramp offerings. They all had the same plastic, corporate motif; efficient, but joyless. And I had seen too many.
“Don’t stop,” I said, “let’s explore this town.” Just like that, we slipped the rut of routine and began an adventure. “We’re going to find an old gas station, owned by an old man who will come out and offer to pump our gas and wash the windows. He will visit with us and local kids will drive by on their bikes and say, ‘Hi Pop.’” She laughed.
Sure enough, we found my imagined old station and wouldn’t you know, an old man came out and asked if he could pump our gas. My daughter rolled her eyes. As we were chatting some local boys came by on their way to fish and called out, “Hi, Forrest.” More eye rolling. I missed on the name, Forrest, not Pops, but we had an experience, meeting Forrest. Driving away, I told Brooke, “Forrest said he thought you would do just fine at college.” “I guess,” she said, “I am a senior, you know.”
Years passed, the daughter went off to New York and made her career in graphic design. But I haven’t forgotten Forrest, or our magical meeting. This week I drove by that same off-ramp, with the Beautiful Wife this time. “Let’s stop and look for Forrest,” I said. The old gas station is still there, but Forrest was gone. The attendant only knew that he had retired and sold the station.
I wanted up catch up with Forrest and driving through town I saw a sign, “The Times-News.” Just like Laguna, the town has a weekly newspaper. Thinking they would know about Forrest, I stopped to chat. The Times-News is nearly a century old, a family paper, now edited by the third generation. The building was as old as the paper and had seen better days, but that’s how it is for small town papers. I stopped and chatted with the editor. She remembered Forrest as a friend of her parents but said simply, “He’s gone now.”
I thought she meant he had died so I looked for an obituary. Forrest passed away from complications of cancer in 2008. His beloved wife, Doris, had passed some years before. He died on Dec. 31 and the obituary reported that Forrest was “anxiously awaiting New Year’s Eve with his sweetheart Doris.” Forrest and Doris must have had a great New Year’s, together again. We need to get off the freeway of life now and then and enjoy people like Forrest. There’s meaning in that.
Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip. He’s a student of Laguna history and the author of “Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach.” Email: [email protected]