I had breakfast with Mai the other day at a quaint, off the beaten path greasy spoon in Encinitas. It was the sort of place you’d have to either stumble upon or be a hard core local, bored with the trendy tourist hangouts on the main drag in this small beach community. “Captain Keno’s” was the name and it was decorated with a wooden ship maritime ambiance, minus the rats and scurvy (I think). Oh, you could try and Google it but I doubt you’d find a website or a favorable mention. The effect was complete and included the obligatory heart of gold, smart-alecky waitress that you would expect to find.
While we were eating and enjoying (sort of) our meal (Mai’s hotcakes did look pretty good while my scrambled eggs were only okay, the potatoes outstanding, and the bacon questionable) we talked about how many stories could be found in a place like this. It was one of those “if the walls could talk” kind of conversations. Actually I did most of the talking while Mai did a lot of polite smiling. I’m sure she was humoring me to be sure, and I appreciated it. Presently in walked the most unique character. Actually he more like sashayed in, or strolled if you’re having a hard time visualizing. It was a stylish swagger to be kind.
He was tall and lean with long wavy blond hair ala Robert Plant from Led Zeppelin. On top of his head was a well travelled, well worn straw hat that was a size too small. It reminded me of a child’s cowboy hat. All he needed was the drawstring under his chin to cinch and secure the thing to his noggin. The look was accented with a pair of black horn-rimmed glasses ala Robert Carradine in the movie “Nerds.” Add his white cargo pants, skinny tee shirt and a pair of flip flops and, viola, the look was complete, a not so basic California beach comber.
He was seated in a corner booth, and just outside the window was a large white van. It was a vintage early seventies type, probably the same one he might have used to take Betty Sue to the submarine races in on a Saturday night. He appeared to me to be an American nomad, a wanderer, a disciple of Jack Kerouac and the open road. I asked Mai if she ever daydreamed about travelling the country without a plan, totally free to wander and explore, and let circumstance and fate decide the direction you take. She answered quickly…NO!
We watched him get up and down several times as he went about his business while we pretended not to notice. Mai was much better at that then I was. Technically speaking I was obvious to the point of being rude, but that didn’t seem to bother him, in fact he seemed oblivious to us. Bollix! That made me even more curious. I made up my mind that I would introduce myself before we left the restaurant. I don’t think that Mai thought I was serious, but I’m just naturally nosey I reckon. So, when we got up to leave I left Mai at the door (I didn’t look back but I’m pretty sure she was giving me the “OMG” look) and went over to where he was sitting.
For lack of a better opening line I quickly introduced myself and complimented him on his choice of hats. I know, pretty lame, but that’s all I could think of on the spur of the moment. He smiled broadly and did not seem a bit surprised to see me? His handshake was much firmer than I was expecting and he said “how do you do” instead of hi, and told me his name was Chad Scotland. I stifled a grin as I mentally recorded his name into my memory bank (a future character maybe)? I couldn’t have invented a better handle for him if I had tried! He thanked me for complimenting his hat, and tipped it politely in my direction. He said that it belonged to his friend Raymond who had just passed in January, a sober man at last. He started to tell me more, but before he could get any deeper into his personal history I gestured toward Mai waiting patiently at the door, and he nodded knowingly. So, wishing him luck I said goodbye.
My niece and I walked back to the car giggling, amazed at my weird compulsion, and she laughed harder as I told her all about Chad Scotland, American Nomad. If it’s true that people come into your life for a reason or a season, I’ll be curious to see what comes of this compulsive encounter. At the very least I’ll have a fond memory of storytelling and people watching with Mai, and who knows, perhaps I’ll make Chad Scotland immortal as a character in my next novel. Life is unpredictable but ain’t it grand…