In 1994, I traveled down to Half Moon Bay, California to visit my father, stepmother, and half-brother. I received a phone call from my stepmother a few days earlier telling me that my father had suffered a stroke. The family home was nestled up along the coast range. The fog covered the hills that rolled into the countryside like a glove. The fog usually burned off in the afternoon, allowing the sun to shine brightly. I loved the smell of the eucalyptus trees and the abundance of wildlife in this unique place.
Half Moon Bay is great and I’ve always enjoyed the people. It’s a community consisting of agriculture, tourism, and fishing. It’s famous for the rum running during the depression and for having one of the first airports in the Bay Area. Located a few miles to the southeast is Purisima Creek Redwoods, one of the most beautiful parks on the Northern California coast. My father always asked me not to tell people about Half Moon Bay. I suppose I shouldn’t have said anything about this magical place. Oh well, sorry Dad.
My father had just suffered his first stroke. It would eventually lead to his death in 1996. He was bed ridden and I flew down to be with him. I hadn’t seen him in a while and thought it would be a good excuse to get out of Portland for a while.
My stepmother was like a beacon in the night back then. She was always looking over the family, intently watching over my father, feeding the family cats and keeping a watchful eye out on my stepbrother. The kitchen always smelled of something special cooking.
When I arrived at San Francisco International Airport, there was my brother, Nathan, patiently waiting in the bright 1965 fire engine red Mustang convertible that had been in the family since my parents bought it off the lot back in San Jose, California. I could see the pain on my brother’s face. I felt sorry for him. My father’s medical situation had caused a lot of stress. I climbed in and he whisked me south down highway 280, cutting west over route 92, winding through the hills, passing farms, ranches and nurseries to eventually lead you down the coast and up to the family home.
After dropping off my suitcase in the guest room I went into my father’s bedroom. I said “howdy” to him. I could see he was on respirator with tubes stuck in his arm. Uncomfortable and mad about the situation, he looked pissed. He smiled and laughed. His smoking had gotten the best of him and he knew it. He had aged in a matter of months, looking almost 90 years old rather than being his real age of 62.
I went into the kitchen and sat looking out to the north, watching the fog roll in, hugging the coast line. A hawk flew down into the backyard. The family cats, Willie and Tiger, brushed up against my legs begging me to feed them. I loved Half Moon Bay. It put me at ease.
“Grant, I was going to go to Costco. I wanted to get some supplies. Would you like to go?” asked my stepmother. The store was located in South San Francisco, off of highway 280, near Daily City, California.
“Sure,” I replied. We hopped in the Mustang. My brother put on his dark sunglasses, dropped the top down, and got us there in a blink of an eye. Nathan always liked to drive the Mustang. I think he was made to drive the car. I always drove the car too slow in his eyes. I guess I was always afraid I would smash it up.
The Costco in South San Francisco is huge, one of the largest stores in the franchise. It rambles on for what seems to be miles. We parked the Mustang, went inside, grabbed a shopping cart, and cruised down the aisles. I was amazed at the amount of things the store carried. Garden supplies, auto supplies, furniture, and food…you name it, they have it.
I went over to the watch and jewelry section. I thought I’d take a look at the fine handcrafted items. My stepmother was standing next to me. We admired the gems and stones, the glistening gold and silver of the elegant handcrafted masterpieces.
As I stood there, I had a funny feeling that’s hard to describe. I felt like someone was communicating with me without saying a word. I experienced a warm feeling. It’s hard to describe, kind of like somebody glowing, as though this person was brightly beaming in the night. I looked to my right and there stood a man wrapped in a yellow and red robe. The material covered his body, flowing down to his toes. He was fairly small, looked Asian, had a shaved head, and was wearing glasses. He had two other tall men with him that looked like body guards. They were dressed in the same red and yellow attire.
I looked at my stepmother. She blinked her eyes at me, did a double- take, and started to tug on my arm. She was astonished. There standing not more than three feet from me was His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama! I couldn’t believe it! I had read about him, studied some of his teachings, and saw photographs. He was holding a gold watch in his hand, admiring the precision of the piece. He looked up at me, smiled, and nodded. I was at a gasp, trying not to stare. I smiled at him and he nodded back. I experienced a feeling of mutual friendship, almost as though we had met before. It felt as though we had somehow known each other in another life. We didn’t have to say a word to communicate.
I thought about the movie Caddyshack, thought about Bill Murray, should I say “Gumba Lumba?”
He winked, smiled, and then kept studying the watch. My stepmother’s jaw dropped. We gasped in amazement and we strolled along. I didn’t want to bother him, didn’t want to disrupt his thought. I kept looking over my shoulder at him, almost tripping over my feet. How incredible, I thought. Of all the places in the world, here was His Holiness in a Costco store! We laughed all the way home.
When I got back to Portland a week or so, I told my lifelong friend, Gordon Bowen, a practicing Buddhist, of my encounter. “Yes Grant, His Holiness loves watches. It’s one of his favorite things in life,” said Gordon.
I’ve met many people of high regard in my life such as athletes, musicians, artists, writers, poets, and politicians, but none more magical and important than meeting the 14th Dali Lama.