An Ode to SLO: a reflection

I had mixed feelings about leaving San Luis Obispo. There are pieces of me there, still running along all of the dusty, oak tree-laden trails and swingin’ tangerine lattes behind the bar at Scout at 6 am. There are less pretty pieces too, pieces I had associated with hard classes, long minimum wage hours, back-broken faith, and an even more broken college-town atmosphere that I suddenly felt too old for.

It was the place where I had allowed myself to be shattered my freshman year of college by someone who did not deserve to break me in the first place. It was the place where, for the first time ever, I felt disconnected from my faith. It was where I received maybe 52 rejection letters from journalism gigs I thought I would be perfect for after I graduated.

It was a place where I never allowed myself to fully unwind, as if I always kept a part of me packed tightly in a backpack under my bed, just waiting at the next moment to bolt. It always felt so temporary (although, I don’t think four years would be considered temporary), and because of that mindset, I kept my group of friends small, and my interactions with them even smaller.

San Luis Obispo felt very much like a love/hate, long-distance relationship that I couldn’t stop saying no to until I did, and moved to Washington.

But little tinges of nostalgia have suddenly started to seep through the cracks I thought I cemented shut on my life there. I had wanted to start fresh where ex-boyfriends didn’t stand in line to order a latte I’d probably have to make for them or where I wouldn’t have to answer any more questions from fake friends about why I left the church community on campus.

I had been so ready to run.

But the other day I was driving home from work, frantically trying to decide which trail would be best for me to run with my limited amount of daylight left. I zoomed out to the Columbia Gorge, planning on Dog Mountain, only to find the parking lot full. I tried multiple other spots, but none of them would let me run without a permit or a place to park my car.

It was the first time I felt frustrated after moving to Washington, which spoke volumes considering the job I was expected to do day-to-day in finance. But it was also the first time I missed SLO.

I drove home disappointed and suddenly thought of Poly Canyon in San Luis Obispo that used to be only a two minute run from house. It led out to a hundreds of trails behind campus that I used to spend hours after class and work exploring. When the fall finally came and the air grew a little colder in the afternoons when the sun was going down, I would take the deepest breaths I could while running along the cow-trodden hills, catching the crisp chill in my lungs.

I missed the pounding of my feet into the mud after it rained and the splashes of dirt that would cake my ankles after running the 8-mile loop around the canyon.

Then there was the simplicity of my means of getting around. It was just me and my road bike, and honestly, I had been grateful for never having the responsibility of a car all throughout college. It was me and the setting sun behind Bishop's Peak after class, me struggling up damn Fredericks Hill to get to the other side of town, me coasting down beloved North Chorro street to meet friends for a tri tip sandwich at the farmers market, me passing neighborhoods at 5:30 am on my way to Scout Coffee.

Scout Coffee is a place I wish I had gotten the guts up to apply to earlier than I did. The memories of Scout on Garden street are sometimes the toughest to remember because I was so tired from anxiously checking my alarm clock every half an hour, terrified I would sleep through my shift. They were foggy and full of Columbia Granadilla beans that distinguished our shop from so many others. The sound of the grinder bursting to life at the beck and call of the first shot espresso ordered. It was a million little things at this place: the hundreds of hours behind the counter hoping someone ordered a 12 ounce latte because my latte art was always the best with that size. Saying hello to Richie, who strolled in every morning around 8:15 for his americano with extra hot water on the side. Playing the music a little louder than we probably should have, the bumping tunes of Leon Bridges helping us sweep, mop, and wash all the dishes.

There was family to be had at Scout, even if I was too busy to notice it as I went about my day. But never once was I not greeted with a smile or a hug as I dragged my tired self through the bakery door at the Foothill Boulevard location, greeted by the warmth of the oven and the sound of industrial mixer, pounding away at dough.

I practically lived at that coffee shop when I wasn’t at home.

228 North Chorro Street saw one too many goodbyes and hundreds of late nights of my roommates and I slaving over studying, while also consuming stupid amounts of Domino's pizza or burritos from CaliFresh---we picked our poison depending on stress levels. Apartment 28 saw all three of us become more than just roommates, but each other limbs. We simply felt off when one of us was down, which resulted in all of us ending up on the floor (usually) wrapped in blankets, listening to the other’s troubles. We were always there for each other, the three of us. There for the messy seasons of life that only come with being 19 and in love or 21 and anxious about what the world outside of the classes and the books is really like. I think about this apartment, it’s walls witnessing everything we did. The bathroom mirror looking back at us, battling uneven amounts of eyeliner before a date. The doormat always changing with each season, just as quickly we did. The couches encompassing us in comfort and knowingness after a difficult exam. The freezer housing Ben and Jerry’s Half Baked. My closet, maybe even beaming at me in delight, as I hung up my neatly ironed, green cap and gown before graduation.

And then the door, with the beloved, crooked number 28 hanging underneath the pine needle wreath, finally watching me pick up my backpack from the floor one more time, then reluctantly pull the house key from my pocket to leave it under the doormat---my story had ended there in SLO with the faint clatter of brass as I let the doormat fall and cover the key one last time.

I hate goodbyes and nearly didn’t tell my roommates how much I would miss them and our little abode. I had packed up everything so much quicker than I thought---the small amount of my personal possessions fit neatly in the back of my boyfriend’s truck, which alarmed me. Was that all I had to show for those last four years?

It wasn’t. I am reminded constantly of my time there in the sweetest ways. From my Scout mug that I use every morning to some textbooks I couldn’t bare the thought of tossing because of all we went through together.

It’s a million little things, and not all of them bad as I came to realize. Maybe SLO was tough on me some of the time, but only because I needed to grow. Thinking about it now, I grew up and out of myself maybe too fast in SLO, so anxious to leave the college world behind and bound into my own life. But it did leave me with a sense of wonder about its golden hills and muddy trails, always there to welcome me back. It left me with a renewed faith in a God who loved me for me and a freedom that was all mine. It left me with a desire for sweet espresso and early morning bike rides.

It left me with the sound of the Amtrak ringing in my ears and the golden hills off Foothill Boulevard whispering sweetly to me, “we love you, you got this---now go.”