Three weeks ago I found myself looking for the Ocean in Riverside, California.
I was there to get closer to the Ocean-to-Ocean Highway Association, the first group to consider building a continuous road across the United States.
In early 1912, promoters of the highway met at the Glenwood Inn, now Mission Inn Hotel and Spa, to create a great “chain of societies” to connect the unconnected.
The Mission Inn in downtown Riverside is a sprawling campus of concrete Spanish-inspired buildings, with an ersatz array of architectural styles. Much like Henry Flagler’s hotels in St. Augustine, Florida, it fools one into thinking it is old.
When I checked in, I asked the girl behind the counter whether she knew where the Music Room (the site of 1912 meeting) used to be, thinking it had long vanished. She said it was still there, to the right, past the restaurant and down a set of stairs.
I went to my room in the older part of the hotel. It was designed to look like a monk’s cell, with thick plaster walls, a dark wood beam ceiling and a sitting niche. The room had a pleasant musty smell of old stuffed furniture.
Outside the window wind whipped a palm tree. It had been a strange day in Southern California. Storms from the Pacific had ripped across the Southland, dumping heavy rain; a tornado was reported near Long Beach. Electricity went out and restaurants closed early.
After lighting a candle I bought at Walgreens, I lay on the bed, pulling up Messiaen’s “Vingt regards sur l’enfant Jesus” on my iPod. I hit repeat “Regard du Pere.” The meditative mood of the piano relaxed my mind. I fell asleep.