On a clear August day we rolled into a Canadian McDonald's in search of a fast lunch. This was before drive-in windows and my dad pulled into a spot in the parking lot. The lot was designed so a sidewalk ran down the middle with parking spaces that faced each other on either side.
The serendipity of what happened next is so weird that the rest of the day has forever had a surreal dreamlike quality in my mind.
For one, as we pulled into the parking space, within a few seconds a matching VW pop top camper van pulled in straight across from us. Same color. Same year. Same everything.
"Hey, will you look at that, and look at their plates," my mom volunteered. "They are from California too."
She was looking at the plates, but what she failed to see were the people in the van.
My little sis, ever the quick and clever one, pointed it out first.
"Isn't that the Schnitzler's?"
Little "O's" formed on all our mouths as we peered straight across from us and began to make eye contact with the folks on the other side of the Volkswagen mirror.
Then the Schnitzler's realized who was staring at them and their mouths formed little circles of surprise to match our own.
What to do. What to do.
The Schnitzler's had been our next door neighbors in the San Fernando Valley. We had moved about a year and a half before.
I'm sure for most people seeing your neighbors of ten years would be a celebratory event. But our family tended to wax on the dysfunctional side and by the time we had moved I'm fairly sure our two families were not speaking to each other.
The Schnitzler's had three boys and we were a family of three girls. There had been the normal kid antics. Mud clod slinging over the wall. Practical jokes of varying degrees. Rivalries. But I think what kicked it up a notch was that both our dads were opinionated, stubborn, and a bit too frank.
Like one time, Mr. Schnitzler made the mistake of saying something to my dad about "too bad you don't have even one son to carry on the family name." Then followed the remark with a barely veiled brag fest about siring three boys. My dad upped him by making a rude remark about the blessing of girls when compared to the perfectly predictable hoodlumism he could see emerging in the Shnitzler pack.
There was also the fact that Mr. Schnitzler was a high school principal and my dad had a chip on his shoulder about not going to college himself. Dad made more than one caustic remark to Mr. Schnitzler about book smart people having no common sense.
The fact that the Schnitzler boys stole our outdoor Christmas lights every year for the joy of smashing them on the sidewalk for little explosive fun used to piss off my dad to no end. But he couldn't say much when Mr. Schnitzler complained about my sis and I cleaning up the dog poop by pitching it over the wall at the boys...
At any rate, after moving to the Surf and Sand, we hadn't given our old neighbors much thought.
Here they were. Over 1,000 miles away from the old neighborhood. In another country. And they just happen to pull in across from us at a McDonald's in a matching van (neither family had a VW van last we saw them).
My dad had no problem with a perfunctory greeting and ambling straight into Micky Dee's.
My little sister and I waited curiously to say hello. We wanted to see how the boys were turning out in adolescence. The two older boys were little sis and my ages. Growing up together, even if it's mostly through feuds and rivalries, makes for a type of bond.
My mom went for the nervous over talker mode of dealing. She chatted hysterically. Poor Mrs. Schnitzler looked thankful that all she had to do was nod at my mom's nonstop talking about god knows what.
I'm not sure if the newsstand was in front of the McDonald's or we came upon the headlines stopping at a convenience store on our way back to the highway (you can never have enough Oreos on the road).
But blasted all over the front page was the news of the Sharon Tate murders. It would be awhile before anyone heard of Charlie Manson, but the gruesomeness of the murders was enough to change the mood for the day. My entire family felt touched by the horror.
The house where Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate lived, the scene of the murders, was only a mile or so away from my grandmother and uncle's house. My dad was a film editor. The Tate's were in the film business. We were miles from California and home, but for some reason we all felt a strange connection to the horrible events.
Years later while attending community college in The Valley, a friend and I would drive up to the Tate house on Benedict Canyon after we visited my grandmother for lunch one day.
Even later, after moving to Hawaii and enrolling at UH, my college roommate and I would both read Helter Skelter and then never want to home alone for weeks afterwards.
But as we rolled out of that Canadian town and back on the highway that August afternoon in 1969, my older sister reading the newspaper headlines, these two events - running into the Schnitzlers in a mirror image of ourselves and finding out about the murders - would somehow become linked in my young mind.
If you like synchronicity stories, Movie posted a cool one today.