Letter From California
08/05/07 0639.22 pst
San Jose, California
I’ve just returned from an extremely satisfying summer frolic at the ocean, cemented in good times before we ever left, for at last a vacation had three critical elements essential to success: no flying, broadband at destination, and daily telecasts of the Oakland Athletics.
Not just any spot on the coast, either, we rented a house a block from the ocean on Westcliff Drive thirty yards from a magnificent view of the great wooden pier. Surfers chatted and lazed on their boards in the ocean below, patiently waiting for a satisfactory wave, sea lions endlessly auww auww auww barked from the pier, and every day a monochrome of fog would magically vanish to a sparkling technicolor sea town, Steinbeck country, Norcal cold surf, the Big Dipper, UCSC Banana Slugs, Monterey Canyon, a town so cool and infused with cruise they even got the canonized name for it: Santa Cruz, California.
I’ve visited and spent time in that great town all my life, playing as a child on New Brighton beach every year, countless fun day trips to the boardwalk, fishing, camping, and being poignantly in love with two women from there, so many great nights of cooking and fun I couldn’t begin to remember them all. Even so, of course I didn’t mind going back for a week yet again 2007, Santa Cruz never, ever lets a soul down.
One of my amazing sisters spent the week with us—the 3 year high school grad so she could be an exchange student to Sweden (she’s still fluent), Berkeley grad, Columbia law grad, Wilson-Soncini hotshot sister. She was thrilled with the Big Dipper rollercoaster picture they digitally snap on dip two, and I still feel honored to be in that image. She’s hilarious, like most attorneys she thinks a JD bestows special truth powers to her many lame and incorrect opinions, but I love her all the more for it.
There was a bike in the garage, so eleven months after a bimbette had blasted me off the road, snapping a carbon fiber frame and my helmet, I finally legged up and rode one of the greatest bike paths in the world to Natural Bridges, sea otters basking in the kelp beds to my left. On the way back I felt a real rider and looking back sure enough there he was 30 yards away, so I upped a gear and dusted him, no Valley dweeb here, no. I was out of bike shape, it’s no place at all to pace and it wasn’t my turf, so I geared back down and two minutes later he gracefully cruised by on 1.5 inch tires, 60 years old with trees for legs, how I envied the sparkling daily sea ride of 30 years those huge quads represented.
One day on a wander at the pier I was discouraged to discover some local boats were still fleecing tourists for rockfish trips to a local reef where the too-small fish should have been damn well left alone. The guy in the shack wouldn’t even look at some puny tourista happily signing up for a 0630 start next day, fishing with a rented pole in tennis shoes.
“Any albacore trips?” I asked. “I brought my Calstar.”
The town native looked up with a displeased squint, not liking this sudden anomaly in his summer workday. He looked at me for a moment before replying.
“Sunday,” he said, contemptuously frowning at his paperwork again.
Eat me, bitch, I said to myself as I walked away, I’ll pass on the tuna this time. I’d gone out of this harbor before for albacore and still feel chilled some days at the “good day” on the boat that sunny Saturday, four hours of being right on top of incredibly strong 20-pounders. 126 tuna were brought aboard by 24 men in a frenzy of heavy hauling, shouting and searing profanity as the carnage went on and on, vicious clubbing of fish finally brought aboard to at last end the fight, sharks foaming in the water, decks painted red with running blood everywhere.
It’s precisely that kind of behavior that wiped out one of the greatest fisheries the world has ever seen at Monterey Canyon for numerous species, but it seemed to be expected of us, to take advantage of a day with the fish that was not seen all the time. I still wish I just would have landed one and slept the rest of the day, it would have been a much better memory.
Santa Cruz and its neighbors (Live Oak, Soquel, Capitola) have of course filled in over the years as the state population exploded, but not nearly as much as one would expect, the very treacherous drive on I-17 over the Santa Cruz mountains still an extremely effective buffer against modern growth. The boardwalk has been rejuvenated with cash and marketing, 20 volleyball nets are set up on the beach every day now, and of course that amazing little ghetto is still right there behind the boardwalk. America cannot exist without a slum of repression and inequality in plain sight, and like everything else Santa Cruz does it very well.
Some days I felt as if I was in Florence again, there were so many drop-dead beautiful women everywhere. I’d forgotten, somehow, how pretty Santa Cruz women are in their unique NorCal styles. It’s the plain God’s truth and I’m not ashamed to say so.
I highly recommend a visit to that unique wonderful place if one gets the chance—much of what is so great about California is still vividly alive in Santa Cruz, and the only twinge to the whole experience was a fervent hope we somehow keep it together to keep Santa Cruz so uniquely beautiful. Jesus himself would have a very, very hard forgiving us if we let Santa Cruz get messed up.