Thursday, July 22, 2010

Tropical Depression Three

Sitting in Birmingham, Alabama watching the tropical weather develop to the south is I have to admit, a little disturbing. We are in the last stage of our three week road trip to Santa Cruz and back and we have been very lucky with the weather this year when so many storms have been predicted. Now we see 35 mph winds lashing the Bahamas and a track that goes right over the Keys. About the time we plan to arrive at home! It is sort of ironic, a warning slap from Mother Nature but we will be home for the rest of the season, which peaks usually in September, so doubtless there will be many more to come. This one, so far, promises wind and rain with God knows what sort of a mess to come in the oil drenched Gulf. That's where we should be looking and wondering if this modest depression is a harbinger of all sorts of Gulf of Mexico messes to come this hurricane season.

Old Friends

I never imagined that on our nostalgia trip to visit Santa Cruz, California I would get in a ride on a scooter. Nora's not-actually-a-husband John had persuaded her not to sell her Aprilia 150 and he said it needed to get out for a spin "to charge the battery." My battery too, I think. John wheeled the Mojito into the sun, gave me a helmet and the keys and told to me to have at it.John himself had a date in Hollister and he was riding his Road King for a change. John works as a long distance truck driver and he spends his down time riding and sleeping.I got to ride in Santa Cruz county for the first time in maybe fifteen years which was especial fun as I had just dug up an old photo of me and my Goldwing while pawing through old boxes of stuff, the last of our stuff still in Santa Cruz from our old life there. I took the scooter up Old San Jose road frightening cages who didn't expect a moped to be able to keep up with them.I am a most of the gear much of the time kind of rider so I did not let the lack of clothing deter me. It was nice to be on a bendy road once again. Scooter riding was not the purpose of our trip home. It was to attend Bernice's court in her house up in the woods. On the left my wife in the middle Bernice, now 87 years old, and on the right her daughter Nora, owner of the Aprilia.It was at Nora's 40th birthday party my wife and I first met though we had moved in similar circles in Santa Cruz for years.Nora lives next door to her mother and keeps an eye on her, when not working as a union organizer.Nora's late father was our best man so our families have been intertwined for years. Actually Bernice was my wife's community adviser when she was writing her thesis at the University of California Santa Cruz some 30 years ago. "I learned a lot from Layne," Bernice likes to joke about her own lack of academic qualifications. Bernice has always been a loud voice in local politics, and her endorsement is always sought by the candidates on the left.Bernice took a fall recently and was not doing well so we packed the car and hurried west. We needn't have worried, she is bouncing back and though frail is as lucid as ever. She regrets our move to key West though as a long time sufferer from arthritis she understands my wife's need for a mild climate.
We spent a lot of time reminiscing with Bernice and wheeling her out to meals, such that Nora expressed surprise at her mother's sudden renewed level of activity. I took to calling my wife St Layne as everyone wanted a piece of her. Her oldest friend Christie touched the hem of my wife's shirt and was imbued with fresh energy. Eight years after a nasty cancer diagnosis she is still alive and active and coping with all sorts of chemical side effects. She was told only 20 percent of people with her assorted cancers live five years so she is doing well, and though she tires easily she too took the time and made the effort to get out and about with St Layne.Christie is one of life's survivors, a graduate of the school of hard knocks from a young age she moved to Northern California put herself through law school, has a successful marriage, a capable daughter well married with two children. However long she has to live Christie has done all that most people set out to do. And she still likes hanging out with my wife after all these years. Barbara and Marty have raised their own child in Santa Cruz and are still smiling. Barbara is well known and much respected attorney now in retirement, sort of, and another of those long time friends who still like to see St Layne from time to time.
Barbara has been our main connection with our old home, giving us her mailing address when we were homeless traveling sailors, guarding our mail and keeping us grounded. She has come to see us in Key West and mysteriously still prefers living in her home with her garden in cold foggy Santa Cruz.It's not all lawyers that we left behind though. Our plumber still holes up in his mountain cabin, though now that he is engaged to be married his snug home is looking much more...homey. A woman's touch it seems.
"Oh my God!" he greeted me on the steps of his cabin. "Pink? I thought I had the weirdest ones!" I wouldn't be seen dead in purple Crocs. Or socks, not in Key West.
We have seen lots of remarkable (and weird) women come and go in Pete's life so what it is about Amanda that nailed him down I couldn't rightly say.
They are both musicians and his sense of humor hasn't put her off so I guess the endorsement of St Layne wasn't really necessary. However my wife has bought her tickets to return for their wedding in late September. Christie demanded she stay at her house so Layne won't be camping with the main wedding party. Indeed Pete and Amanda want guests to camp and walk through the redwoods for their ceremony. Apparently it will be properly legal as they do have papers from the county clerk.Eccentricity is the stock in trade of Santa Cruz. Cheyenne was glad to be able to rest outside air conditioning for a change.
I last saw Tim when he dropped in on Key West on a sailing trip. This time we intercepted him on the way to the showers. We made a date for coffee.He lives on his boat in the Santa Cruz harbor,and wouldn't have it any other way.It was good to catch up with him in his native element. Johnny Simmons is probably the most capable, knowledgeable and informed radio person I have ever known. His knowledge of music is encyclopedic but put him behind a microphone he can do anything competently and with personality. Ignore the picture; he is a man with a wild sense of humor and a very dry sense of the irony of life. I have extremely fond memories of him as my radio mentor and first program director in the mid 1980's.He is my last connection to the first radio station where I worked as a newly divorced 24 year old. I had a lot of growing up to do and it can't have been easy for him. I didn't want to leave him there but we had places to go and people to see. We found Ric at his usual place fiddling with boat parts at the head of the Santa Cruz harbor. A man who likes dogs is all right by me.
Ric grew up in Southern California and did the rock and roller garage band thing but gave up performing for a sensible life sailing the California coast. He operates his own business fixing boats and he it was who helped us get our boat ready for our two year Central American sail to Key West. It was 12 years ago exactly and he hasn't changed a bit.
J Dock in the Santa Cruz Small Craft harbor was looking particularly good on that sunny morning. I lived here for years on my own boat before Layne and I got married. (She expected me to move into her 1500 square foot house above the beach at Pleasure Point. I did). Janey lives in the mountains and puts up with Ric, and has for a while. We had breakfast and a bit of dog walking to allow us time to catch up about the good old days.I am starting to realize we left a lot of good friends behind when we moved to the Keys. Monterey Bay as seen from the upper deck of Joe's place. Notice the marine fog rolling back over our old home at Pleasure Point on the horizon.
Joe and his family moved into another of those eccentric Santa Cruz homes, this one with a mural.Joe is a metals trader and has known us for about 15 years since he moved to Santa Cruz from Dallas. He loves being by the ocean in a cool dry climate.
He claims this was in the house when they moved in. His wife Kim, on the left is an artist and she says the mermaid's face is all out of proportion. She plans to touch her up. Not her chest though. There is no accounting for taste.
Dinner at Kim and Joe's was another gathering with Gayle (above) who is living with a brain tumor that is expected to end her life in the not too distant future. Indeed since we left Santa Cruz word reached us that Gayle is slipping away. I am glad we got to see her in time to be able to remember her as she always was. Her husband Gary has been dealing with a near fatal infection but he is recovering. These are great people we met walking our dogs years ago and one has to wonder what is going on in a world where all of us seem likely to get some serious cancer sooner or later.
Kim and Joe's daughters have mostly left the nest. Eli on the left is in college and Jodie on the right is working. Anna, one of their sisters is about to give birth to a girl, so the circle of life keeps moving on even as we get older and sicker.
A dose of Marianne's ice cream is enough to fend off feelings of mortality. I got yelled at for trying to get a picture of one of Santa Cruz's iconic tourist locations. I have never seen so much negativity in Key West, a town that periodically gets panned for being mean to visitors.
The pistachio ice cream was excellent as ever (though I prefer Flamingo Crossing on Duval Street). Note the heavy clothing- 55 degrees at 9pm. We met at the ice cream parlor with Karl last seen when we were visiting Birmingham Alabama, his home town.
Karl is a math professor dealing with a case of systemic cheating in his class- cheating by text message which is a new technological wrinkle on an old problem. By inclination he is a (non homosexual) dancer and combines math with dance with his (dance) partner Eric Stern. They use math to inspire their dance and they off to perform in Budapest and Paris to show off their moves this summer. And from that era we also met Bob, still lawyering in Santa Cruz after all these years. He and Layne have known each other for 35 years.Lunch with Bob is always fascinating, he has his finger on the pulse of local politics and he brought us up to date on the goings on. "Santa Cruz has changed out of all recognition in the last ten years," he lamented. Crime is frighteningly high with Mexican gangs in town and the police on the defensive (we saw two cops on city streets in ten days, and none on foot patrol downtown where stabbings occur from time to time!). Many middle class computer geeks have moved to the beach town from Silicon Valley and telecommute. They have displaced the hippie values of our youth with the more mercantile values of modern tech companies and Bob sounded rather lost in his own home town. This is a terrible picture of a very good friend.The night before an old friend had introduced us to a new friend at dinner and here she was at Limelight café for lunch. Time for a quick picture and cheerful hug from the smiling Jenn.And finally the other reason fro our nostalgia trip home was money or the sudden shortage of it. Kirk our long suffering accountant who we had never met, shown below. I strolled into his office and asked "Is this the office of legal aid?" which startled him half to death. Actually he does have a very broad sense of humor ( you need to if you are going to have me for a client). He pretended not to even notice my footwear.Ami loaned us the use of her very excellent granny unit and brought us up to date on our investments. Ami is taking over her father's investment house and has done a great job of protecting us from the worst of the economic slump. Her life has got much harder since 2008 but she lives life with a smile. Her father , inspired by our travels my wife maintains, spends much of the year in semi retirement on his catamaran in the Caribbean. His office is a reminder of the dream.
Ty it was who explained the coming economic melt down in 2006. He explained mortgage backed obligations and credit default swaps in a long talk we had that summer, two years before they hit the headlines. Now he is predicting world wide debt repudiation by governments everywhere with consequences he has yet to be able to work out. I tremble at the thought. We had a great lunch together. I am very fond of his intellect and his honesty.It was tough leaving all these people behind but leave we did on Friday the 16th of July, bound for San Francisco through Silicon Valley and points north.I have lots of essays and photos from Santa Cruz with which I will pepper my KEY WEST blog in the weeks ahead. Next stop Oregon and people I have only ever met on line.