Sunday, April 3, 2011

Pacific Beach Life

Last Sunday morning dawned cold and sunny in Santa Cruz. My wife sent this picture to her friend Carol in Key West who texted back a message: Is this where you are having morning coffee? Er, no Carol, it was 42 degrees out there. Welcome to Sunny Coastal California.Our absent host Ty was sailing in the Caribbean, sensible man, but he has an outdoor shower just like ours. We use ours in summer and we have no hot water piped to it- we don't need hot water.
I got my cold feet into some socks and we took off for a drive round our former home town. This spot was where I used to live on my sailboat. In the ten years I lived aboard we never had a tsunami but recently this place made the headlines when the water was sucked out and replaced by a battering series of waves. The Santa Cruz harbor is a picturesque place and nowadays made accessible to all as a park. I cannot imagine the pleasure the people in those expensive townhomes got from watching me trudge to the shower block each morning on my way to my ablutions.The reason the slips are empty is because there is still, despite heroic repair work, damage to the docks. The park-like aspect is enhanced by squads of people out jogging. They remind me of Key West snowbirds out cycling, where Keys locals ride in whatever they have on, while snowbirds get doffed up in high viz waistcoats helmets and spandex. In Santa Cruz some locals run in ridiculous spandex, as a result they look too serious to be having fun.The reason the tsunami did so much damage was because the harbor is dredged out of a former creek and the finger of water pointed directly in to the direction of travel of the incoming wave. Here I am (equivalent to the top left corner of the map above) trying to remember what it was like living with morning frost on the deck of my home. I must have been mad.Several dozen boats were wrecked by the water.Jack O'Neill's catamaran looks ostentatious but it's used to take kids out on the waters of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary to give them a taste of sea life in an ocean that is far too cold for my taste. You can buy his t-shirts and wetsuits with confidence. He is well respected in his home town.Californians out determined to enjoy the good life with all the appurtenances of a proper nuclear family. This is more my style but you will notice this possible slacker is carefully dressed against the cold.Check out these surfer dudes. No wonder the westsuit was invented here. I used to wear shorts this time of year on principle, and long for the tropics.Compared to Key West everything seems so gnarly here. It must be character building or something. I am a better man for twenty years in this beautiful place.It really is one of the loveliest places to live.

It's just brass monkey cold most of the year and always at night when the coastal fog rolls in as the sun goes down. The dredge in the harbor mouth operates year round to keep the former creek silt-free so it can operate as a harbor. Imagine the energy it takes to keep the silt at bay!
You think I'm joking about how cold sunny California gets? Outdoor waterfront seating isn't anything like what you get in Key West. Here you need screens to keep the cold seafront air off your face, and the screens need spikes to keep the flying rats off your plate.Pigeons are everywhere but they weren't the reason we chose to eat indoors. It was cold outside. Santa Cruz is a hot bed of eating organic and local and delicious. A chile verde omelette at El Palomar café.Unlike Key West dogs aren't allowed in any café or restaurant in California. They aren't even welcome in most state parks! Or on the beach! Or on Pacific Avenue, the main drag in Santa Cruz!! California is so bloody anal, yet they do allow motorcycles to split lanes. Go figure.Ami on the left has found love in the form of Lisa. Ami whom we have known for years, is the quintessential town girl while Lisa is a park ranger in Yosemite National Park during the summer months. Opposites attract. I rather approve of Lisa, not least because she wants to get a motorcycle so we talked engines over breakfast...( I recommended a Yamaha 225 or 250 to carry on her motor home and ride around Yosemite).I noticed emergency generators in Santa Cruz are plunked down on the ground as though floods are never emergencies. They need to take a lesson from key West how to arrange these things.Next we drove to the Boardwalk, a place locals hardly ever go in Santa Cruz, and if they do they don't talk about it. I used to come here as a youth before my evening shift cleaning the Nickelodeon art house movie theater and I'd play PacMan in the arcade....Tourism in Santa Cruz, a city of 55,000, is an ancient business but it has never mixed much with locals. Unlike Key West there is no tourist/local price break or anything like that. Locals live their lives and tourists come streaming into the city on the main Ocean Street from the freeway over the mountains and they drive direct to beach and spend their money.Santa Cruz attracts day trippers mostly from Silicon Valley, where Monterey on the south (foggy) side of the bay tries to haul in the big spenders, and the really big spenders stay in the exclusive hamlet of Carmel. The Beach-Boardwalk boasts the sixth oldest Giant Dipper in the country, built in 1906 and survivor of numerous earthquakes including the 1989 Loma Prieta frequently described as the San Francisco quake. It was centered in Santa Cruz county and flattened a third of downtown Santa Cruz. It's a family owned concern, and every time I pass Canfield Lane in key West I think of this: Larry (Charles) Canfield's empire.I took some illegal snaps as we rode to our $5 doom....the views out across Monterey Bay are superb.It's all over in a couple of minutes but the ride is absolutely fantastic and and will have you squealing like a wienie.
I clung to my camera like grim death; the prohibition on photography is to prevent cameras flying out and killing people, plus they will sell pictures of you grimacing in agony as you fly past the fixed cameras located alongside the ride. This carousel is much more civilized and a true collector's piece, all original and utterly lovely. A season-long pass for a summer of fun at the Boardwalk is just $70- a true bargain in my opinion. Barbara meanwhile had been slaving at home preparing lasagna for a potluck Sunday evening, a chance to meet old friends en masse during our three day trip to our former home.Lunch was a chance for the travelers to taste proper California Mexican food at Tacqueria Vallarta. The problem when we go back is we have to squeeze in as many memorable meals as we can, sharing tables with friends and enjoying familiar tastes from our past. I gained pounds and am paying the price now I am home.A brave soul riding a Whizzer in the crazy traffic on Mission Street. I found traffic in Santa Cruz to be lighter than during the boom years and people drive as fast as I do, which makes a change from drug induced sleepiness in Florida, home of the dawdling snowbird. The traffic lights are extremely responsive to the weight of traffic and change rapidly so waiting time is very limited on the red light (unlike North Roosevelt Boulevard which is always a penance for me).I love driving round Santa Cruz. I desperately want to ride the Bonneville back there and hit some of my favorite and happily remembered twisties. This is Tim, my oldest friend in the New World. We met in Delray Beach in June 1981 during my epic cross country ride on a Vespa P200. Tim emigrated to California the next year and we met in Santa Cruz and slept in his car for three weeks together while we looked for a cabin to rent. He lives on a Cheoy Lee in the Santa Cruz harbor and survived the tsunami intact.
He is the founder of Origin Laser Tools, and after a career as a laser engineer he designed and built a futuristic piece of laser equipment that could only come from the mind and the precise demand for perfection that is Tim. was fascinated by this precision tool, it brought out the dancer and the mathematician all at once: Friends came and went but we old men sat around and talked late into the night.It was a reminder why I stayed so long and so happily in Santa Cruz. Despite seeing my breath in the cold air most days.