Its only really an hour, an hour and a half from San Francisco to Santa Cruz. Yet, that hour makes all the difference, leaving the left coast city for a honkytonk beach front.
We grab a car at rental office in the Tenderloin, outside a hot sheets hotel.
And make our way out of town, through South San Francisco to the 101.
Nestled between the redwoods and the beach, we’re staying at the Aqua Breeze, a majestic beach hotel with a few cockroaches to make us feel welcomes.
It always reminds me of a place in between the Jersey Shore and a set from the Lost Boys, the eighties beach Vampire movie. But its also more than that.
People are playing volley ball and kids are out surfing when we arrive at the infamous boardwalk.
Birds flying overhead.
The kids find a few places to roller skate.
And we make plans for a trip to the redwoods.
UC Santa Cruz is nearby.
That’s ostensibly why we are here, for a college visit.
Jelly Biafra went there, as did some of my favorite people growing up in Dallas. I remember all the cranks and surfers and East coast transplants and hippies sharing a space here in the woods. It always felt vibrant. Its hard to convey that.
A campus in the woods, among thousand-year-old trees and the beach, its on the edge of somewhere and nowhere, in between here and there, this world and that.
We used to visit in college; in 1989, we left the morning of the quake.
No one’s here at first. Then a coach walks out and points us to some of the dorms in the woods. Tells about his favorite poems and places to get a coffee nearby. The playing field looks over the ocean, a coffee shop sits lonely, no takers, shut down. I’d go here in a minute. It’s the most beautiful campus I’ve ever seen. I think Angela Davis is still here. The History of Consciousness program is still inviting students into a study of everything.
But I’m not sure the teenager is quite as moved. She’s a city kid.
Students nowhere to be seen.
The Redwoods stand majestic, their roots into a subterranean world, their leaves between this life and that, this world and an outer space. Walking amongst them, through a wooden bridge between campuses, we connect with all of it, looking about, at empty building after empty building, a student center in the trees. It’s hard to know. But that’s ok.
Back in town, the kids go skateboarding, while we sit looking at the water.
The cockroaches are quiet back at the hotel.
We explore the lost boys night, looking at the beach town change, wondering about what goes on here, in the darkness, a Chinese deli here, taco stand there.
First morning light shimmers. Junkies are passed out on the beach. Seagulls converge in the parking lot off the boardwalk.
I stroll to the market for a cup of coffee.
Rides sit quiet in the distance. Nothings opening for another few days; the city is still awakening. The water is never asleep; the beach longing, water splashing under the piers; sea lions in the distance, cursing the morning joggers after a rough night at their, our cheap motel, cockroaches multiplying by the second.
After a bite on the water, everyone goes their own ways. The kids are off to skate at the park. Caroline and I make our way to the Sanctuary Scene Trail, along the Monterey National Marine Sanctuary, between Santa Cruz and Monterrey. Sea lion, gray wales, pelicans, the gray wales traveling through sanctuary waters migrating between Baja and Alaska’s Bering Sea, on the Northern Pacific Ocean.
Monarch Butterflies arrive from Oregon, Washington and the Rocky Mountains, leading us along their trail.
Gradually, we make our way back to the cliffs along the Natural Bridges beach and their anemones, sea stars & crabs.
Kids dip in and out of the water, our kids exploring the record shops on their own.
After napping and dipping our toes in, we make our way to downtown Santa Cruz for a coffee at Verve Coffee downtown. It feels distinct and like everywhere, between Claremont and Long Beach.
And then out for an afternoon in the woods at the Henry Cowell State National Park.
Once Mexico, then Rancheros in mid 19th century, and finally a California state park in 1954, I wonder what the trees think of all this.
The roots communicate with each other, I say to Caroline.
What do they say?
I’m not sure.
They have never invited me for a conversation.
Maybe one day I’ll get an invite.
Are they talking or communicating?
They must have a lot to do, outliving civilizations, eluding industry, providing air for the world.
I think about John Steinbeck’s point:
“The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always. No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree. The feeling they produce is not transferable. From them comes silence and awe. It's not only their unbelievable stature, nor the color which seems to shift and vary under your eyes, no, they are not like any trees we know, they are ambassadors from another time.”
Hiking along the trail, the quiet says something indelible.
The sound of the water in the creek says even more.
The trees stretch into heaven.
I’m not sure what they are saying. But they seem to be onto something.
Why are we compelled to cut them down?
The kids text saying they are hungry so we go find them, enjoying a taco the guys make us at Las Palmas Taco Bar, and a beer as the sun goes down on honkytonk Santa Cruz, watching the sunset on the Aqua Breeze.
The next morning, I walk out early for a final walk on the beach, back down the boardwalk, sitting at the pier looking at fisherman, already out, the surfers swimming their way, looking for waves.
“Surfers are poets too
if you look at it that way
at least in the western part of the West”
Laurence Ferlinghetti writes Pictures of a Gone World, the paperback, I’ve been carrying from San Francisco.
“They at looking
For the perfect wave
With perfect rhythm sublime
They too are looking for the endless light
At the end of the tube of time.”
I walk back to the Aqua Breeze.
Its about time to make our way South, maybe a stop at In-and-Out Burger, on the way to Venice.