For the last three years my partner has been working on her PhD in the History of Consciousness department at U.C. Santa Cruz, and I've been flying out to visit her fairly regularly. She's coming back to Toronto to work on her thesis and I just got back from my final visit to Santa Cruz. It's been quite an experience sharing my life between two very distinct parts of North America.
Both of these pictures were taken in February. The flight takes five hours, but it feels like travelling forward six months.
Santa Cruz is in many ways paradise. The beautiful weather is matched by the beauty of the coastline and the attractive-for-North-America architecture. The culture has a strong vein of tolerance and whimsy. It's always summertime and the living is always easy.
Well, sort of. Among my memories of the last three years:
A Mercedes S.U.V. with two bumper stickers: "Follow Your Bliss" and "I Like Dogs And I Vote".
Sitting in the San Jose bus station waiting for the Highway 17 bus to Santa Cruz, I overhear an older bearded man regaling younger pierced and tattooed types: "I'll show you when we get to Santa Cruz, I can panhandle better than any of you - you'll see! I'm the best damned panhandler you'll ever see."
My partner meets me at San Francisco airport with a shaved head, a la Full Metal Jacket. The main reason for this is that she's tired of being hit on, panhandled and harassed on Pacific Avenue, the main street in Santa Cruz. In Toronto, we live half a block away from Yonge Street, one of the greasiest streets in Canada, a few doors down from an addictions recovery centre and three blocks south of a strip club, and we're rarely ever panhandled, and my partner has never been propositioned or harassed. It was a daily occurrence in Santa Cruz - until she shaved her hair off. Now she rarely gets people asking her for a smoke.
At Lulu Carpenter's coffee shop, among the students writing papers are also 1) a table of what seem to be near-retirement high school math teachers talking about how fascinating it was to recently discover that 'trigonometry' was from Greek for 'triangle' and 'measuring'; 2) a group of middle-aged women having earnest discussions about the deep meanings in their dreams about riding horses through water; 3) one man telling another about his trip to India for a men's group ashram retreat; and 4) a young woman telling her friends about her new boyfriend who is a drug dealer and a petty thief but 'a real sweetie deep down'.
Noticing that every person in a menial job, every gardener, every crop picker, every cook, every construction worker is a Latino. The people driving the Mercedes S.U.V.s and discovering themselves in India and investigating the meaning of their dreams? Pretty damned white.
Seeing a real-estate ad for a 50s-style split level bungalow with a garage, like you'd see all over North York, advertised as 'a perfect starter home' - $475,000. The median house resale value last year was around $675,000. That means half were more than that. We rented a room - a nice room, mind you, but still a room - in Santa Cruz for the same rate that I rented a three-storey two bedroom/two bathroom loft apartment in Columbus Ohio in the late 90s.
But it's not all bad. The one memory I will always have from Santa Cruz is:
- One morning I was walking on the pier watching the sun rise and thinking about growing old and what am I doing with my life and all that middle-aged stuff - and then I saw a grey-bearded old man standing tall with tan-baked strong legs on a surf-board, and rowing out to sea with a long paddle and a determined glint in his eye.
Now that's Santa Cruz.