You’ll never estimate the time well driving to NorCal’s Bay Area. Meeting with some surfer friends I truly thought I could get to Capitola in 2 hours, but by the time 3 were up I struggled to revel in the glory of Santa Cruz Mountain’s twists of pine and eucalyptus.
But I was so there.
Forget the toasty beaches–you roll up on million dollar shanties and park where you think the locals won’t slash your tires, then pace over to the cliff’s edge to suck in the mussel and kelp air and see the black dots suspended between the breakers like stubborn marshmallows in a Jell-o mold. Marshmallows who will slash your tires if you try to slip in some lingo.
Everyone walking dogs, precarious 50-year-old construction workers eyeballing the tide for when they get off work. It takes a while of gawking and a trial inquiry to a disinterested onlooker before you build up the courage to walk the cut path down to the rocks. The wrong questions are suicide but staying up top defeats the purpose. Step down and pretend you know what you’re doing.
Middle-aged couples missing the timing and and getting their Nikes wet in the wash-up makes you feel better so you post up on some sandstone and do what you know how to do. Stand stoically and try to understand where you are.
When no one in particular is looking you snag the obligatory shells and pocket one each for your kids. You take some pictures with your cheap camera spending lots of time framing the shot to send the vibe that you might be at least a surf mag intern. Taking a picture of a surfboard on the sandstone and a mansion hanging over the cliff gives you away.
“40 dudes down here, nothing big going on” is the text you send to arriving friends, hoping to be a contributor. They’ve already delayed their arrival 1 hour and 15 minutes knowing exactly when it will be big, where, and why. Stop trying to be cool and just be cool.
How do people afford to live here? With that single gear bike and 8-year-old O’Neill hoodie. That one raggedy dog and eating scenery and smell instead of food. Not even Top Ramen. You need a car to go buy it.
How do I not live here? Oh, right. The cards didn’t fall in the right place. There is relative job security and a lawn for me. I can also afford food. Why am I here again? Because of…what could have been? No, wouldn’t really ever have been. What might be? Naw, too old, dude. Gotta invoke the southern “might-could” to keep it vague and stop asking questions. Understand what you have the ability to today and be glad you have insiders.
Surfers get naked in the street. Just smile at them, but be cool. Not too much, and not right when they’re naked. Perhaps a quick nod and put the camera in your pocket. Purposelessness is best, which speaks much more than trying to do something specific. That’s not a collector’s car, man, that’s just my car. I welded some board racks on top with some pipe.
I cruise around, trying not to look like I’m cruising. Just driving. Don’t judge me because I have a car. I’m not going to get in the water, chill. I get lost but only compared to going somewhere. Skyscraper redwoods panel the wide expanse of the Pacific and the nothingness beyond that fades to mist and teaches you something. You don’t know what yet because you had the damned camera out. Just have to be there.
Meeting the friends, letting them get naked in the road, taking my socks off in the back seat, forgetting to put sunblock on my forehead, paying for it later. But good money. They went out past the Point in the freezing water, I sat on erosion-proof blocks high above the tide and finally just looked for a long time. An older couple leaning on each other against the sea wall. They’ve been there forever and will be there more after I leave. They saw what they were looking for before I was born and they’re still learning about what’s left of it as they huddle in silence below flowering iceplant covering the cliff above them.
I take a hiatus and try to journal at Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing Co. I wait 15 minutes while a guy buys a keg and apparently buys 15 minutes worth of minutiae as I give every humanly possible signal that I just want the beer. I get my sampler and sit down to journal but the beer is so-so–best of intentions with juniper additives and whatnot–so my journal is a brew critique. I at least make note of the oil lamps in all the windows and the giant misplaced Eland mount sticking out of nowhere.
We regroup at the original O’Neill surf shop my friends looking for rack straps that were cut behind the restaurant while the board got lifted. They don’t have them, but a little kid talks more surf to his dad than I’ve ever heard in my life. I maybe buy an ONeill hat, but then I look at the sticker and I maybe don’t. Get it online. It’s not against the code.
After lattes and my friends recalling how warm the liquid nitrogen sea was today, a gem rolls out of a friend’s mouth that I didn’t see the shine of at first, not til I drove home, this time seeing everything in the Santa Cruz Mountains that I’m supposed to. “Man, I wish I had some vices. I just don’t have any vices.” What would that be like?
I jumped to quitting a million things simultaneously as I accepted the blasting dubbstep on every local station on the way home but it wasn’t action time yet. Just thinking. What would it be like to not having any vices?
I followed the Ariadne thread back home to the Valley and days later on my morning run through the country roads it clicked: vice means stopped. Humans adapt. Adaptation means movement. We were meant to adapt, that’s why we are what we are now. I momentarily chastise the high school youth group object lesson I’m rapidly whipping up but push it out of the way and refuse to minimize the impact. I lock the lever on my vices, sitting there looking at them. Look, there’s a vice, clamping down on my dreams. I don’t dream of staying still. My subconscious knows better. I dream of adapting past the confinement of where I find myself. Only a matter of time before I live it. What matter? That lever’s rusty, but a few knocks and it comes loose and I walk. I run. I dream and live. The tide washed in the ethereal at the coast and hung in the marine layer until late in the day when I was ready to stop and take a look. Look at what I’m doing. Look at what I can do.