Saturday, November 3, 2007

Burned out hippies, cheap cameras, long walks, really big seals and Amtrak

There is a seal in this picture, can you find it?

I said in a previous post, happiness is a fleeting emotion. Contentment is a more stable and in the long run more satisfying emotion.

Contentment is what I found this week as I took a very simple journey to see a friend. I went to the California seaside city of Santa Cruz. I began my trip on an Amtrak train. The train departed at about seven in the morning in the middle of the week. That was a good decision since I don't like crowds of people. The train pulled out with just a spattering of people. As the train left the station I turned on my ipod, had a Starbucks Frappuccino and watched the the scenery pass by. It was such a relaxing and thought inducing ride.

One of the things I really like is cityscape. Travelling by train is a really good way to take in the changing texture of cities. I watched as the train passed through industrial areas then neighborhoods then through deserted stretches of land.

I looked into the backyards of homes adjacent to the train tracks. It was fun seeing how people tried or didn't try to make their backyards little retreats. I saw a few hammocks, some tiny fall gardens and lots of decks. Most of the homes on the route were smaller homes. And many were a classic California mix of style, stucco meets ranch house.

I wondered what it is like to live next to an active train line. If the people looked at the trains pass by and day dreamt about taking a journey themselves.

Unfortunately my ride on the train was pretty short, less than 90 minutes. I have in the past taken longer rides. I took a train called The Coast Starlight several years ago. It runs from southern California all the way to Portland. It may go on to Canada as well. It was such a joy. I booked a sleeper compartment. Which is a small private room with a pull down bed, and your own little private shower and loo. It's a bit expensive but for relaxation well worth it. Also you can order and dine in the compartment just like hotel room service which was fun.

The only downside to the trip to Santa Cruz was that the train does not go all the way there. I had to transfer to a bus in San Jose. I take the bus everyday so I really wasn't looking forward to this part of the trip. But it turned out okay, except I got a bit of a preview of things to come. A guy that looked like his best days were spent in about 1969 listening to The Doors and 'tripping' boarded the bus. As he walked down the isle he proclaimed (loudly) his love for Jesus and then sat directly behind me. As I adjusted to his aroma he started talking to a women across the isle. And when I say talking I mean talking. This guy began by asking if the woman was in college. She replied yes and that she was a student a the University of California, Santa Cruz. And with that he was off! He spoke non-stop for about the next 45 minutes. All I know is that he said something about him having lived by the river in Santa Cruz a while back and as he continued I tuned out his incessant talking with my ipod.

I arrived in downtown Santa Cruz feeling relaxed and refreshed. My friend knows I like to just kick back as they say so she didn't bother with taking time off from work. She told me where a key would be and I made my way to her little bungalow on foot. I had not been to Santa Cruz in a long while but it's a pretty simple city to navigate by foot. That is as long as you stay out of the hills. Fortunately my friend lives in the flat lands and not to far from the ocean.

I spent the first two days doing absolutely nothing! I read, watched a few movies (The film Memento starring Guy Pearce is really good) and ate organic food. It wasn't until yesterday that I had any sort of desire to change my adopted holiday routine. I decided to pack my back pack with a few goodies and head to the beach. Well not the beach exactly, but the boardwalk.

Santa Cruz has a regionally famous boardwalk. Complete with all sorts of rides and amusements. Thankfully the rides and most of the amusements were closed, I think for the season. So it was very quiet and peaceful. I saw just a few people strolling around. And once again I had a burned out hippie encounter. This time though the hippie tried to engage me in a conversation. He looked to be in his 60's, with a long white mane of hair and a beard to match. He had one of those little biker type hats on with the very short brim and a well worn leather jacket. I was sitting on a bench on the boardwalk when he approached me. He asked me if I ever wondered what it would be like to be a seal. Um, well, no, I replied. He sat down next to me and told me how he wondered what it must be like to be a seal. I truly don't know most of what he said I kind of drifted off into a day dream while he yakked away, just nodding my head every now and then to be polite.

Finally the hippie guy left. That was my cue to move on too. I walked down to the pier. Well, a pier, there may be more of them in Santa Cruz but I only saw this one from my vantage point on the boardwalk. I suppose it was about a half mile away from where I sat. There were just restaurants and little souvenir shops on the pier. I was tempted to try some seafood but reminded myself that just because a restaurant is by the water doesn't mean they make great seafood. I did however purchase a couple of tee shirts. One of them says Santa Cruz Hookers on it. The Santa Cruz hookers, at least the ones referred to by the tee shirt, are fisherman. Obviously the double entendre is what sells the shirts.

The most interesting thing I saw were the seals swimming by the pier (see really bad picture above). I saw one that was huge. He or she looked so relaxed just sort of half floating half swimming in what I imagined was very cold water. I thought back to the question posed to me by the hippie and although I didn't want to be one or even imagine it, it seemed that seals had a nice life.

There where really big seagulls all over the place and signs saying not to feed them. The most impressive things about the birds was they were totally unafraid of people. One sat very casually on the roof of a parked car (cars are allowed to drive on to the pier) soaking up the sun.

When I left the pier I decided to walk to downtown Santa Cruz. I walked back toward the boardwalk and then down a street called Riverside. As the name implies it is a street that goes by the river. I'm not really sure what to make of the Santa Cruz river, I think that's what its called. It is a very slow moving almost stagnate river. And It's so close to the ocean which made me wonder if it's a saltwater river? Also I thought of the hippie on the bus and figured this was the area he was talking about.

Anyway I walked along the path and passed a few people. One thing I noticed about Santa Cruz was the mellowness of the people. No one seemed outwardly stressed. There was a sort of calm that seemed to be present every where I went. Also as a San Francisco bay area inhabitant, I noticed a decided absence of police. You can barely walk a few blocks in the bay area with out seeing a police car drive by. The only police I saw all day was a lone officer standing at the downtown transit center. I don't know anything about the crime rate in Santa Cruz, I'm sure they have their share of petty crimes and the like but crime didn't seem to be a issue that's for sure.

When I arrived downtown, which was about a 10 or 15 minute walk from the boardwalk, I saw a lot of people just sitting around on sidewalk benches. In fact at one point I wanted to sit down to put the local Santa Cruz free newspaper I picked up in my backpack and couldn't find an empty bench.

The downtown area was pretty crowded but there was no bustle. Everyone seemed to be walking at a very moderate pace. I grew up in New York City and one thing I learned very young was to always walk like you were going somewhere and were just a little late. So I am always having to adjust my walking pace to fit what ever city I'm in. In the bay area I see people strolling along very slowly. That's what I refer to as 'a looking for trouble pace'. That's because in New York if someone walked by you very slowly you always figured that they where up to no good.

I checked out a few stores, bought a USA Today at the local Borders bookstore and somehow got hooked into giving up my telephone number to a fast talking borders employee who fired off the benefits of having a Borders discount card at record speed. I guess I was just in vacation mode, which accounts for me rattling off my actual phone number. I actually have a fake number in my head that I normally give on such occasions.

The rest of my day was uneventful. I bought a Frida Khalo postcard book and had the hardest scone I've ever eaten at a little dive coffee shop.

I should mention that African Americans were few and far between. The thing I've noticed in my many travels around the U.S. is that in cities with low populations of African Americans, 'others' don't seem to have negative reactions when encountering African Americans. It's the cities with dense populations of African Americans that I've seen the usual tensions between other so-called races and African Americans.

Later in the afternoon I met my friend near her job to bid her farewell. I am really lucky to have a friend that understands me well enough to know that I'm not the kind of guest that needs babysitting. I invited her up the coast to see me and she accepted. So I'll be seeing her soon. The thing that I'm left with about my visit to Santa Cruz is how peaceful I felt there. I really felt as if I could live there. In the back of my mind I have a feeling that with in a few years, unless some other city gets in my way, I may end up moving and living in Santa Cruz California.

Oh, one more thing. Don't buy $10 digital camera's (no matter how little and cute it is). I did and it didn't work very well. first, you can't really see through the view finder, so I just held the camera toward the general direction of the picture I wanted. That made for some goofy picures. I think I'm going to have to just cough up the money and buy a real digital camera. I wonder if there is such a thing as a blog expense on the IRS tax deduction list?


Miriam said...

Sounds so pleasant. I really enjoy your writing style.

If you pass San Diego, please wave to my mother in law! lol

Mes Deux Cents said...

Hi Miriam,

My trip was great, I really needed it. And thanks for letting me know you enjoy my writing. I really love feedback.

Next time I'm in San Diego I'll give her a wave! (lol)


Ehav Ever said...

It sounds like a really beautiful trip. You definitely have a way with words. While reading it I felt like I was taking the trip with you. I do enjoy train rides. My mother said that when I was kid, after my father passed away, she took me on a train ride across the country. She said that I was running up and down the train because I was so amazed with it. A good kick off to A Week of Positive Blogging. Now I am wondering what it would be like to be a seal. Not the the kind that are chased by sharks in South Africa. (smile)

Mes Deux Cents said...

Hi Ehav,


The train is the best way to travel. It is really amazing.

This isn't my first post for A Week Of Positive Blogging, I'll post that in the morning. I know that it is already Sunday there but we still have a few hours to go! (lol)

I think all seals have to contend with sharks but atleast sharks are predictable! People on the otherhand, are not.

Monica Roberts said...

Ain't that the truth.

Glad you enjoyed the trip. The last time I took a train trip was back in the 60's when I was living in New Orleans.

Mes Deux Cents said...

Hi Monica,

Wow, that ws a long time ago. You should take a train ride. It's so relaxing. I try to select times when the train isn't going to be packed with people.

I highly reccomend travelling by train, I think it's the best way to travel. Maybe the next time you visit Chicago you can try the train.

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About Me

West Coast, United States
African American, Poet?, Vegetarian, Music lover, Agoraphobic, Social Phobic

My Favorite Poet

My Favorite Poet
Staceyann Chin

My Favorite Track Athlete

My Favorite Track Athlete
Christine Arron