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August 2, 2012 - Rick Chatenever
"Turn this crazy bird around, I shouldn't have got on this flight tonight "
Joni Mitchell, whose voice had been there singing "California coming home" at an earlier time in my life, was back on the radio as I drove through my old neighborhood in Santa Cruz a few days ago.
The fog hung heavy with memories in the funky beach neighborhoods of Live Oak and Pleasure Point, where the surf shacks of my day had gradually given way since I left, with beach bungalows more suited for the pages of Sunset Magazine.
I was back in the old hometown and the Bay Area catching up with family matters. Dealing with aging loved ones, you hear the clock of inevitability ticking in all our lives. But family bonds can also transcend time in ways that border on magic, if you're lucky.
Even after 20 years away from California, some things haven't changed: The cold sting of the 57-degree ocean right between your eyes when you go for a little swim.
In the sky above the kelpy surf, there's the majestic sight of pelicans gliding in formation, their cartoonish faces wise and wizened, like an airborne motorcycle club.
The pelicans have taken to gathering on a dock at the mouth of the Yacht Harbor, where daring souls can get close enough to experience just how honkin' huge they are.
With a stripe of gray above the silver fog bank in the crisp early afternoon air, Santa Cruz has long been a meeting place of rugged natural beauty, college-town hipness, gaudy beachside Boardwalk attractions, and higher-minded artistic inspiration.
It was the place the '60s refused to end for decades.
With its beaches facing in our direction, Santa Cruz has always felt like Hawaii was its geographical cousin. Now it has its own L&L Hawaiian Barbecue, and neon Kona Longboard signs in convenience store windows.
It was probably that Hawaiian style that first lured us to leave our happy home in Santa Cruz 20 years ago and move to Maui. Two decades is enough time to learn the difference between style and the real thing.
When we moved to Maui, as much as it touched my heart, I accepted the fact that I hadn't been born to it, and could never claim it as "home."
But that changed over time, as I learned home is something you can earn.
We also had glimpses of another California on this visit.
A sleepless red-eye arrival into SFO isn't the best way to greet morning Bay Area rush hour. A tentative merge onto freeways like pulsing veins feeding the mechanical muscles of the city, tests the courage, not to mention the reaction time, of drivers who have been in the islands too long.
A few nights later, we had to drive to the Oakland Airport to meet an incoming flight that had been delayed for six hours. Eight lanes of freeway lights, four white, four red, moving in ribbons going 65 mph was daunting enough - but not as scary as the cyber ghost town of a sprawling, deserted high-tech "campus."
On acres that used to be alive with orchards, we drove past block after block of the modular sterile architecture. Empty offices buzzed with cold white light. Streetlights cast shadows on empty sidewalks. There wasn't a soul in sight.
It was a spooky vision of cyberland, all the result of taking a wrong exit.
When we lived in California, I thought it was what the future would look like.
On this visit, I hoped I was wrong.
* Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org
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