Maui Connections

When our nephew got married recently in California’s Santa Cruz Mountains, he and his bride picked some Beatles songs for the ceremony. “Here Comes the Sun” as the bride walked up the aisle. “All You Need Is Love” as the bride and groom made their exit.

It wasn’t lost on me that the Beatles provided a good part of the soundtrack for the chapter of my life when I was about their age in this same geography, almost half a century ago. The same shafts of sunlight slanted through the aromatic eucalyptus, madrone and redwoods then, the way they have for millennia.

For a kid born in New York City who grew up in Oklahoma, my first vision of the Santa Cruz Mountains with the Pacific Ocean on the horizon felt like dying and going to heaven. “All You Need Is Love” was also an anthem for those of us around when the song was born.

Some things don’t change. But many do.

My wife grew up in what was called the Santa Clara Valley, before the orchards started producing a new kind of Apple. Now the orchards are gone, although the Monterey Bay region is as fertile as ever, producing an Eden’s worth of fruit and vegetables, at prices that make Maui visitors drool.

Santa Cruz still feels like home to my wife, with so many close friends still there. For me, despite all the old pals to catch up with, visits remind me of how many decades have passed since we left.

Driving a rental car through Silicon Valley leaves me feeling like a latter-day Dante trying to navigate high-tech’s version of “The Divine Comedy.” Or, to mix my metaphors (having been a lit major when I was a student at the brand-new UC Santa Cruz campus in these very same mountains), a stranger in a strange land that just keeps getting stranger.

It’s the traffic that first says, “Welcome to the future” with gazillion-lane freeways contorted into concrete pretzels and multilevel overpasses dotted with green signs with exits in all directions. The remarkable part isn’t the artistic ingenuity of California’s civil engineers, so much as the ability of its drivers to handle these roads so flawlessly at 70 mph, seemingly on mental autopilot in the never-ending mechanical dance of unimaginable proportions.

It’s slightly overwhelming for brains still bewildered by all the construction at the Kahului Airport. The freeways, so taken for granted by Bay Area drivers, can make heads spin for folks used to driving on Maui time, where four lanes are considered the height of modernity, and you’re going slow enough to recognize faces in oncoming windshield before flashing them a shaka.

Even less fun is when the freeways don’t work the way they’re supposed to. Rush-hour gridlock is a daily occurrence, we learn, when Highway 1 South goes into freeze frame, and it takes an hour to go 9 miles, from Santa Cruz to nearby Aptos.

Whenever I’ve filed columns “on the road” from Santa Cruz, I’ve heard from fellow Maui transplants like Joanne Foxxe, Cris Sommer Simmons, Nancy Newnan or the late Robert Shaw with their own memories of youthful time spent where the redwoods meet the sea.

The Santa Cruz-Maui connection is so pervasive, they sometimes feel like poles of the same transpacific culture. When I first joined The Maui News staff, former columnist Tom Stevens headed in the other direction, winding up in the Monterey Bay region. In the early ’90s, we were each other’s replacement, covering much of the same ground, each (me at least) encountering unfavorable comparisons with the other guy as we sought to find our footing in our new homes.

Thousands of Mauians have strong ties to Santa Cruz, and vice versa. Dr. Gary Greenberg’s presentation a few years ago at the UC Santa Cruz campus on his microscopic photography of flowers titled “Florotica” led to a short film I was fortunate to collaborate on with Maui creators including filmmaker Dr. Tom Vendetti and composer/musician Keola Beamer.

Santa Cruz’s best-known landmark is probably the Boardwalk, a beachside amusement park complete with wooden roller coaster and old-fashioned carousel that celebrated its 100th anniversary last year. Before we left, we encountered a different kind of kind of Santa Cruz merry-go-round on Pacific Avenue, the town’s historic downtown. It was a circle of Hare Krishnas, as happy as they were in the ’70s in Santa Cruz — or on Maui — seemingly adding the power to make time stand still with their chanting. Between the cymbals and the drums, I couldn’t make out the words. What I think they meant was, “All you need is love.”

* Rick Chatenever, award-winning columnist and former entertainment and features editor of The Maui News, is a freelance journalist, instructor at UH-Maui College and documentary scriptwriter/producer. Contact him at