I woke up late Monday, as a result of starting a Lord of The Rings marathon on Sunday night. I glanced groggily out my window and saw blue! And sunshine! For the first time in what seemed like weeks, the weather was clear. I hastily grabbed my phone and checked the weather app. I dashed into the bathroom and took a quick shower, got dressed, and, phone in hand, headed for the living room.
“We’ve got two hours before the rain returns! I’m going to the beach — who’s with me?”
The two young men sitting on the couch showed a decided lack of enthusiasm. The Red-Headed Menace said he had was going over to a friend’s house to watch movies; Railfan said that he wasn’t interested in the beach but would take a long walk later. “Fine,” I said a little sniffily, “I’ll go by myself.” After dismissing the thought of going to Casa de Fruta or San Francisco, I headed towards Highway 17 and Santa Cruz.
It was a glorious morning. The air was clean and clear, the skies were empty except for a smattering of enough clouds to make it interesting. The normally harrowing (for me, at any rate) drive “over the hill” seemed like a cakewalk. I opted not to go to the actual beach:our family’s beach of choice, Natural Bridges, has a lagoon which swells during the rainy season. After the series of storms we have had the previous few weeks, it was sure have no easy access to the shoreline.
Instead, I drove to Lighthouse Point. I walked along the seawall, and looked over and watched the surfers. I’ve never surfed, but every so often it strike me that surfers seem to have a lot of fun. These guys were, certainly.
I am an ocean person to my core. I don’t have to stand in the waves, or feel the sand beneath my toes. I just need to hear them crashing, and smell the salt spray. I stood on the walkway happily watching the white foam stream the fine green and coarse brown seaweed back and forth, like hair discarded by some wayward mermaid.
What is it about a seashore? People were smiling and polite and seemed generally happy. (Of course, it could have been the effect of the first clear day in ages.) Even all the dogs seemed to be smiling. There was a profusion of them: Yorkies, a couple of boxers, a Norwich terrier, a Portuguese water dog, more boxers, a husky, an akita, and mutts in every size and color.
After walking around, looking at the ocean and watching the people, for a couple of hours or so, I noticed wisps of clouds coming. Worried that they might herald the return of the rain, I got in the Mustang and started to head home.
Except at some point before reaching Highway 17 I decided thatI wasn’t ready for my day’s adventure to be done, and that I would go home the long way, via, um, Casa de Fruta. Santa Cruz and Casa de Fruta are far enough away from each other that under normal circumstances had credit card charges shown up from both places on the same day I would have suspected fraud.
I drove south along Highway 1 to Watsonville. (Who knew it was so pretty south of Soquel?) Watsonville is an agricultural town, and far, far different from the suburban sprawl of Silicon Valley.
Somewhere south of Sequel I remembered that I was in KPIG country. KPIG is the best radio station in the universe. Full stop. They play an eclectic mix of Americana and rock, and while I was listening had a memorial set for Glen Frey, which included the best song that the Eagles did (“Desperado”) as well as the best song of Frey’s solo career (“Smuggler’s Blues”). Years ago, either here or in my LiveJournal, I wrote a list of my favorite phrases or lines from songs. The list included the last line from “Smuggler’s Blues”: “It’s the politics of contraband.”
It’s important to go through areas that you’ve never seen before. Even if you don’t stop and talk to anyone, it’s a reminder that there are people who live far different lives than the people I know. We forget that, a lot, in this country: each of us sees only the people who look like us or talk like us, and far too often think like us.
We lament the divisions between us, at the same time insisting that the answer is for the people on the other side of the trenches we have run across our body politic give up their cherished beliefs and take on ours. Does this mean I don’t think that what I believe is true? Not at all. It means that I need to remember that there is a reason they believe what they do beyond “they’re evil” or “they’re stupid.” It means I need to have humility, while at the same time calling out oppression and venality. It is okay to call white supremacists evil, and the would-be revolutionaries at the Malhuer wildlife refuge traitorous, or the Koch brothers and their millionaire ilk a danger to democracy, without demonizing the people who live in small cities and towns (or, for that matter, large cities) who might support conservative causes.
It is also good to be reminded just where food comes from. Passing through the fields of black plastic with the green tops of nascent strawberry plants poking through, and the rows of dark earth ready for seed, and the smell of garlic, the odor of which spreads out for five miles around the Christopher Ranch processing plant, made me grateful not only for food, but for all the people who work growing it. (There was also the Martinelli’s plant, which doesn’t smell and which also unfortunately doesn’t have an outlet store that I could see.)
Living in Northern California gives you a chance to see agriculture at close hand. Many times the crops we place ourselves in a position to see are the grapes of Napa and Sonoma when we take visiting family members on winery tours, or the cows and fruit trees we zoom by on I-5 headed down to L.A. Perhaps if we head down the down the coast from Half Moon Bay to Santa Cruz we see the artichokes.
We grow an insane amount the country’s produce: California is the largest producer of 77 different crops, including providing more than 99% of the artichokes, walnuts, grapes and raisins, sweet rice, figs, and 95% of garlic, plums, and peaches. Too often we take it for granted. (The drought poses not merely a regional but a national problem. If California can’t grow its crops, America faces serious nutritional problems.)
After I hit CA 152, I drove past newly reinvigorated wetlands. The past few years, the low places had been dry; weeks of off-and-on rain had made shallow pools with waterfowl paddling in them. For all its crazy-making, the El-Nino created storms are making life a bit easier for the birds.
All the rain is turning the hills jade and emerald. Add the cows grazing on the hillsides, and you could almost put it on a calendar. The horses and goats closer to the road were less picturesque but in their own way no less charming.
Casa de Fruta grew out of a fruit stand on the route between the Bay Area and I-5. The original fruit stand still stands, but now it is joined by Casa de Sweets, and Casa de Choo-Choo, and Casa de Gasoline (I’m not sure if the gas station is really called that, but it wouldn’t surprise me.) They have peacocks for toddlers to chase, and a carousel, and a train, and really excellent low-sugar dried pineapple. (Sadly, they no longer seem to carry the dried apricots dipped in chocolate.* Sticky, but wonderful.) Families stop here so their kids can play, and tour buses stop here on their way west.
See? Peacocks… toddlers…
I go to Casa de Fruta frequently, not because I need produce that I can’t buy at my local Safeway but because I love the drive. Going to Casa de Fruta is a small rebellion: a place that there is no reason for me to be, to buy things I don’t need. It’s a very silly, and who doesn’t need silly sometimes?
Casa de Carousel
I also love carousels. I have seen a lot of them over the years: Great America’s, the King Arthur’s Carousel at both Disney World and Disneyland, the carousel on the Mall in DC, and, best of all, the beautiful carousel at Glen Echo Park in Maryland. Years ago I used to take the Not-So-Little Drummer Boy to Glen Echo. It is a very special memory for me from when the now grown man was a very small boy.
The Casa de Fruta carousel has small horses, but makes up for that by being two story, and having real horsehair tails (!). It also has a twirling seat (like the Teacups but without the handles). Having decided the last time I was at an amusement park that I was too old to enjoy making myself severely nauseous, that’s not a point in its favor, although I imagine it might be for someone younger.
When it was time to go, I flirted briefly with the idea of heading east to Santa Nella and eating at Pea Soup Andersen’s. I decided against that, and then thought about heading south. I could have gone down to 25 and hit San Juan Bautista and Pinnacles. But I really needed to go home.
I turned northward with a sigh. I knew I should get back home and make dinner, and clean the kitchen, and do all the mundane things one needs to do everyday. I had been lucky: the good weather had held all day, in spite of the forecasts.
I went home, but I didn’t want to. The lure of the open road is strong as the running tide for me. I’m glad I was able to indulge it for a day.
*It has been a Hanukkah tradition for me to drive the hour and a half to Casa de Fruta to get the chocolate-dipped apricots for the Resident Shrink, one for each night. I don’t know what I’m going to do next year, get the humongous caramel-pecan turtles, maybe.