Tuesday After Lunch

I keep going to Amazon.com to look at reviews for video-camera sunglasses. You put them on, turn them on, and then they see what you see. But nobody sees the camera.

This may seem creepy to you, but I imagine myself wearing video glasses every time I walk down Pacific Avenue here in Santa Cruz. Pacific is the heart of the downtown, and its sidewalks never lack for traffic. Some days the scene becomes so varied that it cries for a video record; one made secretly, so that no one reacts.

I may never buy the spy glasses – not when a good pair costs $300. But I often pack a camera; and following are a few random pictures of Pacific that I’ve taken lately.

Pacific_bikedog

This week on a slow Tuesday afternoon — I’ve a few days off — I took a casual stroll down Pacific for the exercise. In the space of a couple of blocks I ran into a free-form jazz jam; a college class listening to a lecture on trees; giggling teen-agers slurping ice cream, and a sun-blackened woman with all the misery of the world in her eyes.

An anxious, long-haired man implores me to sign a petition to place a certain proposition on the ballot. The proposition is not what he claims it is. But if he explained it clearly, few would sign. And he is paid by the signature, and seems in need of a good meal.

Pacific_band

A steel guitarist picks out a twangy tune from behind a large banana leaf on which he’s scrawled “Bless God, Bless the World.” A trio of traveling musicians, back-packs and all, sets up to play some serious folk-music. Because though crowds won’t appear on Pacific until the Thanksgiving weekend, you just never know. And a dollar or two would be welcome.

Paciic_animals

And at the natural foods market a block further on, Miss Evangeline the elderly cashier sells me a snack. She asks me how I am; fine, I answer, and her? “Wonderful,” she says with feeling. She always says that, and she always means it. Though she has the lined face of one who has seen the elephant, perhaps several times.

And if Miss Evangeline can be wonderful after several hours behind a smoking-hot cash register, what in the world are my problems worth?

Pacific_Morgani

Pacific Avenue is the main street that every city in America says that it wants: a truly public crossroads where everyone comes together to talk, meet, celebrate, incite, shop, dine, or just hang out.

But here’s the joke: if a town ever gets such a place, citizens start complaining at once. Because a truly public meeting place is open to the grim side of life as well as the pretty side. And this is true on Pacific,

Pacific_Reaper

Some people prefer the Disney version of reality, which holds only the things that make them happy. But for that you need walls and an admission fee. Such things are not the point; in fact, they’re the antithesis of the point.

I know people who never go to Pacific Avenue. Others can’t stay away from the place. Even when they leave the area, they do so on a long, strange orbit that will bring them back to Pacific once, twice, or three times as the years pass. They go, they come, and they come again.

Pacific_Repent

Which is why, on my last lap down Pacific, I ran into a Hindu god named Kevin. I hadn’t seen him in several years. But whenever I had seen him, from time to time over the past decade, I’d seen him on Pacific Avenue.

Kevin and I met years ago as fellow employees at a school for homeless children. I was an out-of-work high-tech drone looking at a career in education. Kevin was an old hippie more at home in the wilderness than in a house. He made his very small living as a nature guide and resource person at alternative schools, summer camps, and the like. He had no fixed address; he liked life simple, and as close to the land as possible. When I knew him, he was living in his jeep — not one of the large or fancy ones, either.

Kevin had spent a lot of time in India, where he developed a sort of whole-face-and-head beard with integrated mustachios that extended six inches from his face in all directions. Solid silver it was, around a face as tanned and wrinkled as any Hindu holy man’s. He wanted to go to back India someday, when he qualified for Social Security. “You can live really well there on a few hundred bucks a month,” he told me several times.

We got along very well because Kevin was a live-wire, a talkative guy; and because we’d grown up only ten miles apart and had a lot to talk about. But he was eight or ten years older than I and had jumped straight into the whole Summer-of-Love alternative lifestyle scene that made the ’60s so interesting. And unlike most, he stuck it out. It suited him. He made his own way through life and had enjoyed it.

We both left the school and went our own ways. But every couple of years I’d see Kevin on Pacific Avenue as he orbited through town. Each time, the orbit grew wider and longer: from a cabin up beyond Big Basin, to a homestead out beyond Yosemite, to places even further out. And finally, he disappeared.

Until today. Smaller, older, but vigorous as ever. And unmistakable. I stopped him in the street and we talked as if we’d last met yesterday. He’d finally made it back to India.

“I’m middle-class there, man,” Kevin said. “I get $500 from Social Security, live on $300 and bank the rest.” He’d settled in the North, away from the heat and the cities in a place he’d lived before. He worked with orphans, loved the people of the countryside, and was perfectly happy with his life.

But Pacific Avenue called him back. Literally.

“It’s like those lizards with the three-foot long tongue,” he said. “I was on my way to Nepal when BAM! That tongue just caught up with me and pulled me back.”

It was a supoena. Twenty five years ago Kevin had been nearby when an insane man tried to hack someone to death with a machete in from of Lulu Carpenter’s coffee house on Pacific. (Which was, coincidentally, about where Kevin and I were standing.) Kevin was not the closest witness, but he was the first one to give his name to the police. Twenty-five years later, the attacker was finally judged sane enough to stand trial. And the DA sent for Kevin.

“Why didn’t you just ignore the supoena?” I asked.

“Because supoenas have a way of turning into warrants,” Kevin said, “and warrants are bad news.”

“Did they pay for your trip?”

“Nah. They said they’d pay mileage, so I’m going to submit a claim for 15,000 miles. They’ll wiggle out of it, but I’m going to have some fun with them.” He chuckled, eyes flashing.

At that point a stout young woman with the look of Doing Good walked up to us and tried to persuade Kevin to come to her community supper. He turned her down politely.

“Ah, she keeps trying to feed me,” he said. “Look, great seeing you but I’ve got a couple of things to do and this — ” he spread his arms wide to encompass the street and the people and the buildings “– is my office!” He ran across the street and out of sight.

Maybe he’ll orbit back through in another five years. As for Disneyland, you can keep it.

Pacific_Holy_Moley

11 thoughts on “Tuesday After Lunch

  1. Katie (Nature ID)

    The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel isn’t such a far-fetched idea after all. I loved the part of your story where Hindu god Kevin is going to submit a mileage reimbursement claim to the District Attorney. Have a great Thanksgivng, Boomer!

    Reply
    1. admin Post author

      Happy Thanksgiving to you as well, Katie!

      I get the reference to the movie, though I haven’t seen it. It may not be such a far-fetched idea; but you’ve definitely got to be ready for India, something that Kevin spoke about at length but which I did not include. Not everybody is.

      Reply
      1. Katie (Nature ID)

        Have you been to India? I’d be curious to know Kevin’s observations.

        Btw, I haven’t received e-mail notification for my last couple comments, even though the box shows I’ve checked it. Don’t know if it’s anything you can do on your end?

        Reply
        1. admin Post author

          Katie: I don’t seem to have control over e-mail notification to your end. Sorry.

          I’ve never been to India. What Kevin said was this: whenever it looks like you can do something easily in India — you really can’t. There’s always a problem, a complication, a hidden impossibility. You just have to learn to roll with it, like the Indians do. It’s just life. That said, he loved India because ‘there’s so much in it.” He compared the United States to a blank piece of paper, while likening India to a world atlas. He wasn’t a fan of Indian cities and the people in them, preferring the countryside and the country people, who he characterized as friendly, generous, honest.

          Aside from that, he chose to live in the north, because it’s cooler there, and he’s old now. Though I bet he could outrun me.

          Reply
  2. Otepoti

    You don’t need to worry about tech goggles, unless you adore gadgets. The three features of your writing that bring me back here are your skill with words, your decency and your sense of place. Rhumba’s illustrations and your camera work aren’t shabby, either.

    I’m thankful for this site. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

    Reply
  3. LK

    Hey Boomer! It’s the cosmic time of the week, according to Odd Bodkins – don’t know whether anybody else got the reference. Sounds like your encounter with your old friend was kind of cosmic. I always felt that I didn’t quite make the age cut for the ’60s counter-culture. I tried to make up for it by joining the Punk Movement in the late ’70s – always felt a bit betwixt-and-between. Anyway, I vote with Otepoti that it’s your writing that is the main attraction of your site. I like your pictures too. And Rhumba’s art works. Anyway, keep up the good work!

    Reply
    1. admin Post author

      LK, I knew you’d get the reference; you were the one who explained it to me. Thanks for the compliments; but words often benefit from a supplement.

      I know what you mean about being a child of the ’70s, the Letdown Decade. They started strong, and faded into the Reagan era, and we’re still stuck in that. With the standard youth culture centered around disco. Lordy. Puka beads — the horror. Yeah, I know — by the time punk came around you were in your late ’20s, responsible, employed, and not particularly resentful; not prime punk material. But you got around; I remember tagging along with you to the Mabuhay to see the Clash, and the Keystone to see the Plasmatics. So loud. I stood in the very back with my hands clamped to my ears and it didn’t matter; I think I lost ten percent of my hearing that night. Wendy Williams with electrician’s tape over her nipples. Twenty eight or not, it was another time.

      I actually liked the ’80s more than the ’70s, aside from the politics and the demolition of the welfare state. There were some interesting people in San Francisco then — no particular culture that the media identified with a name, but the precursors of what people call makers now. Some of them show up on TV from time to time as authorities on culture, and I say to myself, yeah, I knew you when you used to pull yourself across the Golden Gate Bridge on the substructure, or climb Sutro Tower. Or built giant fire-breathing robots and fought them against one another in parking lots south of Market; you, CC, and I went to one of those, I recall.I was too tame to be much but peripheral to all that, but it was fun to watch.

      Reply
  4. Linus

    Hey, do you have any idea of what is the name of the 4 guys playing on the street (your 2nd photo on this page)? Would appreciate a quick response since I don’t find anything about them anywhere else…
    Thanks, Linus

    Reply

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