Saturday, March 15, 2008
Catching Up with Mike
We went to Santa Cruz a few weeks ago, even though there was a storm brewin'. One of Suzy's co-workers had said he would be there because it was the best time to go-- you can watch the waves roll in and pound the pier, and there's hardly any people there. All the weather wimps stay home. So we went, packing lots of layers of clothing and raingear, for an overnight stay in the city where we like to spend a lot of our leisure time-- a place where we're comfortable, and where we've considered living, if we could find some way to make it work.
We headed over on a Saturday, early afternoon, well before the storm was to start to hit. We took Saratoga Avenue, which turns into Hwy 9, through the Los Gatos/Saratoga hills, passing through small towns like Felton and Ben Lomond, places that still have businesses with names like "Dottie's Diner" and "Jim's Bar," and not a fast food restaurant to be seen. Nary a Starbuck's or Jamba Juice, either.
We paused to snap some pictures of the beautiful moss covered forestation. We even grabbed a couple of fliers advertising some of the properties on the market, which included a log cabin, built in 1920, that had been reduced to a bargain basement asking price of $469,000. Mature landscaping included.When we arrived in Santa Cruz, we checked into our hotel and got dressed in layers so we could walk into downtown and have lunch at one of our favorite hangouts, 99 Bottles, a beer haven with pub grub that touts, literally, 99 bottles of beer on the wall, several of which are offered on tap. Suzy and I have both completed our first tour through the beer menu, consuming 99 different beers and earning our free t-shirt and our names & short quotes added to the Wall of Fame. I finished first, having started several years before I had even met Suzy; and incidentally, when Suzy finished about two years after I had, her name was added to the wall-- in the same booth as mine, so that we are just a few name plates away from each other. We couldn't have planned it better if we had tried.
Lunch was good, and we talked with some of the locals who patronized the pub on that day about some of the goings on around town. It's these sorts of conversations that Suzy and I treasure; it's a favorite sport of ours to frequent establishments and "serve and volley semantics" with the patronage. Some of the most interesting conversations and people have happened into our lives as we have bellied up to the bar. And although we arrived at a time when all stools at the bar were occupied, we sat at a table in the southwest corner of the front dining area and spoke to a mother and her son about the clam chowder cook-off that was occurring that weekend down at the wharf, and had gone on despite the foul weather. Yet another reason for us to return on another day and experience a festival of fun and food. Like we need reasons...
After lunch, we did some shopping and then headed back to the hotel to make plans for dinner. As we were walking up Soquel Avenue towards Water Street, I saw the following scene and paused to take a picture:But as I first looked to take the above picture, Suzy remarked that there was someone on the porch. I looked closer and asked if I could take a picture, but couldn't hear the response of the individual talking back to me. So I moved closer. And I met Mike. Here's the first picture I snapped:
Mike, Suzy and I talked for awhile about this and that, and he told us some stories about how this was his campsite, that he was just gonna hang out here, out of the rain, until the storm had passed.
He told us how he tried to live his life, always cleaning up after himself, using garbage cans how they're supposed to be used. He spoke of how he had some sleeping bags that were on their way, as promised by some earlier folks that he'd visited with. I took another picture of him, at his request, as he said-- "How about another one without the hat?"
I asked if he was here at this particular location often (not as a pick-up line, by the way), and that was when he talked about how this was his campsite. We exchanged some life stories, and he extolled the virtue that is life. "Life is great!" he preached, playfully and yet somberly. No joke. He wasn't being flip. He was being honest. And we honestly believed him.
I thanked him for his time and his stories, and asked him if he'd like a copy of the pictures I'd taken. He said that would be really nice. So I said I'd print them out and bring them by to him the next time we were passing through town. He thanked us, and we bid him well. Suzy gave him some money and he thanked her and said "God Bless You." All the while, with a smile.
We made it back to the hotel (after I paused to take the picture I had initially intended) and farted around, somewhat literally, until it was time to make a decision about dinner. By this time the storm was starting to whip up quite a ruckus, and so our plan to walk down to the wharf was receiving some serious 2nd and 3rd reconsiderations. Ultimately, we opted to gear up, bundle up, and walk on down to see what we'd find down at the wharf. Of course, this took a bit of time due to the fact that I was in Chatty Kathy mode, blathering about like some talk-radio personality that had miraculously awaken from a coma just minutes before "going live"... So we made it down to the wharf, decided on a restaurant, and proceeded to have a wonderful, peaceful, fulfilling meal and conversation. I took my leftovers to go, and after opting out of dessert and finishing a stellar after dinner cup of coffee, we began our walk back to our hotel.
To our surprise, the rain had stopped; Any wind left had been tamed to a whispering breeze. We had a very pleasant saunter back to the hotel. We happened upon the "Alto house" on our way, and so I decided to stop in again and see how Mike was holding up. He spoke much more slowly than he had earlier, his speech quite slurred, and I wondered if he had spent the money Suzy had given him on a bottle of medication of some sort. I asked him if he liked seafood, and handed him my leftover halibut when he said that he did. I told him what it was, and that he should probably eat it slowly or it might make him sick. He thanked us with a few simple words, but said them in a way that seemed to gather all the warmth in his heart and shower it gently over us. He spoke of his Guardian Angels that kept watch over him, and helped him through the rough patches in his life. And he said that he always tried to do right and that he had five dollars in his pocket and it was ours if we wanted it. I thanked him and said that we didn't need it.
I think it may have been the five dollars Suzy had given to him earlier.
He snuggled up to the leftovers, adjusting the welcome mat draped over his lap to keep his legs warm, and settled into eating. As we left him to his meal, he blessed us again. And we felt it.
The night was calm and soothing. I felt almost as if we were in the eye of the storm, so to speak. We got back to our hotel and peeled off our layers of clothing and prepared for sleep. Within minutes of returning to the sanctuary of our room, the wind kicked up, and the rain returned, and the storm once again began its assault upon the night. It was like we had been sheltered from it for our walk back from the wharf, and upon securing ourselves in our hotel room, the hounds had again been released.
I would not sleep much that night, thinking of all things poetic, symbolic, and monolithic. And inspirational.