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Whenever someone visits a place they come away with an impression. An impression based on the experiences they had and the spots in that place they visited. It’s possible that two people visiting the same place could come away with two completely different impressions. One could stay in a Holiday Inn, for example, on the edge of town off the highway exit ramp, have breakfast in a chain restaurant, shop at a mall and find the town to be generic, not unlike any other town in America. It’s harder to search out the obscure, wander the alleyways and try to discover what makes a place unique. Santa Cruz is a town that wears its eclecticism on its sleeve. It’s not hard to find the beating heart of this town and that’s a good thing.

We are sitting in the window of an old house. There are dark, roasted beers on the table. This house is unique because each room is filled with patrons, drinking coffee, diddling on lap tops,
talking. This is the kind of place we live for. It blurs the lines between commercial space and community hang out. It is dimly lit with old lamps, the rooms are opened up, all the doors removed. It is, quite literally, a coffee house. Out front is a garden, with fined trellises where folks can hang out, grab a table and drink beer or coffe, their choice. It has atmosphere so thick you can serve it with a cake knife but is not affected. It doesn’t feel like you have to be a hipster to hang here.

One thing does concern me though. My Mom brought it up once when we were sitting on old couches at the All Saints Cafe in Tallahassee. A similar sort of bohemian coffee shop, except housed in more of a warehouse than just a house. The place was packed but silent. Everyone without exception was staring at a laptop. No one was talking to anyone else. There was no lively debates about politics, religion or civic planning. I understand Tallahassee and Santa Cruz are college towns and there’s homework to do. But throughout history the greatest writers, philosophers and even scientists have emerged from a lively society of like minded individuals sharing ideas not through email but through that most endangered of activities, conversation.

As I write this I sit at a cafe and stare at a screen and talk to no one. I am not unaware of my own hypocrisy. I am not calling for the banishment of laptops from coffee shops. I’m just suggesting that a little peppering of “real life” healthy, stimulating conversation for example, might be a good balance to our digital life.

We arrived in Santa Cruz a little before noon. We rolled in off the foggy highway and entered into a sunny wonderland. A Farmers market was in full swing, the main street was teeming with tourists and college kids on skateboards. We sat at a sidewalk restaurant and ate pasta. We watched a family in a rented RV struggle to pull away from the sidewalk without taking out a bicycle locked to a street sign. We watched lots of folks on bicycles, more skateboards, motorcycles.

At an information booth we got some good info from a very lively girl withi a Mohawk. She had the kind of passion for this town that comes when someone finds that place where they feel at home. Where the memories of long and cold nights in some Missouri hinterland fade to a sunny beach town on the shores of sunny California. Where the inner Mohawk we’ve been hiding can finally and proudly be let out.

This place was fun, alive and unusual. We rode across town, towards the beach and found the Santa Cruz Youth Hostel on a quiet side street. We arranged for a few bunk beds for the evening and they let us park the motorcycles in back. The hostel was a grouping of small, white buildings around a courtyard. Large trees shaded a cluster of picnic tables and music came from a piano in one of the buildings.

I was eager to explore and Samantha was eager to shower and get out of her motorcycle boots. I hopped back on the Yamaha to see what I could see. A few blocks from the hostel the street dipped steeply down to the beach. Folks were playing beach volleyball, there were surfers walking around, or toting their boards on their beach cruises or riding the lazy break just off the point. It was a friendly, long boarders break and really crowded. Sailboats drifted on the windless Monterey Bay. Everyone was out, doing things. As I headed north along the beach road it climbed and passed a park until, just on the outskirts of town, the cold fog filled in again. It was as if Santa Cruz was a dream and I had gone too far out. I turned and rejoined the party in the sun.

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