Coastal Redwoods, Cathartically Empty Roads, and the Erudite Cat Caller in Santa Cruz, CA

I love all the redwoods. I love the transcendentalist feel. Driving by the beach I saw screaming, sunburned teens plummeting down the Big Dipper Roller Coaster; sea lions being cute and blubbery out on the pier, with no regard for their neighbors’ personal space; people in bikinis playing volleyball in the sand.

I wrote this as a senior in high school back in 2008, the day I toured Santa Cruz as a prospective UCSC student (though in the end I chose Davis).

Ten years later here I am again. A request from Salinas earlier in the morning morning takes me past vineyards and green orchards into Watsonville, where I pick up Sari,* who is headed to work at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. 

A city of 65,000, Santa Cruz is known for its scenic beauty and temperate climate. Many people began moving there between 1820 and 1840, with agriculture, lime processing, logging, and commercial fishing industries all beginning to prosper at the turn of the century. It’s now a very popular destination for surfers.

Downtown is pleasant and surf-themed in certain parts, peppered with oceanic breweries, bougie coffee shops, and the occasional art gallery. Inside the window of one, two metal figures attached at the hands dance with one another, their limbs long and lean like Gumby’s. Neither’s gender appears obvious nor relevant. As one lifts the other into the air, it’s not apparent whose limbs are whose, and it’s hard to tell where one figure ends and the other begins.

Vivifying the window of another art gallery down the block is a beautiful close-up of a horse’s eye that, even though it looks as if it has seen too much, has still emerged with a Zen-like acceptance (perhaps it’s in his horse nature).

“My dear, you walk with zeal and fervor!” a man yells to me from the pier, as I make my way towards the beach.

The jarring juxtaposition between the unsolicitedness of his yelling (we weren’t even making eye contact) and his polished, erudite vocabulary throws me off.

Down at the pier seals nap, occasionally rough-house with one another, and preen on the wooden docks below our feet. 



“Remember when we were little and we used to do that?” I hear a five-year-old boy say to his friend, which first makes me laugh, then gets me thinking about the relativity of age. The dad of one of them organizes his wallet while the kids wax nostalgic.

It’s move-out day for UCSC freshmen, so Lyft requests–mostly from students and their families–are abundant. One of the passengers, Oscar,* arrives at my car out of breath. 

“I was just inside a hair parlor, ” he explains. “And right as the hairdresser was about to start hacking away, my friend texted saying that the dorms were about to close, and that if I wasn’t back by noon I’d be locked out, since they cut off card access at that time. I apologized to the hairdresser, tore off my apron, and bolted from my seat to come meet you.”

Soon into our ride Oscar expresses excitement about his upcoming trip to Mexico City (where much of his family lives). He switches to Spanish after I tell him that I’d lived in Uruguay and can speak fluently, expressing how after graduating he wants to move back down to LA to teach high school students how to code.

“Muchas personas en Los Angeles no saben hacer código. Yo quiero enseñar a la gente donde hay una necesidad.” / “Many people in Los Angeles don’t know how to code. I want to teach where there’s a need.

As I ascend the hill from downtown to the Santa Cruz campus, the yellow fields to our left and right are speckled with what look like little patches of broccoli. A baby deer prances across the street.

“Have you ever eaten a giraffe?” asks another male passenger, dressed in a tan cloth shirt. Face placid and voice calm, his tone is as casual as if he has just asked me how my weekend was. His green backpack sits like a small child and or a leprechaun on the seat next to him.

Why would I have?? Has HE? What does giraffe even taste like? I wonder. But instead I just respond with, “That sounds a little too adventurous for me.” We ride in silence for the remainder of the trip.

Another passenger uses the term “dermatological implication”–which I love. Try saying it out loud a few times. It’s pretty fun.


# Lyft Thoughts: On Driving Empty Roads

There’s something about trafficless streets and roads free from bumps or potholes. When my car glides over smooth black pavement, it’s an unexpected relief. Evenly paved streets, like quiet and rooms without clutter, exemplify to me how sometimes it’s not so much the additions but the subtractions that can leave us most contented.

Slight cognitive leap here: learning, growing, and staying curious are core values of mine– but I think unlearning throughout the course of one’s life is just as important. Because wisdom often fills in the spaces left behind by what we’ve consciously chosen to unlearn.

Another cognitive leap: some of us identify so closely with our acquired beliefs that parting with them feels inconceivable.

They’ve governed our behavior for so long after all. Some of them have kept us safe (or at least provided an illusion of safety).

It almost feels like to empty our minds of them is to admit defeat; or to carry a mark on our record thereafter.

Back to the trafficless road though: a reminder of the loveliness of simplicity– especially as Bay Area congestion grows and physical space becomes ever scarcer.


Bigger Passenger Story: the Dissimilar but Harmonized Brother-Sister Duo

According to passenger Paxton*, he and his younger sister Miranda couldn’t be more different. Having never been a strong test-taker, passenger Paxton was scatterbrained while his sister had always been more structured.

“She just got a full scholarship to Yale. She was the first in our immigrant family to go to college; everyone was proud of her,” Paxton explains.

He describes her as someone who “on the road of life, doesn’t like to stop much along the way.” Boundaries must be put in place, even if they might hurt some people. You can’t please everyone, she often says. People of Miranda’s type are practical, productive, and absolutely necessary for keeping society in order.

Miranda fears martyring herself the way the Giving Tree did. Fears wasting time by dedicating herself to endeavors that help neither themselves nor the people around them nor the world at large. Her approach is utilitarian—not selfish.

 People with her tendencies and thought patterns might say something like Lucia Berlin wrote in her book A Manual for Cleaning Women: “The only reason I have lived so long is that I let go of my past. Shut the door on grief on regret on remorse. If I let them in, just one self-indulgent crack, whap, the door will fling open gales of pain ripping through my heart blinding my eyes with shame breaking cups and bottles knocking down jars shattering windows stumbling bloody on spilled sugar and broken glass terrified gagging until with a final shudder and sob I shut the heavy door. Pick up the pieces one more time.”

Paxton describes himself as reflective and innovative. He allows himself to explore and fail, if necessary. He loses focus easily. People of his type may have an end goal, but their path to arriving at it is flexible and varied. They’re prone to stopping along the way. Dreamy, creative, and meandering, they are absolutely necessary for keeping society from hardening into a homogenous conglomerate of rigidly uninspired thinkers.

Miranda fears martyring herself the way the Giving Tree did

While Miranda’s type like to do one thing at a time as thoroughly as they can, and in a linear fashion, Paxton’s prefer having several projects going at once. The absence of pressure to be thorough at times allows for beauty and creativity to surface.

As was brought to light in the Pixar movie Inside Out, there is a purpose to every emotion. So too is there a purpose for every personality type.

I’m of the belief that when two contrasting types work together they’ll gain new tools that can enrich both of their lives, allowing them to accomplish more than what either could have done on their own.

Paxton has found this in his relationship with his younger sister, even though before, the two couldn’t relate to each other very well. Hearing him say this gives me hope, just in a general sense.

To close off (cornily) with a “working together” quote:

“Often we behave as if “closeness” means “sameness.” But one of the hallmarks of emotional maturity is to recognize the validity of multiple realities.” —Harriet Lerner


Photo credits


Smooth empty road—

Published by esteph42190

A 30-year-old queer bilingual writer born and raised in the Bay Area, I’ve been writing since before I knew how to spell. Balancing my generative energy with a desire to inform, as a child I printed and distributed to classmates publications that included The News Newsletter and Health Digest (ironic considering I also ran an illicit candy business that landed me in the principal’s office several times). As a student at UC Davis I wrote for The California Aggie, with pieces ranging from an exploration of gender roles in the movie Tangled to my own weekly psychology column. After graduating I kept a bilingual blog of my 14 months living in Montevideo, Uruguay, and upon returning continued to blog about social issues and human psychology.

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