Maverick is a word which appeals to me more than misfit. Maverick is active, misfit is passive. – Alan Rickman
Huddled together under Santa Cruz’s famous wharf, which next month celebrates its 100th year, a group of mavericks take shade from the September heat and northern Californian ocean breeze.
The local cop is telling them a tale about his weekend pursuits out shootin’ with the in-laws, laughing as he warns them not to leave the safe confines of their hideout without gathering up all their belongings. He knows they won’t be moving any time soon given they’re bunkered down smoking ‘medical’ marijuana which is legal here. They’re part of the towns misfits and war veterans from the ’70s that won’t let Santa Cruz forget.
On the other side of the bridge, two athletic-looking women gear up in wetsuits to ride the surf while a couple of guys drag their Malibu along the beach. A woman in a condo looks out over her balcony, drinking in the view as she sips coffee. It’s peaceful looking out over the wharf on a Tuesday afternoon. There are few tourists but still enough to create a queue at Marini’s at the Wharf where its famous ice cream sundaes and espresso bar draws the biggest crowd.
Along the length of the beach boardwalk amusement park a security guard patrols his beat on a suped-up Segway. Tourist Segways top out at 12 miles an hour, he says. He’s armed and on point and says his Segway is primed to move at 25mph! The eclectic mix of visitors mashed with the locals throw up a surprising number of incidents that keep this officer busy and in hot pursuit, especially during the light of day.
But it was the guy on the bicycle that really caught my attention. Screaming down Broadway where Ocean Street crosses, he reined in that push-bike with literally a rebel yell. “Whooh hoo, just made that!” he exclaimed as I stood at the light crossing.
Bare chested, fit and most likely in his 60s, few teeth and with a lisp he ranted to anyone who would listen that he’d rather ride a horse, Harley or push-bike. “The ‘dang’ cars need to be removed off roads.” Within the few minutes the lights were to change, I discovered he’d had three brushes with death, all involving his push-bike, horse or Harley. And none of them were his fault!
The first stoush with steel was the motherload of all hits. It happened in Texas where he’s from and “they had to virtually cut me out of that diesel truck”. Then three months ago, he got side swiped by a car that broke his femur and the doctor told him it’d take six months before he could get back on his horse and Harley. “Hell no,” he looked at me, “I said three months!” I never heard incident three as the lights changed. As I walked across the intersection wishing him a safe journey, given he was in need of some divine protection, he yelled back “God bless America and God bless you!”
I was warned about the crazies that frequent the streets of Santa Cruz. Few appear harmful, like the guy wandering down the river bank where I rode my bike in safety. He was happy talking to the bag held close to his chest. I gathered it contained all life’s possessions.
As one blogger put it: “Driving into Santa Cruz … it soon becomes apparent that this is a beach city in every sense of the term. Like many other coastal cities, this beach berg does attract down-to-earth non-conformists who, for example, don’t have any hesitation using hair colors that looked like they were chosen from a box of crayons. Think about your worst fashion nightmare for your teenage kids, and that’s what you sometimes see on the streets of Santa Cruz – which, of course, is part of the charm. You don’t travel just to see places exactly like home.”
Not all streets in Santa Cruz display such colourful behaviour. This place is thriving and September and October are the months to visit. On September 28, the city hosts the annual Thunderbirds on the Wharf, a collection of classic cars. The mural along Beach Street a reminder of the procession of cruising cars to come.
Then there’s the must-visit small ocean-side village of Capitola, where real estate is at a premium. Prices vary from $US600,000 to $US7 million-plus. If you could, you would want to move here. Most of the bars and restaurants face the ocean or sit along the freshwater estuary. It’s upmarket and trendy but still with that laid-back beach feel. And when in need of a big-city fix, San Francisco is not much further than an hour’s drive taking the scenic route along Highway 1.
Of course, if you really want to visit a So-Cal city where the rich and famous frequent, then there’s none better than Monterey-Carmel, a 45-minute drive from Santa Cruz and, as this website explains, it attracts Hollywood high society!
Judy Wilkinson is a freelance journalist who travelled the Californian coast from LA into Portland, Oregon,12 months ago returning a year to the day to revisit some of the more memorable coastal getaways.