Letters to Santa Cruz

03/12/2020 5 By BuddyCushman

You couldn’t have asked for a better day. I’d been crashing at my friend Gabe Zimmerman’s apartment in Noe Valley in San Francisco, looking for work and possibly a new life out west here, and Gabe said he had a friend in Santa Cruz and let’s tool down there for the weekend, I will for sure dig it, my kind of place he said, hip and cool and with the most wonderful beachside ocean feel. So we loaded up into his Datsun wagon and headed straight south down the 280 all the way to the 17, which is famous I guess and goes up and through and over the coastal mountains and we took a slight detour to a town called Felton and Gabe showed me where he had lived in another lifetime not so long ago, and apparently that whole area had flooded out after he left, which was interesting and all but Santa Cruz called and his friend Desiree who he’d known for years, never sexually he pointed out just friends, and we arrived in another 45 minutes, like I said it was gorgeous out and Gabe was right, the whole place was beautiful, all up on hills overlooking the Pacific, there was an amusement park and a long boardwalk and Desiree’s house was a cottage in a neighborhood of cottages in a bunch of criss-crossing streets in a little basin in the hills and we went in and they hugged, Gabe and Desiree, and her roommates too, and I was introduced and told to leave my backpack on the front porch where there was an old comfy couch on which I would be sleeping.

This was 1982 late summer and I had started running in ‘81, jogging with real running shoes and running shorts and an old torn U2 ‘War’ t-shirt, and as they were going to be reminiscing and I’ve never been a big people person I got my running stuff from my pack and heard directions and began running from in front of their house and down a few winding streets and then I was on a dirt path a ways and also Cliff Drive up above the beach and the ocean was blue and green and powerful and the sand was tan and white with people all over it and there were seagulls swirling and no clouds in the bright blue sky and every number of 50 or 100 yards there would be a gnarled pine or cypress tree or a kind of tree I didn’t know, with bright copper peeling bark, strips just hanging down, and I think I ran something like three miles out from where I started at Desiree’s and back around two miles, walking the rest on the boardwalk because there is something about a long slow walk after a run that lets me see different, how do I say this, easier I guess is a good word. I see easier. Everything feels easier in the afterglow of a good run.

Dinner was in the kitchen on a long wood table, Desiree and Gabe and her roommates, two women and a guy – that would be Jenna, Gracie, and Albert – had cooked up a huge pot of spaghetti and thrown a big salad together, I remember it was loaded with radishes among lots of other chunky veggies, and we chowed down heavily and it was nice sitting there with all them and mostly listening to wild conversation about a new food co-op in town and a sewage leak into a big stream that runs into the ocean south of here, and some freak running for the city council who had no chance but was getting to talk about very cool issues, and then they began talking about this group Bonnie Hayes and the Wild Combo who were playing at a place called the Tracy Club closer to the ocean and Bonnie was wicked and fabulous and we simply had to go and it was after a group cleanup and me doing the bulk of the dishes, call that dues, that we all sat on big arm chairs and a couple of couches in the living room and a number of joints began making their way around, and sometimes you smoke pot and it’s like a cigarette and sometimes you smoke it and its more like a fucking rocket ship and these joints in this Santa Cruz living room in the house of Desiree were of the rocket nature, and of course back in 1982 I was continuing to drink like a fish and Gabe and I had stopped – at my request – at a liquor store in a town called Soquel and I’d bought three sixes of Hamm’s and I proceeded, all lit up from the mary jane, to drink about seven beers before we piled into a van I think belonged to Albert – “Call me Al, Bro” – and pretty much rolled down the hill to the club and I remember nearly none of the night there except Bonnie was hot – even though honestly I thought Gracie was hotter, as in smoking, but she didn’t pay me 15 seconds of attention the whole weekend – but if there was good music and dancing, rough housing, ugly words or words of love, I could not tell you, nor how I found myself with my sneakers and socks off sideways on the porch couch sometime the next morning. At breakfast, which I skipped except for a mug of coffee with extra cream, they told me it had been a special night and yes, Buddy, you had yourself a righteous time though apparently you neglected to ask that Mexican chick for her phone number, dumbass, and now it was Sunday and before we left I walked down the street and found a turnaround place and looked out at the big, big ocean for 20 minutes or so and then Gabe hugged everyone and I shook hands with Al and I did get Desiree’s last name and address and I promised I’d write, being all grateful for a wonderful time and brand new experience, and I am quite happy to say that though I have not stepped foot in Santa Cruz all these years since, I’ve written maybe 30 letters to Desiree, and got about that many back. Pretty far out.

And, oh, a few years down the road I saw Bonnie Hayes and her combo in the movie “Valley Girl” starring Nicolas Cage and Deborah Foreman, and told the girl I was with in the theater, a sweetie from Lexington (MA) named Frannie, “I saw her live one time”, and a couple weeks later I bought her record at Newbury Comics, which all this is pretty much my Santa Cruz story. Other than I’ve seen “The Lost Boys” a few times.