Good Morning Eleanor
In 2007, I retired after 50 years as a Computer Scientist. My wife and I lived our entire lives in Upstate New York, just south of Saratoga Springs. In 1865, Saratoga California was named after our New York Saratoga Springs because the California mineral springs were similar to those in New York.
After retirement, we started to regularly visit our daughter who has lived in Santa Cruz for over twenty years. We rented homes on West Cliff Drive for 4-6 weeks each March/April, shortening the cruel winters we had back East. For special occasions, we would return in September/October for a short stay. One September our son-in-law's band played at the Monterey Jazz Festival.
Californians are fortunate because their shoreline is more accessible to the ordinary citizen than the coast in the North East. The California Coastal Commision regulates private development near the ocean whereas, in the North East, homes and hotels can be built adjacent to the ocean, limiting public access to the shorelines. West Cliff Drive offers a three-mile walk from the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf to Natural Bridges State Beach sharing its interesting formations and vistas with anyone, regardless of social status. Parking, although a challenge, is free.
My Santa Cruz mornings followed a routine that started around 7:30 am. I picked up the brew of the day at Coffeetopia on Mission Street, a Mercury News at the U Liquor Store, then off to my meeting with Eleanor on West Cliff.
Many of the wooden benches on West Cliff are dedicated to individuals, A brief dedication statement and the honoree's name are carved into the back seat of the wooden bench. Eleanor's friends and relatives chose a bench across from the first place we rented in 2007. I imagine this bench was special to her and her family and friends. In subsequent years we stayed at four different homes, all a short distance from Eleanor's bench.
Eleanor's relatives picked a beautiful location. Her bench is close enough to the busy sidewalk to enjoy the passing walkers, talkers, runners, dogs, and folks that keep Santa Cruz weird. Near enough to the ocean to experience the unique vistas of Monterey Bay. Over the years I recognized the regulars, and they sometimes recognized me, the seasonal regular. Some days folks would join me on Eleanor's bench for a quick chat, mostly about the view, the weather and the occasional whale spouts we could see in the distance. No politics, religion or complaining here.
I met one couple who visited their aunt on West Cliff each March. They also had a West Cliff routine, passing Eleanor around 8:00 each morning. On their walk back home they would stop at our bench around 8:30 and talk about the weather, family, our backgrounds and, of course, the unique views of the ocean we shared.
I would read the Mercury News and then sit and enjoy the smells, the views of Monterey Bay and the sounds of the crashing waves on the rocky shore. Each morning the seagulls would glide above the waves on their way to Natural Bridges Beach. The occasional California sea otter would drift on its back above the kelp beds just a few yards from shore. On clear days, I could see the looming towers of the Moss Landing Power Plant. At the far end of the crescent that defines Monterey Bay, I could make out the outline of Pacific Grove, 46 miles away by car, but a mere 25 miles as the seagull flies. I usually stayed at the bench an hour or so, just gazing at the ocean, sometimes as calm as a lake and other times with waves interesting enough to attract the early morning surfers. I imagined the surfers checked the morning surf reports on KPIG before deciding if work would have to wait an hour or two.
As I grew older, I sat on the bench wondering if I would return the next year to visit with Eleanor and the peaceful, idyllic place that West Cliff offered us in the morning. Did Eleanor have similar thoughts, as she gazed across the Bay from her favorite bench?
In January 2018 my wife and I made the big move from our home of 47 years in Upstate New York to Aptos. The temperature was 5F below zero when we left Albany and 61F above zero when we arrived in San Jose. I haven't worked out my daily routine yet. Living in Aptos is like living in paradise. Although I'm ten minutes from Rio Del Mar Beach, I never go there in the mornings. I do stop at Pacific Roasting Company for a coffee and muffin. My Mercury News is delivered to my driveway each morning. My La-Z-Boy recliner is a poor substitute for Eleanor's bench. Occasionally I've returned to visit Eleanor, but the travel time during rush hour is just too long to keep up my old routine.
Thank you, Eleanor, for sharing your bench with me. Perhaps we'll meet someday and share our love for your bench, West Cliff and Santa Cruz.