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Top 5 Santa Cruzest Santa Cruz Stories

23/08/2009

So I’m currently flying back from CA to IL. Reflecting on the summer and what being in Santa Cruz was like. Santa Cruz is its own little foggy bubble, full of hippies and good cafes, organic food, beachgoers, dreadlocks, vegans, dyed hair, sparkling apple juice.

Unfortunately I have been too busy to share some of the quintessential Santa Cruz experiences I had as they occurred — and now I have the added perspective of looking back at the whole summer and picking out the highlights. Some of these events I would like to repeat more than others. Just sayin’.

1) Can I finish that milkshake?
The night of the second Teacrawl Santa Cruz, we ended up at Saturn Cafe at the end of the night, the retro vegetarian cafe where the bathrooms are labeled “robot” and “alien”. I ordered a turkish coffee milkshake, which is certainly one of the best things I have eaten in my life. (Coffee grounds still in the milkshake = YUM.) The only thing more intense than this drink is the turkish coffee ice cream sundae. You think you’re doing okay until you take a spoonful of the fudgey gritty chocolate at the bottom and then you feel like you might explode/melt/turn into chocolate. Anything can happen. Disclaimer to either of these treats: if you plan on going to sleep less than 5 hours after consumption… well, scratch those plans.

I made it through 3/4 of my milkshake and my teacrawl buddies Bhargav and Mukund were working through their delicious vegetarian diner food. It was certainly past 1 am, and we were considering leaving. But before we did so, a group of about 6 people (maybe in their late 20s?) walked in and sat down at the table next to us. They were all certainly on some kind of substance (not sure what kind — nothing was particularly odorous). However, one guy in the group decided to sit down at the empty chair at our table instead of with his friends. He introduced himself as Justin. He was all about talking to us and what we were up to, where we were from, etc. He asked Bhargav and Mukund about their Indian heritage and began telling stories about playing the sitar. And cooking Indian food. And how we should come by and cook with him. Surprisingly, he didn’t actually ask us for any contact information but instead made Bhargav take *his* phone number.

I was hoping he would decide to resume hanging out with his friends instead of us, but he showed no signs of losing interest in our table. He eyed the remains of my milkshake, and asked me what I’d ordered (as our waiter was coming by his friend’s table and wanted to take his order). I explained the turkish coffee milkshake, and that it was delicious. At which point, he asked me if he could try it. Have the melty slightly warm bottom of my milkshake? Uhhh sure, it’s all yours. Justin proceeded to snarf down the rest of my milkshake. No really, you can keep it, Justin. I’m not gonna need that back. And finally, he took note of my not-so-subtle body language (I had progressed from looking a little bored to full-on glare of death) and said goodbye to us. We left, feigning exhaustion.

But Bhargav still has his number, so anytime we really need to contact him… we’re set.

2) Tree 9 by Star/Flashlight
The UC Santa Cruz campus is full of legendary things. Caves, koi ponds, stages in the middle of the woods. Another is Tree 9, a large tree out in the forest in upper campus, that students like to go climb. I missed several opportunities to climb tree 9 with other SURF-ITs, but Joey was interested in going with me, so one Friday night he came down to Santa Cruz with his friends Nikki and Derek. While I waited for them to arrive, I spent time with the other SURF-ITs, taking quizzes in Cosmo to determine whether Wade was “good girl hot” or “bad girl hot” (“good girl hot” by a long shot).

Soon Joey arrived with his friends and an array of flashlights. I lent Nikki some socks and tennis shoes so that we could go out to the forest to find this tree, following a combination of directions from the internet and David’s explanation. We wandered off into the forest. Wooded areas, a small clearing, and more trees. We found a large tree that looked similar to the pictures I’d seen of tree 9, but there appeared to be no good way of climbing it. Instead of giving up and heading back, we stopped in the clearing for a long time and stargazed, with the help of iPhone to identify celestial bodies.

After maybe ten or fifteen minutes of stargazing, we heard someone coming up the path. We rudely pointed our flashlights at him, trying to determine who this was. As he passed us, he said nothing, and neither did we — this was one of the most awkward moments of my life. I didn’t get a good look at him, but he was certainly walking very deliberately alone at night in the forest. I was a little surprised he hadn’t done anything like murdered us, but I wanted to head back anyway. About 20 minutes of walking later, we were back at my apartment. Mission: FAILED.

This time, we asked Tina and some of the others for better directions. Instead of trying to explain, she and Steph actually came with us and led us to tree 9. It was only about a third as far as we had walked before, and in a completely different location. I couldn’t quite tell that we were even on a path.

But when we arrived, it was clear that this tree, unlike the last, was actually climbable — tree 9 actually has a swing and a rope ladder. Joey climbed first, and I followed, climbing to the first branch. Tina and Steph headed back. Derek leapt up the tree and disappeared so far up that we couldn’t see or hear him anymore. Nikki climbed up and was fairly brave about it. At all times, someone was standing at the bottom, pointing flashlights up at the tree.

Eventually Derek decided to climb down and we found our way back, this time feeling much more accomplished. The night ended, unsurprisingly, at Saturn Cafe before heading to Santa Clara.

3) West Byrd and the 3 Pergolesi Musketeers
One day, about 2 weeks before I left Santa Cruz, I decided to head downtown to work at a cafe. On the bus ride down, there was a girl in front of me, clearly a UCSC student. Across the aisle, blonde guy was clearly very interested in talking to her, and did not let her even THINK about ending their mostly-one-sided conversation. He was new to Santa Cruz but definitely also a student, and they talked about sci-fi books and the school and the town etc.

The guy was hugely enthusiastic about Santa Cruz, and was describing his first time at Pacific Avenue downtown. “I felt like I was in Star Wars, you know that scene where Luke and Obi-Wan go to meet Han, and there are all the weird creatures?” I did not interrupt their conversation with “guys, seriously, it’s called the Mos Eisley Cantina” as clarification, but I really wanted to and demand a little more expertise before you start throwing around Star Wars references. In any case, this was still the best description I have heard of what Pacific Avenue is like. As we pulled into the bus station, I saw a crowd of five teenagers in plaid skinny-pants and red spiked hair that was several feet long. Yep, aliens. (It’s pretty clear which bathroom they need to use at Saturn Cafe).

I started walking and the same guy happened to be walking near me. Though I hadn’t said anything during the conversation on the bus, it was clear that I had been somewhat involved and paying attention. We talked a bit now and I discovered he was from Boston but goes to school in Vermont, a philosophy major who just decided to take summer classes at Santa Cruz. We stopped to get food at a vegetarian-friendly Mexican place, and then headed to Pergolesi. At some point he handed me a very minimalistic business card that said just his name: West Byrd (how about that for a name?!)

At Pergolesi I ordered my mocha chai. Soon a pair of white and black macbooks came out, as we sat in the room off to the right with the white tables. On the opposite side of the room there were three tables, each occupied with one customer each, men varying in age but all much older than myself. One was a repeat customer who likes to play WoW and talk on his headset. West Byrd hadn’t been to Pergolesi before, so he needed the wireless password. I tried to tell him what the password was, and somehow this erupted into a full-room conversation that went something like this:

Me: Oh it’s a12345
West: Thanks
Guy1: It’s a12345
Guy2: She JUST said that
Guy3: (plays WoW) yeah she did
Guy2: How about we tell it to her one more time? It’s a12345
Me: Yep, got it, thanks
Guy1: I was just trying to tell her
Guy3: Uhh…

I’d never seen a dialogue among so many customers who did not know each other, all sitting at different tables. Finally the room quieted down and we could use the internet in peace.

After West Byrd left, I stayed for a bit longer. At some point, Guy1 or 2 made an announcement to the room (but somewhat directed at me).

Guy: What is it… you can’t read?
Me: Um… what?
Guy: You like, can’t read or … what’s it called??
Me: (pause in confusion) you mean “illiterate”?
Guy: That’s it!! Thank you…
Me: Crossword puzzle or…?
Guy: No I just forgot it.

Not one of the most coherent conversations I have been a part of.

4) Yoga with and without Joy
When I came to California, I knew I wanted to try yoga. Admittedly, this is mostly because of Seth and Sandy Cohen standing in the kitchen in an episode of the first season of The OC, making fun of Kirsten’s yogalates class. “Yogalates” — it’s so fun to say. I figured just plain old yoga without the pilates would be good enough, so I looked into classes at the university. There was one on Wednesday nights, and Sarah had said she was interested too. She’s a much more “make a plan and then round people up” type of person, so she sent some emails to all the SURF-ITs asking if anyone wanted to come. We had a few takers, as well as Bhargav, who ended up visiting that night. We headed down to college eight and found the class. It was in a red room full of yoga students, mats, blocks, straps, and blankets. Most equipment was gone already, but we made do and squeezed into a row of yoga students.

Joy, our teacher, is pretty much just how I would imagine a yoga teacher. In her 30s, short blonde hair. In pretty good shape. Soothing voice. Toe ring. She played soothing music from her iPod and taught us basic yoga poses. I achieved some level of relaxation. It was nice.

We continued going to yoga, almost every week. There was always some group (I think about half of the SURF-ITs tried it at one point or another) and a few fairly consistent yoga students. I looked forward to it every week, especially towards the end of the summer when we got into a routine of Yoga, going for a teacrawl with Bhargav and Pete and the two Russian girls who were here, and then heading back up to campus. The only problem with yoga was that the class was just too popular, and you had to worry about stretching your arms out to the sides and hitting someone. Anyway, Joy taught us many a yoga pose and how to relax and let your thoughts float away instead of letting the mind keep racing. For 1.5 hours a week, at least. Every time, the extreme relaxation from savasana at the end made me completely certain I needed to come back next week.

One week, we had a different yoga teacher, who was a little odd. His instructions were too fast for me, but he did talk about creativity and finding poses that feel good to you rather than pushing yourself. Interesting. But thankfully, Joy was back the following week and yoga continued at a more reasonable pace.

Finally, this Wednesday, I was fairly pumped about my last round of yoga for the summer. I headed down to college eight and met Willi and Pete there (this was Willi’s first time trying yoga). Unbelievably, we were met with this sign:

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Thanks a lot, Joy! Way to ruin my relaxation and add more stress into my day! We were thoroughly disappointed, but I decided to try going into the empty room anyway and it was open. Score! So we taught Willi yoga and found that we remembered enough poses to keep us occupied for as long as a normal class. It was much more relaxing to have only three people in the big room and not have to worry about hitting anyone. The high ceiling and the fact that we start yoga-ing in daylight but it’s dark out by the end of our class makes it a great place and time for yoga. Relaxation: achieved. Willi also had a good nap during savasana.

Bonus: Now I could teach yoga classes as a night job!

5) Sitting and staring at Joe’s
It was Monday of everyone’s last week in Santa Cruz. Adrienne and I wandered down to lunch around 12:45, which is early for us. We are night owls and on a somewhat skewed schedule, so we often missed people at lunch. Monday was a good day, though, and we hit Joe’s right when everyone else was there. They were mostly eating/had eaten, and even with the sometimes long waits at Joe’s, everyone, including Adrienne and I were certainly done by about 1:30. At this point, a few people headed back to lab. The rest of us didn’t seem particularly eager. We weren’t really having a conversation either. After a few minutes, everyone was sort of staring off into space or at things around the room. Occasionally we would exchange a few words or laugh (at the fact that we were all just quiet and staring), but it was mostly just quiet.

And we continued to sit and stare.

Everyone in their own separate direction.

For a half hour…

This was one of the most relaxing, peaceful experiences of my summer. I really felt like all of us had successfully adopted some part of the Santa Cruz chill as a result of this summer. And that we had achieved something GREAT.

There are many more Santa Cruz stories, not all of which I have time to tell. Other things that come to mind are visiting Chaikhana, meeting and befriending Russian and German travelers, interacting with street performers in downtown, Patrick and Tina’s serious issues with our rude waitress at Kianti’s on Adrienne’s 21st, all the time spent working with Patrick and others at Asana, memorable baristas, Shakespeare Santa Cruz, the alleged Italian travelers with Monopoly, the girlfriend of a grad student in my lab as a hitchhiker, and Dannyland.

But this flight is actually going to be over in about 45 minutes so I have run out of time for stories. Too bad Santa Cruz isn’t a 13 hour flight away from Chicago like Japan is (just kidding. That would suck.)

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Seal-ed with a Koki (and Matsujun)

2/06/2009

Today something amazing came in the mail from California. What as it? Why, it was Tanaka Koki (from KAT-TUN, one of the most important (?) modern day Japanese boy bands).

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For those of you who don’t necessarily recognize him, he looks something like this:
Tanaka Koki

He was accompanied by a matching pillow, which was none other than the practice-your-kanji seal!

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If you don’t recognize the seal, well, he sometimes creeps up on kanji-practice notebooks:

The legend goes as follows: Tanaka Koki, being one of the less-pretty KAT-TUN members, sometimes gets angry. Angry enough to slay seals. But listen up, Japanese students, only *you* can prevent seal extinction, by practicing your kanji! Learn it!

Thanks to Hannah for this and many more inappropriate/hilarious pictures of Japanese celebrities. It was all sealed with a Matsujun (if you don’t know who he is, read the previous post.)
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