Posts Tagged ‘California’

I think i became disillusioned with San Francisco when i was here in 2001. I arrived at night on September 10th, and woke up the next morning to the incident that has shaped so much of recent history. And just as 9/11 changed the lens through which many americans viewed the world, my time here, changed how i saw this place. The rosy glasses that i had worn were removed, never to be put back on. As a teen i had fallen in love with the city, it was the place of my dreams, where i would run away to, a place i could be free and grow. I had built it into a place that i could never be, and never was, probably not even for me.

It was the first time i had been to the city in years. A lifetime had passed since my previous forays, 1989 for a few day and 1986, in my student activist days, was the last time i had really spent anytime here. Even then the illusion had faded, and glasses had become more clear, but still i remembered the dreams of this place and of that time in 1986 that i had hitch-hiked down here. In between a lifetime had passed, my more conventional years. I had just left my home five weeks before, my “career” not long before that, and had no idea what this journey would entail. Then as now i did not really know where i was going, and i had absolutely no idea how long the road would be. But it was here i awoke on that major day in american history.

It is hard now to remember that girl who i once was then. I was not really a girl, had just turned 36, but when i look back i seem so fresh-cut and fresh-faced. My journey to here had just begun, i was not ragged down and all was new. Though i think about it now, and even then i was revisiting many places where i had been through, reliving a trip of my youth. Though in those five weeks my spirited had awoken with god’s beauty shown on the coast, and stepping out of my confines, something was gnawing away underneath, and all was not quite as rosy as i imagined it would be on my trip on down the coast. I had unconsciously wanted to capture myself as i had been all those years before, but just as i will never be the person i was when i made that trip, back then i could not be the person who i had been on the trip all those years before. Too many years, events, and life unfolded in between. I had not understood what i was feeling or why i felt as i did, so i pushed on forward, onto adventure southward bound to San Francisco.

Truth be told i was not coming out here, did not really see San Francisco as a stopping point when i left. For close to a year i’d been collecting travel brochures – mexico, central america, new zealand and the southwest. But i told myself no, i was totally burnt out and initially planned to go to Colorado and journey from there. But as departure time was approaching, i changed my mind, and bought one to Vancouver instead. And slowly began my journey south along the coast.

I was supposed to come to San Francisco on September 11, but had caught a cold and come down one day early. I had been up in Klamath at the Redwoods Hostel on the northern coast several miles south of Crescent City. It was raining and i was feeling cold – back in the days before i had raingear, back before i was comfortable in nature, for i still was then a more of a city girl. I had spent a day walking a few short trails, but the season was over, there were few people and i heard some stories of bad bears, so did not venture much further afield. I walked and sat on the beach, mesmerized by the pelicans flying above and the waves that crash on huge rocks and the shore and the shapes and tones of the clouds that rolled.I walked down the highway to where i though i might find a more populated trail through the redwoods, but what i found was a giant carving was of Paul Bunyan and his ox and steep admission fees. I had come down the coast, to see the redwoods, and never really explored such a place. But the all day lockout from the hostel was long, almost the entire day, and i was chilled and the other trails seemed lonely and so far away. I did not wish to spent the day in crescent City that i had passed through to come down here, an hours and a half break in McDonalds in a parking lot of another strip mall and a safeway. The coastal towns were starting to blur, so much the same.
I changed my plans and decided to go one day early and got a refund. Those were the days when greyhound still had two buses that ran down the coast. The road twisted and turned in front of the hostel and i did not know where to stand. I walked past the stop on the road, the day was lighter as i stood there, past the time the bus was to arrive. I flagged it down and it almost did not stop and the driver chewed me out for standing in the wrong place. I did not have a ticket, but let me on the bus, and i bought my ticket in Arcata or Eureka. I did not know what i was thinking then, or was it still in many locales where there were no stations you could buy your ticket on the bus. It was a long ride down, passed through Garberville, a hippie enclave where i argued with a woman beside me on the bus – no idea what was all about. I had no reservations in the city and no cell phone. I spent breaks on the way down calling hostels, fisherman’s wharf, where i had reservations for the 11th was full that night, as were many others, i got worried and saw little more, but thankfully i found a bed at the Green Tortoise.

I arrived at the Transbay Terminal, tired and not sure where i was, and took a cab to the hostel. The hostel was different from those where i had been – younger and hipper and with a certain vibe. I got my bed, imagined my previous trip across the country back in ’86 and felt a bit old and kinda frumpy with my “proper” travelling clothes. It was a warm night and went and ate dinner, pasta and wine, at a street side table on Columbus street and all seemed perfect for a while. I went to bed early, slept poorly – across from the hostel were strip clubs and bars which kept me up at night with loud music – and got up early the next morning.

I went into the dark large eating area with the tv and the big screen a place where people were smoking. i had quit back then, and the stench bothered me. Had my free breakfast, feeling uncertain about the cleanliness of the kitchen. Sat down and wondered why the silence, all watching a disaster movie on the big screen, I watched as a jet liner repeatedly crashed into a large building and wondered what the hell was this. “watching big screen disaster movies at this hour of the day!”, i thought, “thank god i can soon move to the other place”

As i went into the lobby i had the feeling that something was off. I was going to the reception desk to ask about bus routed and the people just stared at little television screens, and i asked what movie was this. it was not a movie, an attack they said, the world trade building had just been hit. News was still breaking that day, rumours (still don’t know if true) about the areas near the wharf being cut off. I could extend my stay there, and cancelled my reservations down at fishermans wharf.

I stayed on just over another week – watched the news for a few days constantly – CNN on the big screen. I annoyed at some girls on the second day merely concerned about their flights, But that day i walked around San Francisco stunned. My lunch was a smoothie from jamba juice in the deserted downtown core – i did not wish to eat and most everything else was closed. I was staying near the Transamerica building, empty at first and then i watched them set up the barricades.

It was that day that i really noticed the homeless as all those who worked in the centre but lived outside did not come to town for a few days. That day the rich who lived nearby, the tourists and the homeless seemed to be the only ones out in the streets. I was shocked by the ragged bodies strewn in front of metal grates on shut down stores on Market Street. Wandered blindly, Columbus street and empty downtown core.
over the next week i walked around, the time a bit of a blur. A few days later i made my way down to fishermans wharf and it seemed like no one was there. But i heard a barking sound, and followed it and so i discovered the sea lions at pier 39. I watched the sea lions play, swim and climb on the decks, jockey for position and bask in the sun. Their barks were songs to my ears – and for a brief moment by worries and cares disappeared. I went down several times to visit them in that time there, and i still go back every time i pass through town. Seen them in many locales in the past nine years, and still smile when i hear their song. There have fewer here my last times through, but today the planks were full again.

I know that over the following week, i did many tourist things; rode the cable cars, went to chinatown, and visited Alcatraz, the long lines for tickets having disappeared. I went to a peace concert in the Yerba Buena gardens sitting on the lawn. Beautiful harp music played calming my frayed nerves . But concern for the nation and what would happen wracked away at my brain. a state of war? would we invade? would America turn to a police state, civil liberties stripped away? I could not make any decision, for several days no long-distance transport ran, and then for a while later busses and trains were sold out. I thought of going down to Santa Cruz, a planned stop on this trip, but ran back north across the border to Vancouver, Canada as soon as i could. I see now, that like the nation, a feeling of fear oozed into me. And i have spent much time in there and in victoria, it a place i looped back through and through again for so many years.

And so that day here put forth a path that i have followed for so many years. I have wondered, what if i stuck to my plans? I would not have made it down here, at least not at the time. What if i had stayed up there another day how would these last years of my life been so different, what path would i have ended up on? But there are so many other little factors that brought me here on that very day for i can ask myself what if the bus had not stopped or let me on without a ticket? what if i had been granted a refund at the hostel in Klamath? what if i had not caught the cold? not taken that long chilly windy walk in Bandon a few day before what if, in the many places i had been in those five weeks, plans uncertain, i had stayed one day less or one days more? I may not have come here that day. And what if i had not gotten on of the last tickets for the bus up north, would i have spent all those times on Vancouver Island? There are so many decisions and little what ifs, so maybe i was meant to be in san Francisco that day, maybe this long journey was meant for me.

That day in history changed the nation, and it also changed me. Some effects were immediate and dramatic, but others were more subtle, the true implications only discovered much later on. Some could have been predicted, and warnings ignored, but others could not be foreseen, the result of decisions upon decisions and events upon events, some large and others barely perceptible. But the USA is still here, and so am I, transformed over time, there is no going back, but the dreams do not all die and fear slowly fades away.

I think maybe how i resisted the signs for it was 9/11/2007 that i crossed back from Canada to the USA the last time, from Victoria. And found myself travelling up and down the coast, returning to this city again and again. And i have not been back to Canada since, but that is part of the longer story, whose themes are finally being revealed to me. But that day in 2001 changed my course and my perception of this place.

I began this story in the hostel in fisherman’s wharf, the place i had meant to be that day. Now as then some travellers wait stranded by smoke and debris in the sky. A natural eruption, the earth’s power unleashed, left many here for days. A volcano in iceland, so far away, temporarily stopped all flights to europe – and how many lives will be transformed by the delays of that day. The spew still continues, the future of the air unknown, but seems less fateful for the world. It is an act of nature, of god, not man, and does not lead to the fear. I finish this entry in another locale, left the city behind. And it seems that each time i am there, i find myself transformed, however subtly.

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On some journeys all doors open for you, tickets come cheap, a ride comes through, and all runs on time. And then there are other trips where delays stand in your face. My trip here to San Francisco in January 2008 was one of those. in fact, there were considerable delays. I came again this time from Oregon, not from Eugene from where i had come in the previous time less that three months (but seemingly years) before, but from Seaside where i had spent 40 days and nights and then some more. And in between those times, i had criss-crossed the country as well.

It was January (2008) when i arrived, and it was not until the middle of March that i would leave the area for a good time (until February 2009) not really expecting to come back again. But then again, the last time i was here, i did not imagine to be back so soon. In those three months i went south and north, alone and with my father. Though it became a time of frenetic movement, I did not leave California. But the story of my movement, the story with my dad, began and ended in San Bruno, a suburb of town near the airport, and will not be covered here.

But as i said, my journey was delayed, and i wondered if it was a good decision made, but it was an experience lived. I had been in Seaside over a month, and felt the slowness come over me, i felt like my time there was done. I wanted to start the new year in another locale, but i stayed the night and went to Portland new years day instead. The weather was Oregon rain, and despite the glitter of that city, i wondered why i came. My call was to go to San Fransisco, but i delayed and procrastinated for a few days, sitting in the public library, soggy, in front of the computers in the main hall, or one in the side room, looking at lands afar. By the time i decided to make the trek, the Amtrak fares had gone up high. My shoes were wet, i made a decision, i was going to go, so i went down to the dull greyhound station, a bought a ticket for 6:30 pm the following day, saving several dollars that way.

Now in Portland the greyhound and Amtrak stations are just next door to one another, but they are worlds apart, both are older, but amtrak is welcoming, has wooden benches and service with a smile, while greyhound is more concrete, with dim lighting, low ceilings, and a few plastic seats.

The day that i was to leave a storm came in – i spent the day drinking coffee, and at the library trying to keep myself dry. I went to the station early and got my baggage tags, but i felt something was off, i did not know why. The woman at the counter tagged my bags with what seemed to be hesitancy, but read me the gate and told me the time the bus would load. after i got in the security guard came in, and set up his table where he screened people through. I went out for a butt, heard some people murmuring about the bus and snow. I asked myself, was it delayed and when would it come, and then i looked at the ticket desk and saw some with bags walking away. I waited for a call to see if the bus was cancelled because of the storm. I looked around and the at the clock and then at 6:10 i went to the desk. The bus had just been cancelled, the pass has been closed due to heavy snow, there will be no more buses out tonight. my ticket was non-refundable, and the hostel was booked that night, i checked the time and then asked by chance, can i use it again at anytime. They stamped the ticket with the date the bus was cancelled, i could not get a refund, but could use it later.

I ran over to the Amtrak station where the bus to seaside departed i believe at 6:35. I had just a few minutes to buy a ticket, a couple dawdled in line, but i got the ticket and ran out to the bus just as it was ready to pull out. Now people in Seaside had told me i was crazy to want to go to San Francisco, a big city in California to the south. And i had wondered about my trip, somehow i was brought back to the place, something drew me back there. Another storm prevented my departure from Seaside, almost a month before, and now another brought me back there. I had thought that chapter in my life (still to be written) had ended with the year 2008, but like the circles back to San Francisco, circles had, and would again, take me back to Seaside.

I arrived, walked in and dumped my bags, your back rick said, now working the desk. The bus was cancelled i said in a rush, the pass was closed with the storm. I went to my old room, and to the familiar bed, and slept tight for the night, feeling like i had come back home, and glad now that nick had left. I got up early the next morning, to see if i would have to catch the bus, not really wishing to. I called the greyhound toll free number and got the recorded message that listed cancellations from the week before. i logged on to the computer before the front desk opened a bit worried the manager would discover that i knew how and checked the website. No buses were going south that day. I waited and waited and kept checking back, but for 3 days the message appeared, the buses were cancelled from Oregon to California, it had been another major winter storm.

The room was not to remain my own the following night, a girl came in and moved in there, a student on a winter break trip, but one with a car. the next day was nicer, the rain had slowed, and we went for a hike on Tillamook head, the wind came up and i caught a chill, but still went out to look at cannon beach and caught the bus back to seaside on my own. I had been feeling like i was catching a cold, had almost not gone on the hike the truth be told. But i had a chance, a lift in the car, to take me to the headland and more – and i missed the trees and the rocky vista, and after all what was a little rain. But that night the cold took hold, and though the buses started up after two days, i stay for over a week recovering, sleeping and reading in bed.

David, the sweetie despite his alcohol and methadone, kept warning me of the city and to stay away. He’d been to Portland, into the city for a few days, and was glad to get back to the serenity of winter in a coastal oregon town. Rick was working harder, and with Nick gone away, maybe there was place for me. I was lulling back into seaside zone but the dramas also pushed me away. I was tempted to change my plans, but i still had the ticket in hand, one that could not be returned. The dramas got stronger as the week went on, the young guy who lost his baby to social services after trying with his ex to raise it in a cheap motel room had his part-time hours stocking groceries at Safeway cut back even more, and there was talk of him having what work was around there. And then there was the crazy who looked at all with suspicion, she finally talked, became incomprehensible, and had to be taken away.

My last night a new man came in, from a sunnier place, to relive his youthful memories of summers spent in Seaside. We talked outside of many things, the chatted and drank cheap beer in his room with the young guy. The conversation got esoteric, and the kid left very soon. He fell into a trance and told me details of my past and drew a picture of a lion exactly the same as i had once drawn. he spoke of my future and called me a blocked artist said i need not go to San Francisco – that my future lie neither here not there. I knew i was leaving and so did he, and said maybe i would end up near there – near the russian river – but not right away, may take several journeys first. We more drank PBR, that awful cheap beer, and talked away till late in the night. When i got up my legs were wobbly, and i spent time over the toilet bowl throwing up. My elation turned to sorrow, it felt like my life were coming on up, and if i had come to hug a toilet bowl i just had to get away.

The next morning i peeled myself out of bed, said goodbye to seaside and got out on the road, taking the amtrak bus back to the city. The trip seemed long, my head did hurt, so i caught the first greyhound out of Portland. It was the schedule i avoided when i booked my bus, with a five hour layover in Sacramento in the middle of the night.

The bus had the usual cast of characters – a girl out of prison, another fighting for custody, a guy on a last leave from the army and more – and for much of the time i had to share a seat. I remember the break in eugene, got coffee at the starbucks but little else except that the pass over the mountains was clear.

We arrived in Sacramento just before 2am; the bus to SFO would not leave til 7. I sat out back and had a smoke, listening to loud rap coming out of a souped up car and looking around the corner watching a drug deal. I went into station, talked with one of the smokers who i met on the breaks, he knew the place, and me and two guys walked the deserted streets of downtown to a Dennys in the middle of the night where a middle-aged waitress with big hair kept filling our coffee cups. i forget their stories now, one out of jail to start a new life, and the other in a transition of sorts, and on the way back one smoking some crack. still it was he who digged deep and gave the man sleeping on the street in the ragged long coat $10 of his own.

I got to san francisco to the grisly greyhound station and walked to the hostel where i was to spend my time. It rained for several days i think, and was it this time i discovered the beach, went on more walking tours, spent time at the library and walked to golden gate park, discovering the city and remembered to meditate. The story of this time remains a blur, mixed up with my time here just months before. A time of transition, of calm and panic, for i no longer knew what i would do, and the polish of the city was gone. I made so discoveries but also lost some of the dream that was contained in this place. (that time here is another entry, written together with the time before)

I was out of cash, and began to worry and made my way down to santa cruz and monterey. It was there that I found out my dad coming out for a visit and i would meet him for a few days back here. i came back a few days sooner than hoped for I enjoyed my time in monterey and did not want to leave. The manager said could stay more than the allotted time – but one day he was not there an employee instead, and told me i had stayed too long. I came back up here to wait for my dad, staying down at Fishermans Wharf. Walks around, in the moment, a sense of calm, but a storm brewing underneath, i wanted to stop this existence of mine. A few days later i was picked up at the hostel by my father and headed out to the suburb of San Bruno, and another month long chapter of life on the road in a circle back to the suburbs again and then yet another phase of my life that led me back here again.

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It’s funny how a small decision can change your life. but then again, is any decision really that small. And one decision hinges upon another, made or not made, and another, until it becomes your story. And your story becomes your life. I wanted to write my story, but i am tired of it, am so tired of it. Yet, i still wonder, what if in those quick moments of doubt, i had gone the other way.

I sit in my bed in the annex of the fisherman’s wharf hostel in San Francisco and wonder just what if i had gone to Sacramento that day, where would i be now. It doesn’t matter, it is a route not taken, and here is where i am. But how would the story be different? Or what if i had taken that flight back to New York, something i think i should have done, what would i be doing now. What if i had made hostel reservations for my return when i was in NYC last fall before catching my flight – would i still have changed my plans? or did i know then that they were to change.

Or the day i left Flores, to Palenque, the day i started my retreat, visiting places i had gone before, halting my branching out into the unknown, what if i had given into that other thought, and headed for Belize instead? The border was closer, and i could get my stamp out the C4 within my 90 days. Or what if i had stayed in Lanquin another day – continued the talk of portals and dimensions with the Colorado guy ?- but i had bought my ticket and thought i was out of cash and no atms were around, but i later discovered the bus had been overbooked and they turned one away and later in Flores i found a small stash of money i had forgot about. What if i had stayed a few more days in Costa Rica – gone to Arenal as originally planned – but the lava had stopped and the rain stormed in – or lingered a while in Punteranas and not rushed to the north, only close to the border realizing i had miscalculated my time? And what if, when i realized that, i took a side trip to delay and give myself 90 days only in the C4 until my flight. But it was just before Christmas week and travel was heavy. And then the bigger question, what if i delayed buying my ticket there for just a few days and not taken the trip, or started in Guatemala instead, travelling south, and away from this continent, instead of travelling northbound in a direction that would take me back here? And those quick decisions made in a moment have led me to where i am. Some had been pondered long before, but others were made without much thought. And i wonder if it is my headstrong ways or destiny of sort that has led me here.

But before i go back to what i meant to write, let me ponder a few other decisions of my latest flight. What if that day last september, when i left sierraville, if i had camped for the night as i had thought about, time to clear my head, instead of hopped on the train to buffalo? If i think once again, maybe it was fate, i had my thumb out long, but got to the station in truckee in time to make the call, 20 minutes before the train was due in, and yes they could put me on. What if i had not headed back to sierraville at all? I had camped on lake tahoe after leaving that place, spent over a week moving around, from one hiker-biker site to another campground, the fees were cheap, but the time limits short, and i did not want to go back from where i came from. Ideas mulled around and tossed in my head, the south to Yosemite, north to shasta and many more places, but i said i was tired of wandering, my first rapid movement in a while, so i got up one morning and went back to where i had been. It was on lake tahoe that i had the first call to go to Buffalo, coming over me one night in my sleep, at the forest service campground near the road. it hung on for nights, i could not shake it off, i was going to go, but then i had a vision, a vision that came close to what occurred, they won’t accept me for who i am, so i ran back to sierraville instead. All of the campgrounds on the lake were booked that July Saturday night (or was it Friday?) so i had to move on some way and in that sense god led his hand. But what if i had not made contact with the relatives, long out of touch, on facebook a few weeks before, would i have had that call at all? And what led me to make contact at all? And what if the two hikers i had met on the bus from Truckee to Tahoe when i first went there had been from anywhere except Buffalo? What if i had not gone to lake tahoe but had gone to mount madonna instead – a retreat centre where i had reservations, a yoga centre i turned my back on? It was to be only for a few days, but where might have life spiralled out from there? But one step leads to another, and there are so many roads not taken, which brings me make to the original question,what steps brought me here. Not just now, but so many times before.

And i think of my journeys here – how many have been easy, doors opening up wide, and how many have been stalled, and come only with a push. That i have had to struggle to get here and pry open doors. But with life, if you force it through, yes, it will eventually come, but is it what was meant to be, and does it come at what price. And is it what you were meant to do? And where you were meant to be? Or was it just clinging to an old dream and an old memory. And with that dream was it really the place, or the symbol of what it stood for – a place to grow, a place to be free and spread your wings, a place you could soar in what you were. The dream was formed in my teens, this was a place i could live out my dreams – when i finally arrived. It was 30 years ago, that i had that call, and vision and belief, and though i have read it and said many times have i truly learned that wherever you are you are there. So many small decisions brought me here, with an underlying belief, and what are those twists and turns that led me to this place?

to be continued…

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Yesterday i wrote about the mean spirit in santa cruz, and today i saw its opposite at the homeless “fair” – one stop “shopping” for a load of goods and services – or at times appointments and waiting lists. Still the place was full – full of the homeless and near homeless – the young and old, some you would see as street people, worn clothes and unkept and others who you would not imagine as homeless if they were not there, (for we are not all fitting a single description and often just look like your (poorer) neighbours), getting forms and fees waived for replacement ids, haircuts, information on transitional shelters and their waiting lists (though you had to ask around for information for the one winter seasonal emergency shelter) and dental care, and eyeglass appointments (if you had “lived” in Santa Cruz country for at least a year), and the sign for employment had info about a resource centre, and there was bicycle repair and lunch and sign up for voice mail or a mail box, and info for alcoholics anonymous and substance abuse services, and how to get a savings only account at a bank and i felt overwhelmed, and ended up with pieces of paper for i do not have a place to stay, even to wait out a waiting list for a place. And then…what.

There are many workers, many who want to help and i can see their frustration, and some of the good programs set up, for Santa Cruz has many – they estimate about 4000 homeless and the services to go with it. In some ways, Santa Cruz could be a place to stay in order to use the resources and i was tempted. But to get tangled into the complicated net, the self-perpetuating web, which really has no way out – to be helped by the system but then to get caught, one temporary “solution” to the next, and back outside, and another line and another form to fill (are you in the target group, and will they get their funding) and another waiting list and another series of appointments and then maybe, just maybe, something if you can fit yourself into the box. And while there is kindness, there is no solution – high unemployment, low wage jobs, a crazy cost of housing so that even many of the well paid workers find it tough to live.

And there were the volunteers, members of helping organizations and many churches, the salvation army and more, and those who served the food and the one who took time to talk and you could see the caring aspect of this community. Those who truly seek to serve, whose eyes do care, who give of themselves and not just to feel better about themselves. But it was a “trade show” or “consumer show” where people were processed through, yes with kindness, but still moved through the line. And there was so much and so little at the same time.

The fair took place in the civic center – a large room with tables set up and confusion – and not knowing the system i felt overwhelmed. I heard about the fair the day before, when i arrived in town and wondered if that was i was led here, why i came – time to face the facts and reach out. It was overwhelming and difficult to go to. I Began to shake and cry, and despite all the services, there was no one to talk to – line-up everywhere, moving efficiently and doling out services. One older woman wearing a cross saw my distress and talked to me, listened, and i could see sympathy in many eyes – but here there are so many on the streets or part of the hidden homeless. The older men serving lunch of spaghetti, rolls and iceberg lettuce salad, offering second helpings wanting to ensure all had enough to eat, smiling and serving.

Still i broke down and left feeling worse than i did when i came, hopeless and feel bad about myself. Feeling broken – i took a walk around the block, crying, wondering what have i come to. i went back, asked about mental health, and there was little, in the area, services for addictions, a waiting list if you had medicaid, etc, and someone to hand out a pamphlet. And i felt like i was breaking down or breaking through, i did not know what. When all around, most seemed calm.

And while there is the caring, a plethora of services, there are loops to jump through. And many of the services inadvertently serve themself. Yes, the sweet woman who invited me to the soup kitchen, and the other man who talked about it, run by church groups so it seems, but so many are dependent on people being down so that they may serve, and it seems that way with the established organizations. Yes, many truly helping, but others just as caught in the web – for all it on and all is connected and interdependent, and the helped and the helpers foster dependency on one another. I felt sad, i felt unworthy, i felt sick, i felt shaky. I cried alot, inside and out.

And today the fair is over and life goes on. Yes, many on the streets here, many helping, and many not liking that all this exists. Some were helped, food and toiletries given, ids to be received, a few things set up and for some it will change how they live but for most it will not, and the agencies will be busy and those seeking help are counted and documented, and some feel better and some feel worse. And it was a day. And i felt overwhelmed, and something inside shifted, but i do not know what.

I felt confused, not only in the place that overwhelmed, but inside myself, and with where i am going and what i have become.

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Santa Cruz, California – the town of the “no” and of control in order to maintain a blissful existence. It is a town where you fear a ticket or more for a minor infraction of the law. You do not dare jaywalk or smoke on the wrong street. It is a beautiful downtown area with wide sidewalks, trees in bloom, tables and chairs in front of restos, and painted, restored buildings with tasteful facades, and full of progressive stores – organic market, on the way in a yoga studio and more. But it is regulated and the liberal oasis comes at a cost of constraint, and it makes you wonder what is meant be liberal anymore.

On the sidewalks, several times on ever block, are fresh signs informing all of the municipal code – no smoking, no alcohol, no dogs, no skate devices and no bicycles on sidewalks. The no smoking is new but the rest has been around for some time. The first time i came here was Halloween a few years ago, when there were even larger signs advising that fines were doubled or tripled on that day (as there were to be festivities in town). So the niceness seems forced, somewhat unreal.

 And while it flies in your face here, i have seen it elsewhere, in Nelson BC, beginning in Victoria and to a lesser extent in other California coastal towns (and i have not been to Boulder in 24 years where i hear it is much worse). But it seems to be endemic to “progressive” granola towns – that wish to regulate all – to maintain an oasis of good, of peace, or something.

On the one hand Santa Cruz has much alternative spirituality and lifestyles, but on the other hand i can’t help but think of it as a cruel place, a mean place, a place without spirit. At least by the signs on the street. But you also meet many who are open, and you wonder about what kind of conflict brews beneath the surface. And it is true, you see a fair amount of people with backpacks and suitcases and more hanging or living on the street – the homeless the street kids and more. But why the war on them (us?), and why are people still here and coming when the cruel policies of the town have been going on for so long.

And i have wondered about this in other places, years ago in Victoria – the street kids mecca in canada – where as the liberal town cut back, and had more limits, more no trespassing signs on alternative stores selling hemp and natural products, a town that removed many public benches etc, and as the services for the homeless were large, other policies were mean – as was here first. And you feel it. But what is the draw of these places – are they ones that claim the light – that there is enough light to shine, and those who come are drawn to it, like a plant or flower bends towards the sun or the way moths gather around a light. Believing that there is enough to go round and wanting to share in it.

Or are those on the street to show and be the shadows help the people reach enlightenment. It is in places like this that i imagine this scenario though i have never actually seen it as such – a well dressed eco women in stylish hemp wearing natural makeup and fairtrade accessories steps out of an SUV on her way to the natural foods store gets angry at a young dirty cigarette smoking youth in second hand nikes eating a donated big mac sitting on the sidewalk with his beat up knapsack for polluting her energy and messing up her bliss.

And i say to her – perhaps this person is here to help you reach enlightenment, to reach nirvana. Yes, inner peace is easy when you are in a comfortable place, warm and dry, with a sufficiently full belly of wholesome food, surrounded by loved ones. Yes, it is so much simpler then. But even Siddhartha left the palace, and went out into the world where there was suffering, no longer wishing to be imprisoned in the golden castle, hidden away, and then only achieved true enlightenment, where one is at peace with all, with everything. And compassion, loving kindness, loving one another, remembering that all are one is part of it. And perhaps they are here for you to practice on.

But the streets are also full or the dark shadows – not the run down poverty and decay of too many towns, or the gangs and graffiti that plaque too many streets. But a reminder of our society, of what could happen to all, or the downside where people are dirty and unkept and run down and at times plain noxious. Any could it be otherwise.
But there is also something with wanting to control the behaviour of others, or forcing people to conform to “our” standards and the more i have travelled, and been in hostels and other places, the more that i realize that people will not always act according to your expectations and that you cannot live your life trying to get people to “behave” – that just as you cannot control life you cannot control others.

I wrote this last night and then i was tested, and once again i understand how the closededness happens – for i am not any different from those i criticize, and maybe that is why i criticize so much. For i do not have the generosity of spirit if i am disturbed or bothered, i myself do not reach out and help all in need.

Last night i was asleep in the dorm, grateful that the woman who i thought might snore did not (again thinking about myself) when after 1 am there was a loud pounding at the door. Again and again and again. At this hostel there is an 11pm curfew after what time the door code shuts off and you cannot get in. Instead of being sympathetic and concerned about a person who was locked out, i became annoyed at the noise, the incessant pounding and her loud voice when one of the guys in the other dorm let her in.

She was not registered, did not know the code, and was coming in, long after the office and the dorm buildings closed. She said she had paid that day on-line which i knew was impossible because you must do it three days in advance. I became worried about my safety and the safety of my possessions. I did not want to complain (but inside i did), the office was shut and it was raining. I became annoyed, and was not generous or nice – and then i questioned myself. Why do i not do as i preach, a generosity of hospitality, welcoming the stranger in the night, opening your heart and home. but even i, who lives on the edge was closed of heart, and self concerned and stingy more worried about myself than about another. Getting uptight for infractions of the rules.

And i lay there, not liking my feelings and emotions for it spat in the face of what i just had written. For i am not pure, i am closed and therefore maybe i can feel compassion for those who are closed as well, who do not give. I see myself as different, but i am the same as both, as the person who sneaks in in the night, and the person who turns them away – and if i can hold the contrary sentiments within myself, then what change and justice can i expect in others.

Did i become this way because i had earlier sensed that energy – or rather the blocked and hoarded energy that does not flow? Or did i pick up on that energy (when there is actually much positive and giving around) because i possess it within? Or both, for i remembered a time, some years ago, in another hostel, a large anonymous hostel, where another had brought a guest into the dorm room, yes breaking the rules, but again i was not open of heart, tolerant of another, pissed off instead of welcoming – and again it was on the same night that i had pondered my fate and imagined myself camping out on someones land, and wondering why they would be upset if they were not using it, if i was only sleeping. And god tells us to be kind, for it we all truly were, then we could live in peace and harmony. And how many open their doors in the night, and how many have given me a break and how grateful am i. So how to open up my heart.

Yes, maybe she had been out partying, maybe she was high, but she needed a place to sleep and i did not welcome her – even though i know too well it could be me. I tried to justify to myself, telling myself, if only she had snuck in earlier, or quieter i would not mind – but would i have. I exposed myself to be just as self protective as those with the large empty houses. And why – what is it that i really have to lose – what skin is it off my back? She sleeps, in a warm bed, clean after a long shower, and i should have been nice and helpful to her. But it is that energy that keeps me in my place as well – that closes me – for if i do not reach out how can i expect others to reach out to me. And the closedness and fear breeds itself and no amount of meditation, yoga, organic foods and fair trade can make a truly “great society” if we do not get beyond it. And that is the lesson i have had to learn here.

After i wrote this i still spoke up, tattled on her to the manager and feel bad inside – for i should have helped. I let her sleep and worry about my stuff, my ragged clothes, the broken down knapsack, the thinning possibly bug infested sleeping bag, and i think how narrow and sinful am i. After all, that is just stuff, things, material possession, oh so few, hoarded here upon the earth, and that is a person, yes, banging at night, but someone with who i could share my heart, but i showed myself as stingy.
And how to change it – what i have done, and this is not the first time, but the first time i admit it in writing – that yes, i have been selfish while expecting others not to be. May i learn here, own these feelings, not press them down and deny them, but transform them, and truly live by what i say.

I finish this in a coffee shop, one that welcomes the unwashed who come to buy a coffee, sit and chat, where they smile and serve though you might carry a backpack. And there is much of that here too, kindness, services, help to others, and a desire for light. May i open my eyes to see that – the hostel that exists, appreciate the stale donated food, the information, those that serve. For in this place, in santa cruz, the contradictions come into play – the dance of lightness and dark, and to shine the light, and believe in it though the sky has turned to grey.

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At times i think that place is just an illusion of the mind – what we see and what we imagine. Yes, places distant, be they around the corner or around the world, are what we see in our minds – and when we arrive they are not always what we thought, or if we have been there before, have elements that we know that we had seen before, but had forgotten about in our minds. But places are not merely memories of the actual, of the emotions or experiences we had, but are also creations of the imagination, symbolic creations – built upon by a collective memory or dream.
I have returned to California, the bay area and now the monterey bay, and it is a place that has loomed large for me, and for many. The old cry of “go west young (wo)man” – it represents a newness, a chance, a different way of life, an opportunity. It is the land of warmth (yes, even here for those of us from colder climes), the left coast, the place of alternative spirituality and ways of living, the place to go. But is it? Was it? I am in Monterey, where Steinbeck’s writings fuel the tourist trade, writings about a harsher, wilder land – a land that once was.
As California grows, many also leave, disillusioned with the life here or battered down, or it becomes the other, the land of excess and poverty in its midst. Of living large, of actors living on a stage, illusions declining into bankruptcy, a land of decadence but also holding on to what you have, of guarded safety and gang wars. It is a huge and diverse place, in the landscape and the population, and it called me and now leaves me blank.
It represents the place i was going to go to in my youth, a love affair i once had, and one that i have been shown many a time was a delusion, or maybe it wasnt – just a moment in time. I have been back and left several times in the past few years and i wonder why i return – a lack of imagination on my part, of other places calling to me? A clinging on to a dead dream, one that does not call or excite? I have strolled that city, it too plays on its history of people searching, searching the riches of gold or life, a different way from the gold rush to the beats, to the hippies that are the base for walking tours. Or outside the city, the new age, something more. But also, since the time i arrived in 2001, Sept 10 to be precise and woke the next day to a plane crashing into a building on the large screen, i have seen the harsh side, the poverty, the dead souls and some spirited people who walk and sit on the streets.
But what was the call – it was not the place per se – it was something more in my mind. Was it to come north – the el norte that existed in the minds of so many further south, still a land of dreams and transformation, a way out, not seeing the scraping by that it would entail. A freedom or a return to the familiar? But now it seems so created and constrained. I once felt that i did not belong, was not allowed to belong by others, but now i see that i was only partially right. I do not belong here, but it is not the others who determine it.
But i look around, and do not trust my imagination – it goes in circles, and calls me to circles of where i have been before, holding onto something that may or may not have once been there. I think Alaska – but the north as the new frontier has called before, the new land of chance, Oregon which once represented a glorious coast and opening of the mind and grey, the east represents a conventional life though i intellectually know it need not be that way, for all exists in the mind, and to be in the now is the key. And what does my imagination call, what does it see, and what does it create.

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San Francisco seemed beautiful yesterday – the streets are wider here and trees grew on the sidewalks even in the tenderloin. I went out to the beach, watched the waves, the snowy plovers run about in groups just above the tide, the dogs run and people walk and jog, dissolving as i took off my glasses and looked in the distance to near where the water meets the land and the energetics are more visible – the auric balloons that surround in white light, and at times the shadows playing.
I went to the park, in the land of green, the many trees and tulips in bloom and wildflowers near the shore of a pond. The fragrance of the plants – the eucalyptus trees that were planted there, the evergreens, bushes and more whose names i do not know – sitting on a bench happy a true smile to my face for the first time in ages.
It started before i went to the park, i walked along a street in the tenderloin feeling happy, not knowing why, and two people commented on it, the smile on my face, and one who sat on the sidewalk thanked me for brightening his day.
I walk along the shore of the ocean, tide high and coming in. I sit on the dunes where all is calm. I feel my energy changing, calming, the roar of the water a soothing background song, and the song of the birds bringing joy. Flowing through me, flowing through all.
I write this from the library, not as much in peace, worry rising to my mind, but i thanked god for yesterday, it was a long moment and moments do change, but i felt gods presence and was joyful and at peace. An inner smile overcame me, and left me happy.

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