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May 29, 2023

About Town, Week of Dec. 17

Friday, Dec. 21:

Tarmo Hannula: Today marks the winter solstice. This is a day I look forward to in ways that are hard to express. For starters, the days now start getting longer. Being a photographer this means I can start getting more opportunities under better lighting. The whole idea that it starts getting dark just after 5 p.m. is tough for me. But on top of taking photos, I just have a tough time with it being dark by 6 p.m.

Tonight there is not only a full moon — the sky will also be graced with a meteor shower, which should add punch to the solstice. The annual Ursids meteor shower, which began on Dec. 17, and will last through Monday, will peak tonight and Saturday in the northern hemisphere with as many as 10 meteors entering Earth’s atmosphere per hour.

Something I’ve been pondering lately is how much people use their cell phones. Not just texting while driving, but in restaurants, in parked cars, on walks, with children, at work, everywhere. I was on West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz last weekend; a legendary spot to watch the surfers, take in the fresh sea air, people watch. It occurred to me that nearly everyone was on their phone. Whoever came up with the idea that nearly everyone has to be talking or texting someone all day long?

It just amazes me that people are walking along one of the most beautiful spots on the central coast while staring at their phones. Really? Can they see the beauty that surrounds them? Or are they choosing to ignore it?

Anyway, it’s really none of my business. And who really cares? Besides, I have a call coming in.

Thursday, Dec. 20:

Tarmo Hannula: My day started at the homeless shelter in Santa Cruz. I was there to cover the annual dead count, a grim topic of the number of people that died while being homeless in our county. It’s a crushing event, to say the least. A crowd of about 150 people sat there, frozen by the sad facts, that people between the ages of 21 and 78 died on the streets. These are folks that died out there in the elements, under the bushes or on the river banks, stuck in some awful drug, alcohol and family-gone-wrong situation.

The ceremony is a tough one to get through. I spotted city officials, cops, street folks and on and on, some with tears in their eyes, trying to get a grasp of why our society has this group of folks that die out there in the gutter. I know a lot of people say that’s just a choice they’ve made and they should live it, or go ahead and die with it.

I spoke at length with a man who said he was homeless. Matthew Puruiz said he has been homeless for the past 16 years. He said he had been a carpenter and good with a hammer and that he came out to California from Idaho. Matthew said he helped his sister build her home and then he fell into a drug habit, which led to his homeless issue. Soft-spoken and easy-going, Matthew said he found living on the streets “tough” but that people generally treated him fairly and that the police were friendly.

On my way out of River Street onto southbound Highway 1 I saw a massive homeless camp of sweeping proportions. I jumped out of my car to grab a few photos, of which several people yelled at me for doing so. There were about 100 tents and other makeshift campsites on a stretch of land along the freeway next to the World Market and Ross Dress for Less.


Wednesday, Dec. 19:

Tarmo Hannula: I watched massive surf smashing into the cliffs at Pleasure Point this morning. At 24th Avenue in Live Oak I noticed that the surf, sand, seaweed and driftwood has sloshed over the edge of East Cliff Drive.

A man named Gary stopped me at the beach and said the roaring surf woke him up several times during the night.

“It must have been huge because it felt like it was shaking my house,” Gary said.

At La Selva Beach holiday décor adorns Playa Boulevard, which has been named Candle Light Lane, thanks to all the large candy-striped electric candles stationed about.

I tried to stop a man and a woman that were riding their bicycles along San Andreas Road Wednesday morning. I could tell they were on some long-distance journey based on their large saddlebags and such. I guess they were too busy for my nosey journalism interruption, but were friendly enough to holler at me that they were riding from Eugene and headed to L.A. And that marked the abrupt end of our conversation.

My high school pal, Joe Wiggins, and I took a similar trip on our bikes back in the late 1970s. We rode from Eugene to San Diego. It was a little more that 1,200 miles, I recall. Not easy. It was like a hard job, getting up each morning — cold, damp in our tent on the side of some dirt road. We were bugged by the cops more than once, lectured by people that simply didn’t like what we were up to — why? I’ll never know. But, on the other hand, there were some wonderful folks that stepped forward and helped us out, lent us their back yard to pitch our tent or let us use their shower. Maybe they were telling us something with that gesture, like “you smell like hell,” but that’s OK; a hot shower is not something to stand around and second-guess.

On my way up Beach Road toward Watsonville Wednesday I swung onto Trafton Road surrounded by dormant farmlands. On a muddy turnout along Trafton Road I saw a newer model Honda minivan crashed into a drainage culvert. It was perched precariously above a pool of water beside an abandoned red sofa. The whole scene was so random, I felt like I’d had wandered into a Twilight Zone setting. Adding to the weirdness of it all was that fact that the Honda’s windows were open and there was a blast of Mexican music blaring from the radio. And no one was around. I spotted a cell phone and other personal belongings on the front seat of the Honda. I tried calling the CHP to let them know but did not get an answer. Oh well. What will tomorrow bring?

At Pacific Firewood & Lumber on Freedom Boulevard I saw a bunch of beautiful Christmas trees in their doorway that had the pretty white flocking.


Tuesday, Dec. 18:

Tarmo Hannula: Since there is a high surf advisory in effect I had to swing by the coast on my way to work Tuesday morning. I saw tall waves battering the Capitola Wharf and in Rio Del Mar the waves were garnering attention from anybody that bothered to stop their car and get off their mobile phones.

I stopped by Corralitos Market & Sausage Co., 569 Corralitos Road, and the place was afire with business. Owner Dave Peterson said his business will be open on Christmas Eve from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and will be closed Christmas Day. Dave said his smoked hams, all done in house, are selling off the charts and he advised to call in pre-holiday orders.

“I’ve been coming here for over 30 years,” said Nancy Fefiay of Corralitos. “They greet you by your first name and know what you want. There just aren’t a lot of markets out there like this. Besides the meat counter, they have a great market with just about everything I’m looking for.”

A few miles away at Freedom Meat Lockers on Green Valley Road in Watsonville, manager Will Panis said business has been brisk. He said their prime ribs, brine turkeys and award-winning smoked hams are moving quickly out the door. For the holidays they offer wood gift boxes loaded with meat products as well as gift cards.

“I love this place; the service; the friendly atmosphere and the high quality,” said Suzanne Styrpejko. “That’s what keeps me coming back.”

At the Valley Catholic Cemetery I noticed a huge crowd of folks gathered for a burial. Being what I do for a living I had to stop and snoop around. I saw my long-time friend Nick Bulaich and his brother, Ilia. Nick said the service was for Amalia Cabrales who died at the age of 74. Ilia called her the “First Lady of Second Street” and went on to say that everyone liked her and knew who she was.

Long time neighbor Frank Avila said he grew up with Amalia around the neighborhood and mentioned that she was a “great neighbor and someone that you could rely on and trust.”

If you didn’t see the obituary in the R-P, Amalia was referred to as Molly and that she was born in La Soledad, in the state of Durango, Mexico. Each person I spoke with at the cemetery said Amalia had a great sense of humor and could liven up the dimmest of situations with her sarcasm and sharp wit.

Nick said Amalia was a sensitive person and, as he fought back tears, described her as a “wonderful neighbor.”

I noted that around the cemetery there were hundreds of poinsettias placed at various gravesites.

On my visit to the Post Office on Main Street I spotted Steve Bankhead handing off a few coins to the Salvation Army Red Kettle ringer.

I also ran into my homeless friend, Rock and Roll Jimmy, Monday by the plaza. He was out there with his guitar and bags. Jimmy thanked me for getting his picture in the R-P recently. I gave him a couple bucks and wished him luck. He’s a nice fellow and means well.


Monday, Dec. 17:

Tarmo Hannula: This weekend I was crushed with holiday shopping. I do this every year: I put off everything and then feel guilty and finally get out there with the shopping mobs.

I was tickled by the rain Sunday. In the morning I spotted a group of cedar waxwings birds, which are migratory, picking around my yard. At the same time I counted six California towhees flitting about my yard. I put my 70-200 mm lens on my digital Canon 6D camera and rushed outdoors in hopes of getting a good bird photo (which I didn’t). That’s when I spotted an Anna’s hummingbird and several American Crows zooming through. Then I saw an acorn woodpecker climbing aboard our ancient rose bush. Several chestnut-backed chickadees also came through followed by a couple oak titmouses that darted in and about. I told my wife Sarah it was like a symphony of birds — they took over our yard and ran the show.

Sunday kept getting darker and darker and, finally, the rain came and it really came on. By the time darkness fell I knew I had serious issues with my rain gutters — one was filling up and not draining and that means the water ends up spilling down a wall and through the bathroom window in my home and all over the floor.

It always amazes me how much work it is to keep the elements from tearing apart our house. It doesn’t happen all the time but once in a while Mother Nature does get the upper hand and run the show.

What a treat it was to walk out on my driveway this morning, fetch the paper and take in a fresh breath of the cold morning air after the rain.

On my way to work I rolled through Capitola where the city workers had closed off the wharf to the public because of high surf. Indeed, the waves clobbered the wharf throughout the morning. Throngs of people were standing atop the surf wall along the Esplanade taking photos of the boiling powerful surf.

I drove out Beach Road in Watsonville and found the two-lane road covered with rainwater at Shell Road. Motorists gingerly forded that part of the road.

I turned in a novel Monday at the Watsonville Public Library, “Daughter of Fortune” by Isabel Allende. The 428-page book, published in 1998, swept me away. I largely read it while on a recent trip to Mexico, but finished it upon my return to Santa Cruz. What a great book and what a fantastic recommendation from the librarian who suggested it to me. The book, set in the mid-1800s, traverses many levels, from an English family living in Chile, to the lives of Chinese healers in China who knew the herb and acupuncture kingdom inside out, to the crushing wave of humanity around the world called the California Gold Rush. My head is still reeling from that read.


Last week’s installment: pajaronian.com/article/about-town-week-of-dec-10


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