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June 1, 2023

About Town, Week of Dec. 24

Friday, Dec. 28:

Tarmo Hannula: As a photographer I am usually tuned into what the light is like, overcast, bright or hazy — you name it. This morning the lighting was incredible as I wandered around Seacliff State Beach. There are parts of me where I wonder: do other people see this happening? I hate to sound arrogant, but, for me, the lighting was so incredible that I was shocked that other folks weren’t staggered by the beauty of what was happening in the sky.

I talked to a few people that were running up and down a wood staircase at Seacliff State Beach including Geoff Wells, owner of Freedom Tattoo in Watsonville. He remembered me from the photos and stories we’ve done for the R-P over the years about his business. He said he is planning on moving his tattoo spot into Aptos, 9032 Soquel Drive, in the next week. He said he commonly joined a group of people in the morning to charge up and down the towering wood staircase to build up strength.

One of the most powerful things I’ve covered for the R-P was today, the retirement party for outgoing Division Chief Rob Ryan at Watsonville Fire Department. The crowd of people there, the cake and Martinelli’s beverages, the mood and concern for his departure was incomparable.

“I’m blessed and I’d do all those 41 years all over again in a heartbeat because I love this community so much,” he said. “I’m honored to have served Watsonville. I have worked with a wonderful group of people.”

Ron Rackley, retired fire captain, said he was honored to have worked with Rob for a number of years. He said he learned a great deal from him and treasured their relationship.

Fire Chief Pablo Barreto weighed in with a handful of compliments for Ryan: “Rob trained me and he made me a better firefighter,” he said. “Today I gave him his new badge, number 55. He deserves every moment of this.”


Thursday, Dec. 27:

Tarmo Hannula: I was lucky to run into a long-time friend in Capitola Village Thursday morning. Kenry Miller was playing his wood flute on a bench and I felt his mood, his tunes and presence set a calming and welcoming tone. Kenry said he often plays his flute at senior homes and that he feels his music offers a settling vibe for the residents.

“People often tell me they need things like my music in their lives, something they can relate to and relax with,” he said.

Our friendship goes back to the early ’80s when we met at The Bagelry where I worked. Kenry is a mechanic and a bus driver. He drives for the Green Tortoise, among other things.

While walking along the cliffs in Capitola I saw a man drawing a huge mandala in the sand. His attention to detail, I think, was incredible. Very patiently he scribed his image in the sand as the tide crept closer to his ankles.

“To me, these artworks are a story of time,” Steven Senko said. “They all eventually get washed away. The Earth is always changing.”

We were lucky to have our friends from Beijing over to our house from Christmas dinner. Our smoked ham from Corralitos Markey & Sausage Co. proved to be a winner as the meal centerpiece. Sarah and I met Wandi in Beijing a few years ago, based on a lead from another friend who said she could help us explore the city. Wandi has since moved to Menlo Park, married a kind gentleman, Xiaoxiong. If that name isn’t enough you for, try the name of their 1-year-old boy, Zhouing. I got the fire roaring away in our fireplace and we felt lucky to have an evening filled with good food and conversation.


Wednesday, Dec. 26:

Tarmo Hannula: Christmas has come and gone and now we brace for the New Year. My wife Sarah and I had a Christmas Eve party and we felt lucky to have about 20 people come by. Since Sarah is a wonderful chef, in my opinion, she put together a rich blend of snacks and things. I made a kettle of potato and cheddar cheese soup that grabbed a lot of people’s attention. It’s a hearty soup and good for a cold and rainy night, which was in the mix Monday evening.

We felt lucky to have folks stop over, like the Miller family from Watsonville — which includes my colleague, Johanna, her folks, David and Nora, and her uncle, Karl. In front of a blazing fire in our fireplace we enjoyed a comfortable evening thanks to everyone that came by. KSBW reporter Phil Gomez and his wife Debbie were there, along with a handful of neighbors to add to the fun.

On my way to work Wednesday morning I stopped by McGregor Park in the New Brighton area and watched some young skaters ripping around the skateboard park. A 12-year-old boy told me his family was staying at New Brighton State Park and that he and his younger brother were taking advantage of the skate park that is next to New Brighton.

“Yeah, this is a great spot and we’re lucky to be here,” he said.

I drove along San Andreas Road on my way to Watsonville and spotted a young couple charging along on the bicycles. I could tell they were on a long-distance trip, based on their loaded down panniers. They were kind to stop when I barged into their journey along Trafton Road to answer my nosey questions. Todd Richards and Stormy Given said they were from Spokane, Wash., and were headed to Santa Barbara, mostly following Highway 1. They said that they were averaging about 70 miles a day.

“People have been very kind along the way,” Todd said. “We’ve been very lucky. No accidents and our gear has held up. This area is very pretty to us.”

Stormy said that she liked the positive outlook “that so many have along the way. There’s more good out there than bad.”


Monday, Dec. 24:

Tarmo Hannula: On Sunday morning I watched a man on crutches march into sea at the Main Beach in front of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. How he did that I’ll never guess. On top of his burden he had a little girl in tow, a tiny stick of a girl, maybe 4 years old. The man was also in charge of a rambunctious young boy, maybe 6, who was leaping out into the surf and far outside the reach of the crutches man. I watched as the boy barreled out into the surf and dodged the orders of the crutches man to “come back.” I was very close to whipping out my cell phone and getting the 911 folks involved.

In the parking area of East Cliff Drive in the Seabright area I noticed scores of people hanging out in their cars, before noon, smoking mountains of pot, drinking alcohol and listening to loud music. The pot smoke was everywhere and thick enough to lean on. It felt like the Sunday afternoon party zone.

That’s when I went to the 24 Hour Fitness for my weekend workout. From their window I could view the burnt out remains of Auto One on Water Street where a huge fire swept through the popular car sales business Oct. 21. It still looks like a bomb hit the place.

Stepping ahead to Monday morning, I went by Rio del Mar State Beach and noticed a group of people handing out free hot apple cider and other beverages to anyone that was walking by. They had a nice table cloth set out and a display of nuts, cookies and beverages on the sea wall. Dave Moeller, who was the county agriculture commissioner for 16 years, was there with his wife, Kathleen, and others, to help in the free festivities. They offered a friendly welcome and invite for anyone to stop by and grab a warm treat.

“It’s just a friendly way to welcome the community and let them know everyone is welcome to have a treat,” Kathleen said.

On my way into Watsonville I saw a man with a curious handmade cardboard sign that simply read, “LA,” as he hung out on Lee Road by the Chevron station with his handsome dog. He told me he’d been homeless for years and that he was once a plumber in San Francisco and made “pretty good money.” But he said things fell apart in his life and he ended up living on the streets. I handed him a $5 bill and wished him a merry Christmas. He said his name was Steve and was trying to get back to his hometown called Slab City, California. Easy going and friendly, Steve said he wasn’t really sure how he ended up in Watsonville. He said he was in Santa Cruz for a number of days and that people there “weren’t friendly.”

“I just want to move on and live a happy life,” he said. “I’m totally free of alcohol and drugs. People always tell me I’m high or loaded but I’m not. Life goes on. We’ll see what happens.”

Erik Chalhoub: While heading home from a quick trip to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk on Saturday, I drove through my old neighborhood and past my old house in Aptos, which my family and I moved out of in 2004 after living there since 1990.

Whenever I’m in the area, I tend to cruise through the neighborhood to see how much has changed over the past 14 years.

I’m disappointed to see that the new owners of my old house have neglected many of the plants and rock features in the front yard, which my family and I installed in the late ’90s. About twice a week, I would spend about an hour watering the plants and watching them grow, and getting excited whenever the agapanthus bloomed.

Now, the owners have carved out most of the garden for a parking spot. The house also seems to be undergoing a major renovation, with stacks of building materials, saws and tarps filling the carport.


For last week’s About Town installment, visit pajaronian.com/article/about-town-week-of-dec-17

Tarmo Hannula
Tarmo Hannula has been the lead photographer with The Pajaronian newspaper in Watsonville since 1997. He also reports on a wide range of topics, including police, fire, environment, schools, the arts and events. A fifth generation Californian, Tarmo was born in the Mother Lode of the Sierra (Columbia) and has lived in Santa Cruz County since the late 1970s. He earned a BA from UC Santa Cruz and has traveled to 33 countries.


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