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Watsonville
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February 8, 2023

Opening 2020 together | On My Mind

On New Year’s Eve my neighbor Jan invited me to join her and a bunch of our neighbors for a bonfire in her front yard to help close out 2019 and usher in a warm beginning to 2020. By 7 p.m. she had an inviting fire blazing away and I was the first visitor to pull up a chair, warm my hands and settle into a mug of hot chocolate as the year ran down.

One thing I noticed at the very start of that day, when I fetched my newspaper off the front lawn under the first glimmer of daylight, was a woman driving past who turned and greeted me with a nod and a smile. It set a tone for the day. On my Metro bus ride out to Watsonville the driver and several riders were happy to share upbeat words on the final workday of the year.

As Jan’s fire grew in size that night, so did the crowd of neighbors. It was comforting to see people passing by who would stop and wish us a Happy New Year, which we echoed in return. I really treasure getting to know my neighbors and maintaining good relations, for all kinds of reasons, and this was a perfect arena to keep that going.

At 11:30 p.m. I rode my bicycle to downtown Santa Cruz to join the city’s celebration at the Town Clock. There were about 1,500 people there. A DJ blared loud music from the base of the clock as people danced and cheered and hugged one another. I had several young people greet me, ask about my “nice camera” and offer words of welcome and camaraderie. Some people were dressed up, some men wearing top hats and women in sparkling dresses. I noticed groups of police roaming about, some greeting people, others laughing in unison with others.

Then the countdown came bellowing over the sound system and everyone chimed in: “3-2-1.” It was followed by an explosion of fireworks that made it look like the Town Clock was being blown apart by artillery. More dancing, noisemakers, singing and scads of photos.

It was 2020. 

Next, I followed the huge crowd down Pacific Avenue and the party seemed to expand in size and excitement. It felt like all of downtown was seized in party mode.

On New Year’s Day I rode my bicycle out past the Beach Boardwalk where I saw a large crowd waiting at the ticket window to sample the few rides they were operating. Once I reached the bike/pedestrian path on West Cliff Drive there were hundreds of people out with strollers, dogs, bikes and seniors on walkers and canes. I saw two couples ride past on tandem bicycles and a man on a tall unicycle. Several bikers rode by me, all wearing Santa hats and waving to everyone. It was plainly evident the New Year was getting off to a happy start, with that crowd anyway. I pulled my camera out of my backpack and took a funny shot of two small dogs in the basket of a man’s bicycle, their paws dangling over the edge. A moment later a woman rode past with two dogs in her basket. It felt like I had wandered into a circus.

While trying to photograph the surfers plying the waves at Steamer Lane I heard several groups of people walking past speaking foreign languages. I heard Russian, Swedish, Spanish, Japanese and Mandarin and I had to remind myself how valuable it was, how lucky I was to be in the middle of that rich mix of cultures, all carrying on side by side with one another under the glitter and excitement of entering a new year together. 

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Contact photographer Tarmo Hannula at [email protected]

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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