On my last day in Santa Barbara, I decided to retrace part of my running route at a walking pace, just to see.
Down to Leadbetter Beach I went, past the marina bathrooms where I first spotted my hobos, now vanished, past the parking lot where surfer fire-fighters prep, and then uphill I went, along a winding path that skirts the cliffs, higher and higher, until houses with forbiddingly expensive views block the way, and that’s it.
At one point along my walk, I found a staircase hugging the cliff and I descended. At the bottom, a pair of young lovers on a big rock, gazing out to sea, and a family with two young kids. I walked the boulder-strewn beach along the cliff wall for a kilometre or so, hoping to see some sea lions or tigers, but saw no one except an elderly lady walking in the opposite direction. We stopped to chat and she said it was safe to keep walking, as the tide was going out. It hadn’t occurred to me to be fearful. But then I thought about rogue waves and other hazards and, when she was well out of sight, returned to the staircase, all the while scanning the horizon for signs of menace.
I pushed on, and saw a dozen surfers waiting for waves as lifeguards looked on from a pickup. Further on, three old men had finished surfing for the day and were trading war stories beside their beat-up jeeps and pickups and drying their sun-browned feet, toes knuckled and arthritic.
I pushed on, and at a bend in the path, the air filled with tuneless, strangely familiar warbling. Then I rounded the corner and it all came into focus: the melody was “California Dreamin’,” by The Mamas & The Papas. A crowd of Sixties-era humans were gathered in a circle and strumming guitars, mandolins and ukuleles:
Well, I got down on my knees (got down on my knees)
And I pretend to pray (I pretend to pray)…
California dreamin’ (California dreamin’)
On such a winter’s day
These ancients had thin, tuneless voices — quite awful, really. But if you blocked out the whine, all you saw was bliss: eyes closed, mouths raised to the sky.
I pushed on and, at the highest point of my walk, high above the blue-grey Pacific, I sat on a weathered bench to peel an orange and take in the view. From this angle, on this bench, I have plenty to feel lucky about. I’m not allergic to peanuts. I can still run.
Half an hour later, when I got up to leave, I noticed a brass plaque on the bench: Dedicated, in 1996, to the memory of Leo Hawel, Jr. by his fellow members of the Santa Barbara Barber Shop Harmony Society. Leo must have had loads of friends and good fun harmonizing with his quartet: striped shirts, straw hats, not one of them barbers. I hope to be as lucky as Leo was.
I imagine a bench, someone with a small hammer and a handful of brass nails, a fine view over a stretch of water…