Home with a Capital H
Is For Good Men To Do Nothing
By Chris Verrill
Pacifica, California, USA
Like a coal miner taking a welcome shower at the end of his shift, my old, mechanically challenged yet spunky ‘79 Dodge Colt hurled my weary spirit out of the concrete encased hustle of bustle of my home in Oakland, over the San Francisco Bay Bridge, across the calm waters of the bay itself, down Hwy 1, and into the scenic, sleepy little seaside town of Pacifica. Although, if home is where the heart is, calling Oakland home would be inaccurate. Way inaccurate. Oakland was never home. Oakland was where I lived.
The year was 1989 and it was my first home, uh, make that my first residence, after graduating from college at UC Davis. The rust colored Dodge Colt—some of the rust wasn’t just color—was the first car I’d bought on my own. The job, as business manager of UC Berkeley’s campus newspaper, The Daily Californian, was actually not so bad for a first job out of college.
But Oakland? I guess some people like Oakland. My roomies mostly seemed to. Since it was a six bedroom house, I had a lot of roommates. The window from my attic bedroom, if you looked just right and squinted and crossed yourself, even had a sliver of a view of the Bay Bridge. But Oakland wasn’t for me. It was too crowded, too dirty, too much cement, too little greenery. Not very cheery. Not a place that did my soul good. My spirit missed the charm of a small town. A town where you know your neighbors and don’t have to worry about your house getting broken into—which happened twice. A town where I could lay my head on my pillow.
But in the summer of 1989 I made a discovery. That summer I auditioned for and got a role in a community theatre play at Pacifica Spindrift Players, a cozy 100 seat theatre tucked away on a hillside in a lush green park in a charming residential neighborhood in a town I’d never heard of: Pacifica. The drive over the Bay Bridge from Oakland, leaving my job at The Daily Cal, down HWY 1 into Pacifica relaxed me, rejuvenated me. The bridge, spanning from Oakland on the east side of the bay, briefly touching down and passing through a tunnel on Treasure Island, and landing in San Francisco on the west side, served as a symbolic exit from the honking horns of Oakland life.
Then the real transformation took place. Leaving the Bay Bridge, crossing the San Francisco peninsula via one freeway to another, eventually leading to the spectacular panoramic views offered by Highway 1. Highway 1, as it descends from the San Francisco hills down to the ocean in Pacifica, affords a view of the Pacific Ocean that goes on for further than the eye can see. The calm soothing blue waters reach out and comfort me as I descend on the winding road. My cares of the day, the stresses of city life, my troubles from work, are lifted away as if fulfilling all the promises of a Calgon commercial.
Every night, five nights a week, for six weeks of rehearsal and then two weeks of performances, I descended into Pacifica. Every night, my cares and stresses of the day dissolved. Now, I don’t mean to imply I had a stressful life back in 1989. I didn’t for the most part. I mean, be serious, I was 25. What kind of stresses can a 25 year old young man possibly have? I hear your silence. Exactly. That’s my point. But I was a small town boy living in a big bad city and not liking it. These evening reprieves were a welcome retreat. And not just the drive into Pacifica, but Pacifica itself was a relaxing place. The green forested mountains on the east, the refreshing ocean breeze from the west, people who have a small town friendliness. The coolness brought on by the fog is the icing on the cake. Can you tell I like this little town?
Soon after the play’s brief two week run ended, I moved across the country to Baltimore to take a job at a public radio station. But I told myself, if I ever moved back to the Bay Area, I would to live in Pacifica.
"With a Capital H"
Is For Good Men To Do Nothing
By Chris Verrill
Pacifica, California, USA
And here it is, 2001, 12 years later, and now I do live in Pacifica. Better yet. Pacifica is home. Home with a capital H. A place where I lay my head on my pillow, close my eyes, and feel at peace. I don’t know how many people find this in life, yet I have. For that I consider myself lucky. I have since had occasion to go back and perform again at Pacifica Spindrift Players and it felt almost like I’d never left. I’ve gotten to know one of the founders of the theatre and I’ve jokingly blamed her for me living in Pacifica. I even like the fog. People think it’s bad, but it isn’t. It’s wonderful. Uh, but, I don’t think I want too many people moving here. The fog is horrible. Oh, miserable. Uh, uh. Yep. Just horrible.
Today, September 11, 2001, started just like any other day. My sister Heidi and I awoke in my two bedroom condo tucked up in the hills in Pacifica. On Terra Nova Boulevard, somewhere between the earth and the sun, not quite either but the best of both. My home is only a mile and a half from the theatre and only three miles from the ocean. The condo, which Heidi sarcastically calls a shoebox, backs up against a hill that is public land, forested with trees, and frequented by deer. One mother comes with her two fawns which I’ve named Emma and Simon. Although clearly I have no idea if one or the other is a boy or a girl. I see them from my bedroom window, but I haven’t been close enough to check.
The neighborhood is quiet, the neighbors friendly, good streets to jog on, good parks to stroll through. And the fog is refreshing. Uh, no, the fog’s horrible. Remember: fog horrible, fog horrible. Got that?
Heidi, at 34 and two and half years younger than me, has a confident take-the-bull-by-horns way of tackling life which I admire. She moved to Pacifica from living near our family in Hawaii to find more challenging work in Silicon Valley. She succeeded. She’s coordinating teacher’s schedules for a small company providing training on voice recognition software.
I’m doing marketing and communications for a 30 person dot-com in a poorly ventilated converted warehouse in Palo Alto providing dynamic contextual linking for content on websites. Dynamic whatting what what? Exactly. In truth, it’s visionary internet software. Good stuff. Well ahead of its time. If the company can stick around until the sagging market catches up, it’ll take off. While my colleagues are some of the brightest I’ve ever worked with, my job isn’t at all challenging. Even though the software is visionary and effective and I hold my head high saying I work there, my responsibilities are less than I had at way back at The Daily Californian—twelve years ago. Needless to say, I’m bored.
"Rotary Club of Pacifica"
Is For Good Men To Do Nothing
By Chris Verrill
Pacifica, California, USA
My Rotary Club of Pacifica has a former town Mayor and a former president of the Chamber of Commerce who are philosophically on opposite ends of the political spectrum, yet work hand in hand to help Pacifica. There’s a realtor, a travel agency owner, a couple of lawyers, the town fire chief, a school district manager, an FBI agent, a day care center manager, a shower door company owner (hey, someone has to supply us with those doors), a financial planner, a bank branch manager, a retired bowling alley contractor, a sergeant in the police department, a newspaper columnist and many more. Oh yeah, and me, a former dot-com owner, former public television development director, now bored doing marketing and communications in Silicon Valley.
Our Rotary club gathers at the Sharp Park Golf Course in a big meeting room off the main restaurant. Floor to ceiling windows on one side reveal some hole on the golf course. You’d think after nine months, I’d know which hole it is, but I don’t. Logic says it’s either #1 or #18, but hey, what do I know? I’m eating breakfast at #19 and that’s all I care about. The view is green, tree-filled, belongs on a picture postcard, and provides a beautiful backdrop to start off Tuesday mornings. Would you expect anything less from Pacifica scenery? Most Rotary Clubs all over the world—yes, there are about 30,000 clubs, with over 1.2 million members, in 166 countries—have attendance of about 70 percent. The Pacifica Club prides itself on having attendance regularly exceeding 95 percent. Our club might be small, but we’re in there. There are 12 four-seater tables in this meeting room and we all enter through an unmarked side door. Not that the Sharp Park Golf Course is ashamed of us or anything. This door just happens to be closer to the parking lot and saves us the trouble of walking the long way around through the clubhouse. Visitors always end up going the main way through the clubhouse. When I first attended, when invited as a guest speaker a year ago, I too went through the main clubhouse entrance. I’ve never done it since.
Upon arriving, I pay for breakfast, $10 or so depending on what I’m getting, and find a table and chat with whoever I happen to sit next to that morning. I never have a preference for who because they’re all fascinating people and, even if I might disagree with some of what they say, they’re always intelligent in how they say it and polite in agreeing to disagree. I can’t ask for better. We order breakfast, ring the bell to start the meeting, stand and recite the pledge of allegiance, say a prayer before eating, introduce visiting guests or Rotarians visiting from other clubs, discuss club business such as upcoming fundraisers or projects we want to support, do a playful fining session to raise a bit of money, and finish off with a guest speaker. The food is good (not true of all Rotary Clubs), the company is wonderful (this is true of all clubs), the good work discussed is meaningful (also universally true), the fining session requiring targeted members to dig into their wallet to donate $3 to our club’s causes has a festive ribbing to it (worldwide, different clubs use different methods to collect cash), and the speaker is always a crap shoot; sometimes excellent, sometimes my mind wonders and starts making mental notes for things I need to do later in the day (also universally true).
It's a sunny Saturday morning about ten. There is a mild breeze. The birds are singing. The Sun creates a wonderful effect on the skin. Its makes the hairs on my arms gleeful with static.
Our destination is the town of Half Moon Bay. There are two ways to go there. Straight down Hwy 101(S) and then merging on to Hwy 92(W). This is the route that the likes of Mapquest will recommend. But you, dear reader, are being driven there
by an insider. The Scenic Route will we go.
Got film? Grab a coat. The Mighty Pacific can be the mighty cold Pacific. Have a banana. Grab some water. There s a Restaurant at the End of today's Universe. We
will Sup well. Twelve levels below, the Nissan 4X4 feels a tingle down his axle. He loves this run.
The garage level has few cars. Its Saturday. Northern California has too much to offer to stay in on a sunny weekend morning.. We pull out in the sunshine. Traffic is scant in this part of the City near the
Financial District. Two right turns later we are entering 101 S. 'But...' you protest?? Patience. Twelve miles later, we take the merge onto Hwy One. The Wests most scenic highway. From the Canadian border to the Mexican border, It hugs and snakes along the Coast. One climb and one curve later. You see the glint of the Ocean 500 feet below. The Chariot of the Sun is still on its ascent. The Pacific is a deep blue.
The road plunges to sea level. The six Pacifica villages lie ahead of us. Till 1964, they were six separate villages, spread about 18 miles apart. In the economies of scale, they banded into one city. The choice for a name seems logical.
Pacificans have a slightly eccentric way of thinking. I know. I lived there for five years and slept a 100 feet from the Pacific surfs roar. I have never slept better.
When people ask where you live and the answer is Pacifica, they always shiver and ask 'Is'nt it foggy there?? Aha. Herein lies the genius of the Pacifican Mindset. Simply put,
?Auslanders? are not wanted. Shopping malls and new apartments are 'verboten.'' We are small. We like it that way, so bugger off. We also have our own dialect. I still say We. You can move away from Pacifica, but its spirit stays in you. I think I have glimpsed into the souls of those who have since time immemorial, been lured by the sea.
The sailor and the surfer. I tried surfing many years ago, but the water was too cold. A friend who has surfed for years looked quizzical when he found that was my reason. 'But you are numb in 30 seconds anyway!? Later I heard about the time he almost severed his toe off surfing, but did not feel a thing because he was numb.
Back to the Pacifica mien. Most people drive past it. The fog caresses the pass we just went past. No malls, noo ?tourist? attractions. Very little reason to go there. Yet, the town UNDER the fog is mostly clear. That is the Pacifica secret. We do nothing to contradict it. We see no reason to.
Mow we are driving past the last town, Linda del Mar. Perhaps a Spanish speaker can translate that for me. I have heard several English versions of it. Not sure which one is accurate.
The road narrows and curves to the left. We enter a leafy glen. The Sun filters thru the not so tall redwoods.
Now the fun begins Tha narrow tree covered road makes a lazy C turn to the right.For the next several miles the road constantly will dip and climb. A minute later you see it. We are on a steep cliff. Mt Montara is a sheer wall to our left. The Pacific, eddying and swirling 1000 feet below. One slip and its certain death. These do occur. Mostly caused by fog, marijuana and over confidence, or all three. I have to concentrate. You take pictures....
We zig and then zag till we get to the abandoned mansion at the top of a bluff to our right. We are in the heart of Devils Slide.
A little something about Devils Slide. It is the West face of Mt Montara that is sliding into the Pacific. Yes, literally sliding at a rate of two to three inches every couple of years. Perhaps an omen for Northern Californias future.
Finally the road straightens up. we come to a steep climb. Long and straight up. A side of the mountain that surely must have been dynamited to make the road. We pass the first beach, a thousand feet below. Its is a crowded beach. This is where most people call it quits. They do not know of the treasures ahead, or they simply don't care. Not everyone is of the eccentric bent of mind as your host. The climb down over old creaky wooden steps. We continue on.
The road widens. Sill single lane but no longer preciptitous. We go past the Chart House. My friend David works there as a chef. So I have been told. David used to work at a greasy spoon with the best breakfast in the area for Irish Pat . A prince of a man. Went out of business. Never turned anyone down. Money or no money. A lot of his countryman took advantage of his generosity. There used to be a waitress there. Ailish. from Ireland. Bonny Ailish. First time she went back home, she sent me a card. It was a meadow with a dirt track. The caption read 'Irish Highway.' The Irish are funny people. I have never met one I did not immediately like.
Back to David. I told you before. You can leave Pacifica. It never leaves you. David was about 17 then, ten years ago. He as an aspiring lead guitarist. His two proud possesions were his guitar and his Walkman Player. One morning I walked in and he was especially animated. He had just heard something in rock music that he did not even know existed. Excitedly he walked up to me, first chance he got.
Blonde, blue eyed, tallish and thin. His eyes were shining. 'Have you ever heard of an English band called 'The Who?' I pretended ignorance. Apparently, the night before, he had heard for the first time 'Won't Get Fooled Again.' Couldn't stop talking about it. It appealed to his lead guitar aspirations.
"Princeton by the Sea and HMB"
We go past Moss Beach. then Naples. Now the land around us is flatter, the hills are at a distance. The coast is buffered by houses which must have great views.
We are in Pumpkin Land. The Pumpkin Capital of the World. But, first: Wait. We have a stop to make. Surely you must be hungry by now. I pull off to the right to Princeton-by-the-Sea. Its is a fishing village. Hundreds of fishing boats line the piers. We take this 'backwards' route to it (most visitors take a right a little further up the road, (the mapquest way)). we drive past 'Barbara's Fish Trap' sea food restaurant. It is full, as usual. I call it Barbara's Tourist Trap. There is another restaurant across from it. One I visited many years ago. I was not impressed. Now its under new management, but I have not been there since. It is also very popular with the tourists. Our gem is just ahead.
We pull into the parking lot. Its about Eleven. its an ordinary parking lot. The local tourist chapter to the left beyond where a few hundred boats are moored. The time for fishing has already passed. These boats go out at 4 AM. To the right is a smattering of shops and restaurants. Let me count them in my mind: Four. Starting from the furthest, a fish 'shack' Joanna's, a good breakfast place, a fish supplies store that offers bait and tickets to whale watching tours and, DRUMROLL please...
The Princeton Seafood Company.
Two options here. Outdoor seating on white Vinyl chairs, or warmer tables inside. There is a fresh fish shop alongside run by the same operation.
Inside, there are several marine artefacts. A naval motif persists. This place is a local secret. It will fill up in an hour, but we are in luck, and are seated rightaway.
I do not have to look at the menu. You may want to. There are all kinds of options, including a burger. I confess, I have never had one there. Why go to a fish place for a burger?
I opt for the fish and chips as usual. The waitress, always a new one questions 'Peteet?' Don't blame her. She is American, and the menu DOES give you a choice 'petit' or 'grande.' Embarassed by this gross mispronunciation of a French word, my reply is 'Small, please.' The difference between the two is two or three large peices of delicious Cod.
The meal arrives. Bubbly beer battered crisp on the outside. Freshly caught just that morning. You can pluck the white insides strand by starand. But it gets better. The cole slaw is made daily. I never tasted any better. The steak fries are crisp, and the tartar sauce is laced with dill and is also made daily. You don't have to ask. You can taste it.
Silence. We ingest.
Now that was good. Now we have three options. Freshly made Ice Cream here, or 12 miles further in HMB. Also freshly made that day. That, dear reader, I leave up to you.