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Posts tagged ‘california’

freeways and freight trains

It was the day after the election and I went down to Rincon. We were all a bunch of zombies stumbling around on Mars, but the surf was firing. In California we build freeways next to beaches, which is a weird sort of habit, but so are a lot of things. On the wall beneath the freeway, someone had voted with a spraycan. They wanted Tom Curren, local legend and three-time world champion to be president, instead of the guy who’d won the election. Pot smoke hung languid on the breeze, unthinkably beautiful waves rushed down the point, a luminous orange sun slid down the sky. And in that moment, it felt like nothing had changed at all.

drive

I did a little road trip up the coast last week. I had a work thing to do in Napa, but I decided to take the round-about way to get there. I drove to Santa Cruz, then up highway 1 to Pacifica. If you need a place to stay within reach of San Francisco, but not in San Francisco, Pacifica is pretty great. It’s stupid scenic. Stupid.

Also, the Holiday Inn Express is super clean and overlooks the ocean. The lovely man at the front desk gave me a room upgrade which is pretty much the best thing ever. I got a sandwich at Dinosaur’s with tofu and other things on it and some spring rolls and it ruled the world. The only thing missing in Pacifica is solid espresso, but really, you can’t have everything in life.

So yeah, drive from Santa Cruz to Pacifica sometime. You can see the weird old bunker at Devil’s Slide and a whole bunch of ocean. Very cold, windy ocean. Which is alright, really. You’re not actually going to go in it, you’re just going to look at it. And it’s scenic as fuck.

After the scenic, windy, freezing ocean part, I drove through San Francisco, where I cruised the Great Highway and saw more freezing, windy ocean parts. Also, I guess some sharks live there, but I didn’t see any.

#novanlife

ghostbikes

The ghostbike dedicated to Salvador Barragan leans locked to a palm tree in Oxnard, California. Unbroken lines of cars stream down the four-lane road past the stripped-down, white-painted bike. A faded tag on the wall recalls a turf war, likely long forgotten by now. The wall, built of pale pink cinder blocks, is a typical sight in California, dividing backyards from roadways, preserving the illusion of tranquility against the rush of suburban life. Barragan died after he was hit by a driver making a u-turn.

Ghostbikes are fleeting, ephemeral memorials to cyclists killed by cars while riding their bikes. The bikes, their parts removed, are painted white and placed on the roadside. Most ghostbikes are removed very soon after they’re placed. Maybe it’s easier that way. On rare occasions, a ghostbike may stand for many months, a stark reminder of a last ride and a life cut short.

A while back, I did a photo essay for Bicycling on ghostbikes and it’s now live. The first ghostbikes were placed in St. Louis, Missouri in 2003 and they’ve since become a near-universal symbol for a downed cyclist. I interviewed a pair of activists in Southern California and photographed a series of memorials for the project. Head to Bicycling.com to see the story.

Of course, there were way more photos than we eventually ran, because that’s how it always works out. If you’d like to see the rest of the images, I put a ghostbikes gallery over on my photo site.

splinters

splinters

The whole problem was that pine doesn’t float.

He’d gone to the hardware store and bought the wood, three six-food long boards. It was pine, because pine is what they sell at the hardware store down the street. Then he’d brought home the boards and glued them together, each six inches wide and one inch thick, and clamped them tightly. The glue seeped through the cracks and pooled on the cement. When the glue dried, he cut the whole thing loose from the patio with a saw.

Then he took the saw and made a few cuts and took the hand planer, and well, then he planed. That took a while, since it was a very small planer, barely big enough to fit in the palm of his hand. Soon a pile of shavings the color of a well-brewed pilsner or of the late summer hills of central California grew at his feet. Then the sand paper, creased and dusted, scritched and scratched at the boards, smoothing out every last rough spot and rounding off the edges and corners. Finally he painted on two coats of oil to seal the wood and at last it was finished, a freshly made wooden surfboard, ready for its first trip to the sea.

Except that it didn’t float. Or at least, not very well. Surfboards come in all shapes and sizes and colors, but the one trait they all share is that they float when put in water. This is in fact essential to their purpose. They must float and ideally, glide across the surface of the water. Speed is also a good attribute for a surfboard to have. But the pine board with its glue and its planed edges and sanded curves didn’t float or glide or do much of anything very well. It wasn’t meant for water, it seemed, which was a terribly sorry thing, because a surfboard is by definition meant for water.

And so he decided to try again. This time instead of pine he ordered special wood, wood that would float. It traveled across the Pacific on a container ship of the sort whose discarded containers are smashed together and turned into trendy bars and art galleries where men with beards like to gather. The special floating wood showed up on the doorstep, delivered by a harried FedEx driver around 10am one morning.

There were three boards in the package, each one over six feet long, cut from a Paulownia tree somewhere in Asia. Paulownia trees are magical things. Their wood floats, yes. And the trees regrow from their roots even after they’ve been cut down for boards to send across the ocean. Paulownia is for boats and surfboards, for all the things that need to glide on the water.

This time instead of planing the boards himself with his tiny palm-sized planer, he took the boards to a wood-worker named John who has a shop full of tools and a truck to haul them. His workshop is on a hillside, deep in a hidden canyon, the kind of place you don’t know exists until you do. The canyon runs west to the ocean, west toward the channel islands, blue and sharp-edged under a noon-day sun.

John glued the three magic boards together and clamped them tightly. Then he took his planer and smoothed and shaped the wood to his whim. Then he sanded it to satin. Two coats of oil slushed over the wood to protect it from harm. And then it was done.

And this time when he put it in the water, it actually stayed on top of the water like a surfboard is supposed to do, not like the pine, which didn’t float at all. The board made from the magic floating wood that came across the Pacific in a container on a giant ship slid and sliced, twisting and gliding over the top of water glittering with light. And he rode it over and over, wave after wave, joyful.

But the magic wood that floats also breaks with impressive ease. And one day the surfboard made from Paulownia broke in half. It split right down the middle. He picked up the pieces and carried them home under his arm just like a normal surfboard that hadn’t broken in half. Then he went to the hardware store and bought some more glue, the waterproof kind, designed for boats and other things that go in the water.

He took the two pieces of his wooden surfboard, glued them together, clamping them tightly. And just like last time, some glue seeped through the crack and stuck to the cement. And just like last time, he pried it free with a saw. The excess glue sanded off easily. Good as new, he said.

And then he headed down to the beach, his wood board tucked under his arm, and paddled out into the capacious sea.

Photo Gallery

Some extras from the Potts-Cunningham story for Mountain Flyer.