Thursday, March 6, 2008

Springtime 17

Written on the bus - heading home from work...

This afternoon I find myself on a one-hour one-way trip on the Highway 17 bus with no wireless internet connection, misplaced earphones - thus no iPod - and recognition that this very morning I declined to pack two recent issues of Newsweek, not wanting to overload my travel bag. No media stimulation for me this hour, nothing but an empty page and plenty of time to write. I'm on a supposedly "express" route, watching as folks step onto the bus and discover, shockingly, that this ride costs money, and that they ought to have some. "Does anyone have change for a twenty?" one elderly woman asks. "This stinker won't let me on the bus." One hour to go until I'm in my easy chair, petting our cat who still thinks she's a kitten, and negotiating with Jenny about where we'll go for dinner tonight.

We pass through the last major intersection before we pour into the interstate which guides us to the mountainous and curvy road that drains toward the Pacific. The warm afternoon is cooled by spring breezes. Green and blue flags wave nearby, announcing a car wash. We roll alongside a billboard for Disneyland, and I catch sight of yet one more little girl who thinks she should be a "princess." It's easy, so long as you're willing to ride the rides, watch the movies, purchase the clothes, and convince your parents to cash out some of their 401k to visit the castle now and again. I shake my head and the billboard is gone. We're on the road heading out of town. A passenger sitting next to me reminds our driver to pull out his pilot's license. "Huh?" he asks. "You know, because you drive so fast." He's a young guy with spiky hair and long sideburns, but he answers with calm nonchalance: "I don't drive fast, I fly low."

Heading toward the dark green hills, I see signs for Los Gatos, and I smile a tight-lipped smile that would appear sheepish to anyone looking. I remember when I first came to San Jose, interviewing for a job back in 1998. I had done some basic research on the area, learning about the nearby towns. I anticipated that someone might ask, "so, where might you want to live?" and I wanted to have an answer, to sound like I'd done my homework. And sure enough, someone asked. I replied in my best middle school Spanish accent. "I'd like to live in Los GOT-tos." My guides chuckled, both at the impossible high standard I sought - telling me something of the insane housing market in that area - and at my silly pronunciation. "Oh," one said, "You mean Lazgatas." Passing Lexington Reservoir, I recall maybe a half-dozen times I've visited that town since moving to California.

Ascending the hill, cars dart around us, panicked at the thought of being caught behind a bus around here. The hills tumble into the road with loose rocks, some caught by netting, others unprotected. A fierce winter storm shuts this highway down at least once or twice a year, but the rainy season seems to be over. Our climb slows to a crawl, and I read hand-written signs posted in the grass. We're heading for the summit, nine miles to Scotts Valley now. We pass a northbound bus and our driver waves to his colleague in the other lane. I like that tradition, bus drivers recognizing each other, even if they can't see each other for sure in the blur of rapid passing. At the summit I spot the nice restaurant that advertises the world's best ribs. Honestly, they're not that good, but they're much better than they have right to be. Jenny and I sometimes dine there, and we're almost always one of merely two or three parties in the entire place.

Now we descend and the driver works that accelerator. Weaving through tight curves, we pick up some decent speed, and I flop left and right in my seat. We pass cops scouting for speeders and tow trucks ready to remove wreckage from the road. Highway 17 is notorious for the number of accidents it attracts, mostly due to lunatic drivers who overestimate their skills. One decent crash and this road backs up for miles with rubberneckers sniffing for blood. There are no accidents on the road today, though, just the risk of deer darting among the cars.

At last we pass the billboard for Ocean Honda, the sign that home is nearby. The town of Scotts Valley (population slightly over 11,000) stretches beyond the trees, hidden. It's a tiny enclave in so many ways. We turn onto Mount Hermon road and I breathe in deeply. San Jose is a lifetime away, hard to remember exactly. My home is here in this small place with a couple of decent restaurants and a movie theater whose owner sometimes chats about upcoming releases with the audience. I pass a gas station advertising cheap(!) stuff for $3.53, but I don't mind. I'm not going anywhere else tonight. Or if I am, I'm not going far.

Follow-up: Reading an article about the efforts of some Scotts Valley residents to protest efforts by Target to place a store in city limits, I was intrigued by Brian Seals's description of my town, the "business-friendly high-tech enclave of Scotts Valley, where khaki-pants wearing programmers are as common as sandal-clad middle-aged hippies are in Santa Cruz." In that article, Seals quotes the Scotts Valley 6 Cinema co-owner's position on people seeking to place anti-Target ads on his screens: "We sell popcorn, Cokes and hope you have a good time," [Don] Rudger said. "We run movies. We're not involved in the political schemes of life."

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