Chapter 2: The Art of Putting Stuff Together

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The Art of Putting Stuff Together

Starting in the freeway-heavy birthplace of L.A., the Pacific Coast Highway/Highway 1 runs up the coast—with a few minor breaks—until it shatters apart in the general area of the Monterey Bay.  A determined person can follow the curve of surface roads, chunks of Highway 1, and other slightly off-route paths to curve all the way from Monterey in the south to Santa Cruz in the north where, after a number of detours, it re-ramifies as a highway and continues up the coast to San Francisco.

The Monterey Bay is bordered by Monterey on the south (naturally) and Santa Cruz to the north.  This helps contribute to Santa Cruz’s weirdness by causing the Pacific Ocean to be to the south of the city proper, which creates the unsettling impression that the sun is rising in the south and setting in the north.  It takes a while to mentally adjust your directions accordingly.

The mighty San Lorenzo river—generally nothing more than a stream, dumping into a brackish river mouth down near the Boardwalk where it hits the bay—divides the city into what the locals call, reasonably enough, the East Side and the West Side.  Beach Flats—largely a neighborhood of minorities and immigrants—was chock-a-block to the river, just across it from the Boardwalk, and most students avoided it as being dangerous.  The University itself rises up on the top of a hill above the westernmost part of town, several hundred feet above and completely invisible to the plebes who live “off campus”.  

The West Side at that time was generally considered boring, pedestrian, suburban, and bland, while the East Side—which included unincorporated parts of the county that students considered part of the city but which really weren’t—was considered a bit wilder.  The lack of city laws to follow and demand for housing had caused some interesting things to crop up on the East Side, with buildings that probably should have been torn down and per-house densities that would exceed anything a fire marshal would approve. 

(I was later to find out that the supposedly staid and boring West Side had plenty of wild things going on, but that’s a set of stories for another time.)

Naturally, Tosh’s house was on the East Side.  The house itself was literally on the water—the back deck was built on top of the seawall, and you would probably see the spray at high tide on a stormy night.  The neighbor’s house to the immediate north was bordered by a concrete stairway that led right down to the water, and when I came for my housing interview, the street was crowded with run-down cars, VW buses, and anything else that could fit a surfboard.  (I have since seen people carrying their boards under their arms as they bike to the water.)

It wasn't stormy enough that day for spray to crash over the deck; it was warm, with a nice cool breeze blowing off the Monterey Bay, and a dozen or more surfers out catching breaks at the Point.  The huge living room (with an equally-huge fireplace) and dining room looked out over the bay with large picture windows.  The house—nominally only a 3 bedroom (but with a critical 5 bathrooms!) had been divided up by Tosh’s industrious housemates so that the house itself contained no less than 10 people, although firm numbers were hard to come by given how many boyfriends, girlfriends, acquaintances, hangers-on, and (for all I knew) transients were there on a given day.

The room, too, was huge—with its own bathroom, walk-in closet (which Tosh half-joked they had considered turning into another bedroom—and given its size, I believed it), and fireplace as advertised, the crash of the surf actually audible through the enclosed deck (converted into two bedrooms) that bordered it.  Tosh had parked his bong collection over by the fireplace; no doubt he blew the smoke up the flue to minimize the smell in the room.  It was so nice that we shook on it right then, and I agreed to move in over the next day or so.  I was a bit startled that none of the other housemates wanted to interview me—some of the housing interviews I had been too thus far had been pretty anxiety-inducing—but Tosh waved away my concerns.  “They trust me,” he said.

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