I was born in Youngstown, Ohio, back in the olden days. I spent my youth running through cornfields, throwing stones, riding bikes and petting dogs. My hands were often covered in pine sap.
When I was 16, the local Rotary Club sent me to Venezuela as a foreign exchange student. The experience changed me forever. I learned to speak Spanish there, and I acquired the ability to hug upon greeting. Sadly, I never learned to dance salsa.
The following year, in the dead of winter, I returned home. Things had changed. Punk had erupted, Gerald Ford had somehow become president, and my friends got too high and drove their parents’ cars around on frozen roads. Gratefully, I did not die in a firey car crash.
I went away to college. I spent a year at Western College, Miami University’s “alternative” school. Some people joined fraternities, but I learned six chords on the guitar and sang Neil Young’s moody “Last Trip to Tulsa” over and over again. I pulled a red knit cap over the light fixture in my dorm room for ambiance.
When I heard “Out on the Weekend,” I assumed Neil was singing to me, so I packed up my stuff and headed to California on the Amtrak. It spit me out in dusty Salinas, but I continued on to Santa Cruz, a magic place “where the mountains meet the sand.”
It was a fascinating place and time. I met hippies, punks, gurus, devotees, criminals, goddesses, surfers, baristas, vagabonds and breatharians. We drank chai, sang Beatles’ songs, slept on the floor, and ate sushi rolls. There was very little money and virtually no television.
I bought a ’57 Pontiac wagon and watched sunsets from its rumble seat on West Cliff Drive. I grew out my hair, fasted, meditated, read Kerouac and Camus, and wrote my first few songs. I went back to school. A few years later, they allowed me to graduate from UC Santa Cruz with a degree in Spanish Literature. Still not sure how I pulled that
After graduation, with about $20 in my pocket, I retreated to Houston, where my family had relocated. Gone were the cornfields and winding country roads of my youth. They were replaced by tall, shiny buildings, polished cars, sweetly paved highways, designer jeans and 9-to-5 jobs. I played along. I found work, met a woman, got married and adopted multiple dogs. We bought a bungalow near downtown and painted it in gaudy colors. We hosted dinner parties.
It was amusing, but all the while I dreamed of Santa Cruz. I missed the beaches, the music, the sunsets and the natural foods stores. When the dinner parties started ending badly, enough became enough. I got a speedy Texas divorce, collected one of the dogs and my clothes, and drove back to California.
I was optimistic that the sun in San Francisco would embrace me, that cash would flow like wine, and that love would find me. I convinced a local cafe owner to let me host an open mic, every Thursday night. It was there that I met a bunch of odd characters who (mostly) continue to be my friends and guiding stars.
I also met an enchanting woman on a sunny afternoon who stirred my passions and agreed to give me a baby girl, with an acceptable quantity of strings attached. We moved to Petaluma, a little farming community my mom called “the prettiest small town in America.” I can’t disagree.
The baby girl blossomed like the local sunflowers and magnolia trees. We moved to a cottage on a hillside in Penngrove where wild turkeys paraded around the lawn, gophers dug and the pine trees dripped. There were many warm evenings that culminated with pitch black nights that overflowed with stars. Life was good here.
To make a long story much shorter, my daughter and I moved back to San Francisco. I got a job and made a record. She danced, played music and yearned for her future, laughing all the way.
Years fled. COVID struck—which freed me from the travails of being a San Francisco commuter. I found the last affordable house in Santa Rosa and bought it, just above the invisible line where many Bay Area residents will not venture. I’m growing things, singing songs, staring at the night sky, and feeling very, very fortunate. I hope you do too.