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Installment 9 of Eric D. Goodman’s Travel Essay Series

Just 17 More Miles

Before leaving Monterey for Santa Barbara, there’s one more sight I must see: Monterey’s famed 17-Mile Drive. I spent half a day on this 17-mile stretch when I was in the area a few years ago. I remember it fondly from when I was a teen. No visit to Monterey is complete without taking this drive. And if you have time, you should bring a picnic basket and plan to spend some time at some of the sights.

The Pebble Beach Scenic Tour is, for me, perhaps one of the most beautiful, breathtaking coastal landscapes in the world. With stops along the way at beaches and coves, opportunities to see sea lions, seals, otters, pelicans, cormorants, even deer, and countless Monterey Pines and Cypress—including the famed (and strangely trademarked) Lone Cypress on the sea rock—there are lots of places to stop and take in a deep breath along with the sights. The best way to enjoy the 17-mile tour is to stop at each landmark for a moment and bask in the sight. Last time I was here, we enjoyed the sunset at Point Joe. You may find that, after driving around the loop once, you want to do it again.

I wish I had more time now. But I’ve got to get to Santa Barbara long before today’s sun sets. Still, as I say, no visit is complete … so this time I zip through the 17 miles faster than I should. But better to drive through than miss it all together.

A Party in Santa Barbara

It’s almost a shame to say, but when I think of Santa Barbara, I think of a nighttime soap. The old television show, Santa Barbara. It’s actually a show I have never seen and know nothing about. But it seems like “Santa Barbara” was always used by us, as kids, teens, and young adults, as a way to describe a sappy serial. That, and “Like the sands of the hourglass, these are the days of our lives.” But I’m here now, and Santa Barbara is not a soap opera. It is a paradise.

Tonight, I have a book party and reading at Coninichi’s—a Santa Barbara shop, art gallery, vintage clothing store, and hangout. It’s got a great, hippy feel to it, and it is a comfortable place to have a reading, signing, and celebration of my book. Another social networking friend was kind enough to turn me on to Gina’s establishment, and when I arrive, Gina is ready with a keg of beer and case of wine on ice. Gina and her staff are kind and seem happy to have me. I bring in some wine, chips, and cheese I picked up on my way into town at a local market, but they pale next to the local brew keg (Great White) and chilled white wine she already has out.

There’s a nice little crowd here, and when it comes time to start reading, the conversation lulls to silence. I sit at a desk and read to the crowd, seated and standing in comfortable chairs and couches, leaning on bookshelves and counters. I select two stories to read. To start us off, and in between readings, resident singer/songwriter Nate Lane performs his music.

One of his songs, 70 Miles per Hour, is about a personal experience he had not too long ago. He lost his house and everything in it due to wildfires in the Santa Barbara area. It is a moving song.

I find these sorts of connections interesting. My friend Bryan and I haven’t talked much at all in the past 15 years or so. But when I stopped in our old neighborhood and school, I shared some posts on Facebook and he replied to them. We were connecting in a way we hadn’t in many years. At the same time I was outside his old boyhood home, he was evacuated from his current home in Colorado Springs due to wildfires that came only blocks away from his home. And now, Nate Lane is singing about his own experience of loss due to a wildfire. It’s almost as if I was meant to be here.

After the reading and music, the party goes on, inside the shop and in the back courtyard. I meet a lot of interesting locals, many of them transplants from other places. One such person, Hubert, comes from Poland and talks about the loss of his American Dream—the dream of he and his wife coming to America to live a good life, which has not happened—and he talks about how meaningful an event like this one is for him.

“I find that in America, most people who want to talk want to talk about shit. Who won last night on Dancing with the Stars? Who had the most talent on America’s Got Talent. This …” He opens his arms and hovers at the waist, as though showcasing our event and the people here … “is the inteligenia.”

We—and many others—talk about America and other countries, talk about art and music and writing, talk about life and place. It is a fun evening, and a great reception.

The friend who hooked me up with Gina—Mariana—and her husband are in the audience. It’s a pleasure to meet another friend—someone who actually read a few chapters from Tracks a few versions before publication, back when it was a semi-finalist in a social media contest dubbed “American Idol for Writers.” We’ve known each other online for about six years. Now, we meet for the first time, face to face.

Some people see social media as an escape, and it can certainly be that. But it can also be an entrance, a bridge builder, a connection. And it can lead to meetings like this one—of old friends who have never met in person, of new friends who may never otherwise have met, of artists and authors and musicians sharing a mutual love, and of people still searching for the American dream.