Trip Report: Santa Cruz

What started as a phone call to Iolanda last month ended with a bang.  Actually a four-hour long barrage of bangs over the boardwalk of beautiful Santa Cruz, California.  The fireworks started at sunset on the Fourth of July and ended just before dawn on the fifth.  I've never seen so many fireworks in all my life.  But I'm  getting ahead of myself.

Unless you're Stella, you already knew about our planned scheme to all show up in Santa Cruz to meet Stella.  (Stella knows this now, so it is OK to tell her.)   I picked Vinny up at his house last Wednesday and almost got Cathy to believe we were heading over to Las Vegas.  She gave permission for him to go over - but over to - Las Vegas, which of course we did.  We also went over Colorado, where I swear I could see Lisa sweeping the front porch of the cabin her and Henry were staying in.

We arrived a day early and visited some museums in San Jose, had dinner in Cupertino and stayed in Sunnyvale.  Then on Thursday we met Jimmy and Steph at San Jose airport.  They arrived about an hour before Chuck and Io.  Jimmy was excited to see us, but only until he learned there was an In-and-Out across the street from the airport.  For those of you who don't know much about fast food, In-and-Out is a hamburger chain.  For those of you who don't know Jimmy, it is his favorite food in the world.  (In reality everything is Jimmy's favorite food!)  Legend has it that he's driven all day from Oregon to California just to have an In-and-Out burger.  No sooner than we were "In-and-Out" we were back at the airport to meet Chuck and Io's plane.  Then we waited for Stella.

Stella and her very pretty dog Woody pulled up to the arrival curb.  We were all standing there, but she didn't notice us at first.  She noticed Io because, after all, she was expecting to see her.  Stella walked right past Vinny, probably thinking he was a suspicious character.  Stella is most perceptive.  She noticed me next.  She didn't say as much, but I'm guessing it was my distinctive command presence that caught her attention.  Then she noticed Vinny's nose, and a moment or two later she noticed Vinny.

Then she noticed (I don't know in what order) Chuck, Jimmy, and Steph.  We all hugged and embraced and explained to Woody that he wouldn't have to sit in anyone's lap because we had an extra car.

Then we drove, as the locals say, "over the hill" from San Jose to Santa Cruz on mountainous, narrow, twisty Highway 17.  The Pacific Ocean lies at the bottom of a giant hill.  We went straight to our residence, a bed and breakfast called "The Darling House."  Mr. and Mrs. Darling were gracious hosts - more on that later.  The house was built in 1910 and designed by a Mr. Weeks, who also designed every other now-historic landmark in Santa Cruz.  It is a beautiful place, right on the bay and within sight of the beach, boardwalk, and all the other attractions.

The Darling House

Within a short time Steph's parents, Doug and Yvonne, arrived.  They drove all the way from Arizona to meet Stella's Uncle Tony.  And since they'd come all that way, they decided to stick around and celebrate their daughter's birthday.  We celebrated two birthdays:  Stella's on the fourth and Steph's on the fifth.  More on that later.

While we were there we visited the beautiful, dog-friendly downtown area as well as the boardwalk, the beach, and the pier.  While in Santa Cruz we had fabulous pizza, great seafood, and Greek food that our resident Greek Chuck declared to be authentic.  It was perfect.  We visited Stella's office and saw bones and artifacts that date back to prehistoric times and reminded me how much I was missing Lisa.  We ate at a restaurant where many of Stella's bandmates played, and we met all of them.  Musicians are fascinating people.

Steph makes a wish

Up to now, the highlight of the trip was watching Stella and Vinny pretend that the chocolate-covered bacon and fried peanut butter and jelly they ate on the fourth wasn't causing hallucinations.  But things got much more interesting on the fifth.  It was Steph's birthday, and we schemed and plotted to surprise her with cake and champagne at the Darling House.  Stella, who had noticed an old piano in the parlor, asked the Darlings if she could bring over some friends and make some music. 

Stella and Vinny enjoy chocolate-covered bacon and deep-fried peanut butter and jelly

Well, it just so happens that Darrell Darling is a huge fan of jazz and it just so happens that he knew Stella's friends.  He was so excited that he relaxed his "no alcohol" rule and graciously allowed Doug and Yvonne to bring in champagne along with a beautiful birthday cake.  So on the fifth, pianist Elliot and bassist Chris played and Stella sang in the Darling's parlor. Wow!  Stella is beautiful, talented, and made this intimate impromptu performance memorable. Elliot and Chris are also top-shelf professionals.  I've never heard a piano sound like magic, and Chris made the four strings of his upright bass talk.  It was absolutely stunning to hear the music bring that old house alive.  Nearly every song had a piano solo and bass solo, and they were all incredible.  They played a set from the set list (that's musician talk, continue reading please) and then we popped the corks, and enjoyed cake and while Stella sang and the guys played some more.  She sang a song in perfect Italian, and she made English sound like a romantic language.  One of her songs was from the Prohibition Era, ironic given that we were listening to it while sipping champagne.  Stella and the band joked between songs and it seemed that everyone in the room had known each other all their lives.  Music does that kind of thing.

Two short videos Vinny took:



Stella and me reviewing set list

While we were there we decided that we all want an actual, real reunion.  So this is a call to start floating dates, venues, and other details.  We hope that Doug and Yvonne will join us - unless they offer to host it in Arizona, in which case we'll all sure to join them.

  Chris, Stella, and Elliot put on quite a show.  All Stella's friends are invited to our next gathering.

Stella, thank you so much for so graciously and suddenly changing all the plans you had to show us such a great time.  It may have been your birthday, but you made it our special time and the thoughts will be with us forever.  You are gifted in arts and letters, and you exemplify all the goodness in our family.  I promise you it won't be long until I see you again!

Standing: Doug, Yvonne, Chuck, Iolanda, Steph, Jimmy, Tony, Stella, Vinny.  Sitting: Stella's friends Elliot and Olaf.