Dan and Hannah Celebrate a Mini-Reunion of the FLHS Class of 1966 in California

It all began quite innocently.  And then yours truly, not knowing the intricacies of Facebook, made a social faux pas.  But a faux pas that morphed into fabulosity.  Let me explain.

Roz Thomas fire 2

While planning for our February on the Central Coast of California with Hannah, I read online about the Thomas Fire which burned nearly 300,000 acres in the mountains above Santa Barbara and Carpinteria and leveled entire neighborhoods in Ventura.  With these wildfires raging mere miles from our soon-to-be VRBO condo in Carpinteria, I notice that Gerry Moss, a childhood friend from the Radburn section of Fair Lawn, New Jersey, posted that his sister’s Ventura house burned to the ground.

Though we ran in different circles, Gerry and I grew up in idyllic Radburn in the 1950s and 1960s – cul de sac living where ever street ended at a park.  We were part of the same rec program as well as attended Radburn School together at the far end of the park.

Roz Thomas fire 2

So, when I heard about the devastation of his sister’s house, I thought, what if Hannah and I take his sister and hubby out for breakfast when we are in California?  A modest gesture to be sure, but modest gestures are usually worth making.  I didn’t know them at all, but I knew Gerry and so I reached out to him.

Roz D and Gerry Moss

Dan and Gerry

This is where my naivete about Facebook comes in.  I didn’t have Gerry’s email, so I contacted him directly through the Fair Lawn High School Class of 1966 Facebook page.  Little did I know that that meant I would be contacting everyone in the FLHS group.  Unaware of Facebook messaging, I appreciated Gerry gently letting me know of that option and suggesting that we use it to communicate privately.  My bad, but then my good.

As it turns out, Gerry and his wife Irene were coming to support his sister Ruthann and her hubby Jerry during five days in February when we would be nearby in Carpinteria.  He suggested we get together.  Then it gets even better.

Roz 1 five of us with cake

Linda, Dan, Roz, Gerry, and Paul with our 70th Birthday Cake

Smiling on me, the reunion gods brought my breakfast invitation intentions to classmate Roz, who lives in the area, and Linda from Seattle, who would be traveling to the area with her hubby Rich.  Roz offered her place as a mini-reunion venue and contacted others to join us.  Fortunately, my high school tennis teammate, Paul, arranged to come.

Roz cropped sweatshirt


With five members of the Fair Lawn High School Class of 1996 set to meet, Hannah and I drive south on The 101 through Ventura, Oxnard, and Camarillo to Roz and her husband Jeff’s place in Westlake Village.  As I drive, I wonder if any of these other four felt like they were a part of the in crowd?  As is well-documented, I was three or four orbits out from the in crowd and spiraling into some black hole of the galaxy.

Roz class reunion

Having last seen this group six plus years ago at our 45th class reunion, I felt the outsider then, since I hadn’t seen any of these classmates, well, for 45 years.  But it was Roz and Linda who came to my rescue and supported me in feeling like I belonged.  I was the principal’s son, had stuck to my small group of friends during my high school years, and was an introvert, not rocking in the confidence department.  Linda and Roz, probably didn’t know at the time how much their kindness meant to me that night; you see what I mean about the power of small gestures?

Having had such a good time at the 45th Reunion, I was primed for our 50th.  And then I wasn’t.  Though I had purchased the $125 ticket, I bailed at the last minute.  My high school buddies weren’t going.  My closest friend had died, others were in parts unknown, estranged from anything Fair Lawn, and others didn’t survive the hallucinogens of the Sixties.  What would it matter if I went?  Who would care?  I stayed home.


Mom (51) and Dad (56) circa 1972.  Any resemblance with me and my dad?

Today provided a little chance for redemption as I stepped out of my comfort zone.   Greeting me at her door, Roz says, You look like your father.  Whoa, no one has ever said that to me.  She adds, He had a rounder face, but you look like your father.  Not five minutes later, unaware what Roz had said, Gerry says the same thing.  Really?  I had no idea.

Roz D and Roz

Dan and Roz.  We were partners at our high school graduation

As to the in-crowd question?  None of us felt we were.  If you weren’t a female cheerleader, student council or class president, or a big time male athlete, you had a hard time breaking into the in-crowd.  Amazingly, there were no high school team sports for girls in the mid-1960s in north Jersey).  Membership in the in crowd seems insignificant now.

Roz D and Paul

Varsity Tennis Players, Dan and Paul

Talking with my tennis teammate Paul, I relived what was one of the best parts of my high school days – the varsity tennis team.  The camaradery with teammates gave me the feeling of belonging.   In addition, my small group of friends were the best; but my high school classes were often lectures with little student-to-student interaction.  With my dad as principal, I felt constrained, feeling like always had to be on my best behavior.  Obedience became my default persona; it took years to shed that facade.

Roz Paul, Linda, and Dan

Paul, Linda, and Dan

Getting together with my classmates today, reminds me now how I felt then that I was always competing.  I competed for grades (No Einstein, I graduated 61 out of 596 from high school); I competed on the social scene for high school girlfriends and come up empty; I competed on the tennis team to be #1, but almost always felt nervous on match days.  I didn’t have as much fun as I could have.  Years later, as a senior at Arizona State, thanks to my guys, I began to loosen the shackles of other people’s expectations.

I could have used a little Lao-Tzu back in the day.

Be simply yourself and don’t compare or compete.
– Lao Tzu

Roz five of us with sweatshirt
One more time.  Dan, Gerry, Roz, Linda, and Paul

Today, I am rarely competing with anyone.  I hike with Hannah, where we don’t  compete; we both finish at the same time!  I am recreational pickleball player and avoid tournament play.

Today, I am loving being with these classmates and their spouses on a day that will be one of my favorites in California.  Mostly at peace, I am just so damn happy for their successes and their good fortune in love and life.

Thank you, Roz, Gerry, Paul, and Linda.  Til we meet again.

And by the way, I am ready for our 55th class reunion.  Really!  I am not kidding.

Dan and Hannah Return to Goleta Beach after Fire and Rain

I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain. – James Taylor

Montecito Thomas fire

Along The 101

It was the most violent rain in 200 years, following the biggest wildfire in state history, on the heels of the most dehydrating and devastating drought in modern county history. The Thomas Fire left the top few inches of the front-country slopes baked and seared into a fine, crumbly powder. The sustained heat cooked the chaparral, coaxing from it a waxy liquid that oozed onto the soil and functioned like a sheet of glass. The rains struck with biblical fury. Six-tenths of an inch in five minutes. Imagine a downhill demolition derby with 10,000 John Deere tractors dive-bombing Montecito, disking the hillsides as they go.  – Dr. Ed Keller, professor of geology, UCSB.

Whoa.  Nothing like a geologist to put the recent natural disaster in California’s Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties into perspective.  Before Hannah and I came to Carpinteria on the Pacific coast for the month of February, I’d been reading about the Thomas Fire and the deadly mud and debris flows in nearby Montecito.

Let me back up and set the scene.

In December of 2017, wildfires blasted the vegetation (mostly very dry brush from years of drought) on the mountainsides above Ventura, Ojai, Carpinteria, Montecito, and Santa Barbara.  Two of our favorite hiking canyons, San Ysidro and Romero, were closed since the trees of these steep ravines were burned to the roots.  The fire was so intense it burned the organic matter in the soil, leaving pulverized dust, providing no stability for a firm trail foundation.

Montecito House

Montecito Mud and Debris

And then it got worse.   On January 9, 2018 heavy rain fell on these hillsides into these same canyons causing mud and debris flows that washed away and knocked houses off their foundations; it sent car size boulders onto the main north/south highgway (The 101), closing it in both directions for nearly two weeks.

As the clean-up continues, our hiking options have narrowed, but we do have an old reliable hike – a mellow cliff walk from Goleta Beach State Park along the campus of the University of California, Santa Barbara.  Alas, this area, far from the fires and mud flows, has been compromised as well.  Let me explain.

GB 1 Montecito Mud on Goleta Beach

Montecito Mud comes to Goleta Beach.  UCSB buildings in the background.  Cliff trail in the distance.

Driving 20 miles north from our VRBO (Vacation Rental by Owner) condo in Carpinteria, we wonder if we will even have access to the parking lot at Goleta Beach State Park.  Over the last month, dump truck after dump truck (100 loads per day) bring the mud (not debris) from the January mudslides.  Though examined for non-mud materials, there is enough bacteria in the mud that swimming and surfing is currently not allowed in the area.

GB 2A cliffs with warning sign

Cliff walk harborside near UCSB

Once the pungent, tree-burned, dark mud is dumped on the beach and pushed out into the low tide areas by bull dozers, the high tides start to work their magic.  Within 24 hours, the tide has washed the mud out to sea, leaving the sandy elements of the muddy soil to replenish the beach itself.

GB 2B H with warning sign

It turns out we are able to park at Goleta Beach, though we and the rest of the public are barred by yellow police tape from walking within 400’ of the mud dumping zone.  Taking to the UCSB bike trail towards campus, we skirt the beach and head for the fenced off cliff trail on the edge of campus.   As expected, there are no surfers off the UCSB point as we weave by the marine technology lab.

GB 3B more pacific cliffs bueno

Cliff walk facing the Pacific Ocean

Climbing stairs to the vista above the Pacific, we see school kids who have come for a nature field trip.  Just two are listening to the guide, and the rest act middle school bored, so wanting to check their phones.  Passing to their inland side, I appreciate that leading field trips with middle schoolers is in my distant past.  When I retired from 41 years of teaching seven years ago, I never looked back.  Greener pastures, hikable trails, and pickleball courts awaited.   Previously we have come to these bluffs on weekends, so it is not surprising to see fewer walkers, students or visitors on the trail.  Click here for our 2016 cliff hike and here for our 2017 hike.

GB 3A pacific cliffs with D

Bomber at the Pacific

Returning by way of the lagoon and then through campus, we see that UCSB students are living the dream, sitting on the student union lawn facing the Pacific in shorts soaking in the sun.  By the way, tuition and fees in 2017-2018 for California residents are $14,409, for out-of-staters it’s $42,423.  Room and board for each of the 24,000+ students is $16, 218.  At this highly competitive public university, the high school GPA averages are roughly 4.10 (they take a slew of AP classes, I’m guessing) and SATs are 600-750.

At the change of classes near 1P, kids on cruisers (one speed bikes) and skate boards, male and female, glide to class on specially marked trails to separate them from the walkers.

Carp 2B D by mud on Carp Beach

Mud comes to the Carpinteria Beach

Returning to Carpinteria for an evening walk on the beach, we see the same pungent dark mud that we saw earlier at Goleta Beach State Park.  Within 100’ of the mud spread, we start to smell a pungent, burnt wood odor; it is overpowering.  Whereas, in Goleta Beach there are no domiciles within a half mile of the dumping, here in Carpinteria the oceanfront condos have the nasty mud lapping near their walls.  To quote the kids, gag me with a spoon.  Check out the video below of the dumping process.

Heading for our condo, we find the town roads are covered with the sheen of dark red mud.  Street sweepers go up and down the streets constantly keeping the dust down and sweeping up the surface mud.

Swimming and surfing here at the Carpinteria Beach is also verboten and will stay so for more than a month.  Like others, we occasionally walk the beach mornings and evenings, but we do not mess with the bacteria-infested mud.  All is not perfect in paradise.  But it is still paradise.

Dan and Hannah Find Their Small Town Dream in California


Carp 4 sunset

Sunset at Carpinteria above the harbor seal rookery

Since forever, I’ve wanted to live in a small town.  I dreamed I’d be connected to our neighbors and the community at large.  As Hannah and I both turn 70, we’d like to find a town that is both small and warm in winter, so we can be active outside each and every day.   And let me tell you, we struck gold in California.  Let me backtrack to take you on the journey that led us to this small town of warmth on the Pacific Ocean.

Harry and Hazel in Radburn

My grandpa Harry and grandma Hazel on my mother’s side in front of our house in Radburn.  Circa 1960.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Hannah and I both grew up in the suburbs that had a small-town feel (she near Rochester, NY and me ten miles from the Big Apple).

In the Radburn section of Fair Lawn, NJ where I grew up, there were six houses to an acre, all on cul-de-sacs backed up to a park.  In the Erie Canal town of Fairport, NY, Hannah as the daughter of the town doctor, was known by everyone.  We had small towns in our blood from the beginning.

When first married, Hannah and I bought a home in Tempe, Arizona, the home of Arizona State University.  But we lived on streets where people kept to themselves, often staying indoors much of the time because of the heat.  (Though it’s a “dry” heat, it’s like living in an oven.)  We’d put Molly, then later Robyn in a stroller going up and down La Jolla Drive and never see another person.  This was a dead end in our hunt for a small town.

Carp 1A our driveway in January

Our driveway on Chases Pond Road in winter

In 1982, we got serious about our small town holy grail.  Moving from Arizona to seek the romantic notion of small town living in New England, we settled in the “small town” of York on the southern Maine coast.

But…we bought a house out a country road, some 2.5 miles from the center of town.  Too far to walk to town, we drove to the center of town to find the First Parish Church, the church cemetery from the 1600s, a Cumberland Farms, the York Historial Society complex of buildings, a few insurance businesses, and the York Public Library.  That’s about it.

Come 5P, the town rolls up the sidewalks for the night.  There’s no town green, no restaurants, no park, no community center.  In my mind, York is a small town in name only.

Though we still live in York, I have never given up my search for that small town.  Why even in the early 1990s, we made an offer on a house in Brunswick, Maine, primarily because of its small-town feel.  For many reasons, we backed away from that decision.

Montecito Mud 2 the 101

After the January 2018 mud and debris flows on The 101 in Montecito

And then in 2014, we started to come to California in winter, first for two weeks, then a month.  California has it all!  True there are earthquakes, wildfires, climate change-caused droughts, and mud and debris flows, but it also has progressive politics, towns where everyone can feel safe, and the warmth that allows us to hike, walk, and pickle outside in winter.

Carp 2 H by ping pong table

Hannah at Carpinteria Beach

Then in 2017, we took our grandsons, Owen and Max, to the beach south of Santa Barbara and hit the mother lode of small towns in winter – Carpinteria.

So, what is it about Carpinteria that made this small town so appealing in winter?

First, let’s be real, it’s temperate winter climate allows us to exercise outside in shorts day in and day out.

Carp map of carp

Carpinteria, ten miles south of Santa Barbara

Second, it’s location.  The town of 14,000 residents is tucked between the coastal San Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, a stretch of maybe three miles wide.  There’s little room to expand, which will keep the small in this small town for years to come.

Carp 4A small house

Modest size beach house in Carpinteria

Third, we are not smothered by traffic.  True, The 101 highway away from our beach side of town is California-clogged for much of the morning and evening commute.  But tucked between Carpinteria Avenue and the beach are nine quiet streets with modest size houses (probably less than a 1000 square feet) on streets for us to walk and for couples and kids to bike on their cruisers (one speed bikes conducive to this level terrain and the hard sandy beaches).

Carp 4C harbor seal rookery

Harbor Seal Rookery off the Coastal View Trail in Carpinteria

Fourth, there are out-of-the-way trails to walk.  To the north of the downtown is the Carpinteria Marsh Trail.  In the opposite direction past the boardwalks through the sand dunes of Carpinteria State Park, there is the Coastal View Trail to the Harbor Seal Rookery.

Carp 3 Alcazar

The Alcazar where we watched Super Bowl LII with one hundred other townsfolk

Fifth, we can walk everywhere.  It is less than a half mile to restaurants, the Alcazar Theater where we watched the Super Bowl with one hundred other townsfolks, Albertson’s, the local grocery store, the post office, Chinese takeout at Uncle Chen’s and a Subway and Taco Bell for something quick.  The library is two-tenths of mile from our rented winter condo.  And it deserves an ordinal (a number in a sequence like 1st, 2nd,..) to itself.

Carp 3A Library

Small town Carpinteria Library

Sixth, at the Carpinteria Public Library, we ask about getting a library card.  It’s free, even though we are not residents!  Its similar to the no cost emergency services (i.e., ambulances) in the county.  Last year, Hannah was transported by ambulance after her 25’ fall from the San Ysidro Trail to the local Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital for emergency surgery.  When the EMTs were working to save her leg, we learned there is no charge for the county ambulance service.  Here in the Republic of California, services are often provided for all its citizens.

PB H and D and Nancy

Pickleball on the Santa Barbara Muncipal Courts

Seventh, it’s not in the middle of nowhere.  Ten miles to our north in Santa Barbara, we have our Unity of Santa Barbara spiritual community, the Municipal Tennis Courts for pickleball, the Santa Barbara Zoo for visits by our grandsons, Owen and Max, and Trader Joe’s.  Ten miles further is the University of California, Santa Barbara bordering Goleta Beach State Park with its two-mile cliff walk.

Carp 2A H by Carp State Beach sign first day

Eighth, the beach.  Each sunny afternoon Hannah takes her beach chair and reading material to enjoy the delights of Ole Sol. Evenings we can walk the hard-packed sand.

It’s not everyone’s cup of joe, but its the small town in winter that works for us.

Dan and Hannah Love California

Carp 1A our driveway in January

Our January driveway on Chases Pond Road

Up at 3A, I check my tablet computer to learn our 735A Delta flight from Boston to Los Angeles is on time.  I then notice on the Weather Channel that 1-3″ of snow is predicted here on the coast of Maine and it is to start at 3A.  Looking outside, no snow is falling.  Hmmm.  When our friend Adele arrives at 4A to drive us to Logan Airport, there is still no snow.  On the 60 mile, one hour ride south, only once at Logan Airport does light snow fall.  No big deal.

Arriving at Logan, we are on schedule for a six hour flight to depart at 735A.  Cozied into the airport, I notice nothing of the weather outside as I am distracted by Delta’s free Starbucks coffee and my Dunkin’ Donuts blueberry muffin.  Finally, as we walk down the runway I see that there is some serious snow falling.  It’s early in the travel day, we should be fine.

Carp 1 deicing in boston

Hannah captures our plane being de-iced

We are not fine.  Two and a half hours later, we take off after the mandatory de-icing.  Take all the time you need to de-ice.  I want to arrive in LA without incident.

The six hour flight goes quickly thanks in part to the satisfaction of getting a free breakfast and the excellent Battle of the Sexes with Emma Stone.

Arriving later than expected at LAX, we still are off before 2P in our Avis rent-a-car on The 405 and soon to The 101 through urban Los Angeles to Carpinteria some 80 miles up the coast.  LA Traffic?  Not bad on a Tuesday at 2P.  That said, the twelve lane highway is full of cars, but Hannah and I cruise north in the HOV lane.  The car thermometer reads 85F.  It was 23F in York early this morning.

Carp 2 H by ping pong table

Within 100′ of the Pacific Ocean

Arriving Carpinteria by 330P, we unpack and head to the Carpinteria State Beach five blocks away.  It’s 73F and we are reminded of our love of the Golden State.

Montecito disneyland

On Halloween 1970 all the teachers at my Patrick Henry Elementary School were required on a school day to march with the kids supervising them in a parade.

Fact is, I have had a thing for California for a long time.  I took my first teaching job in the Golden State in 1970.  Right out of Arizona State University as an elementary education major, I was drawn to sunny, though smoggy southern California.  The Anaheim City Schools (35 miles south of Los Angeles) offered me a job as a social studies, science, and Spanish teacher of 5th and 6th graders at $7200 per year.  I took the job, despite never having had a single course in Spanish.

Later that year, I moved back to Arizona to start the first ten years of Hannah’s and my married life.  Then, it was 35 years and counting in Maine raising a family and trying to get our acts together.

But it was our one-time York, now California friends, Tree and Scott, who planted the seed four years ago that brought us back to the Golden State.  Over coffee and blueberry muffins at the local Roast and Crumb, Tree mentioned that they loved Maine; but too much of the winter they found running and walking outside a cold, dismal proposition.

Montecito map thomas fire

Santa Barbara is 100 miles north of Los Angeles

It was a Tom Edison moment for me.  That was exactly my first frustration with Maine winters.  Literally, within three days of that December morning, I had made January reservations for a flight to LAX (Los Angeles Airport) for two weeks of hiking up the coast of California.  For every winter since that 2014, we have returned to the Golden State.

SB Pickleball Feb 1

The wildfires came to just the other side of those near mountains.

It’s win/win.  The first win is being in the temperate winter climate of the Santa Barbara area of California.  This February 70s are predicted every day for our first two weeks.  Walking by the beach or before the town wakes up every morning before breakfast in shorts!   Hiking the canyon trails in the nearby San Ynez Mountains in shorts!  Playing pickleball in Santa Barbara outdoors in shorts!  Well, as you might have guessed, that’s the long and short of it.

Montecito snow in Maine

Nubble Lighthouse in York, Maine

The second win is we are not in Maine in the winter.  Maine is home and always will be.  But during a recent two-week period, we had brutal subzero cold with a major snowstorm thrown in for good measure; this was by far the bitterest stretch of weather we’ve had during our years on the coast of Maine.  Not a day over 20F and many days well below zero.  Three thousand miles away, Southern California looks mighty good.

Montecito Thomas fire

Thomas Fire with The 101 highway in the foreground

Despite being paradise, the Santa Barbara area has had some tough patches of late.  First, in December 2017, the Thomas Fire (named for the 358 student Thomas Aquinas College near Ventura) burned nearly 300,000 acres, making it the largest wildfire in California history.

Montecito Mud 2 the 101

Four lane 101 highway

Then a monster rain storm on January 9, 2018 sent massive mud and debris flows down the recently denuded coastal mountains and hillsides.  Montecito, a Santa Barbara suburb, was the epicenter of this disaster where 21 died and hundreds of home destroyed.  The major four lane highway (The 101) through the area was closed in both directions for nearly two weeks due to car size boulders, tons of soupy muck, uprooted trees, oceans of mud, and abandoned vehicles in the highway.  Usually, The 101 carries 100,000 vehicles through the Central Coast daily.

Montecito House

Mudslide of boulders in Montecito

Hannah heard from our good friend in Santa Barbara in mid-January before we left.

Hello dear Hannah,

I’ve just been thinking about you and Dan and your upcoming visit.  I thought that I should touch base and just be sure that you have a sense of what things are like here after the recent rains.  Highway 101 is closed indefinitely and blessed Montecito looks like a tsunami went through. 

Montecito Mud the 101

Mud and debris inundate The 101

I do not want to discourage you from coming in any way, but think you should be aware that conditions are not good.  Currently a large section of Montecito has been evacuated again so that they can get equipment in there to clean things up.  They also are continuing searching for folks who are still missing.  All restaurants and food facilities in Montecito and Summerland are closed, due to contaminated water. 

Sending lots of love.  

We were not discouraged.  California here we are!

And one more thing.  I love California because of its overwhelming support of President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012; as well as in the Presidential Election of 2016, Hilary Clinton received 7,362,490 votes and the current president just 3,916,209.  I am among my peeps.

Check out these pictures in the days immediately following the deluge and especially the before and after pictures from the Montecito mudslides and debris flows

Montecito 101 FWY

Montecito mud house


montecito side street with pole down

Montecito truck

Before and after

Montecito 101 before

montecito 101 after

Before and after

Montecito butterfly beach before

Before and after

Montecito hot springs before

Before and after

Montecito olive mill at danielson before

Click here to read why another Californian for 30 years who came from Colorado loves him some California despite its wildfires, mud and debris flows, and earthquakes.  It’s an engaging read.